Stuff Magazine // March 2022

Stuff Magazine Sarah Cotterall Silk & Steel Jewellery

How face masks are affecting our personal style

The broad effect that lockdown has had on our collective wardrobes (Zoom tops, nap-dresses, WFH pyjamas and so on) has been well-documented. Now it seems the pandemic’s essential, small but powerful accessory – the face mask – has begun to change the way we style ourselves daily. 
“I’ve been surprised how many people ask for a haircut that works with a mask,” says Dave Weaver, salon director at Auckland hair salon, Stephen Marr. “Women with shorter hair want adjustments that make it easier to pull on and off their masks.” 
The solution? “We make a tiny, virtually unnoticeable undercut, just two fingers’ worth, around the ears and nape of the neck. This creates a clear-cut space to accommodate the bands of a face mask without affecting the overall look of the haircut.” That’s a functional adaptation. Then there’s the aesthetic re-think. “The main one is people wanting to open up their fringes,” says Weaver. “Because if you’re wearing a mask plus a full fringe, there’s not a lot of face on display.” 
Fringe or not, wearing a mask pulls focus on the eyes, which explains all the top-heavy makeup I’ve been seeing around (and reflected in my own mirror) recently. For instance, I’ve gone from being completely mascara-averse (too fiddly, too clumpy), to wearing it daily.
Further down the face, however, things are left intentionally bare. Under a mask, lipstick becomes redundant. Even if you’re heading to a restaurant and taking off your mask as soon as you’re seated, there’s little point in wearing anything bright or remotely slick as it just rubs off.
Mask-wearing makes even the most fashion-focused get sensible. Anyone fond of wearing drop earrings will know the pain when one or both gets pulled in the process of mask removal. Stud earrings have never looked so attractive. 
Auckland-based jewellers Silk & Steel are having to restock their sell-out Nostalgia stud earrings, $99, that come with gently glinting black spinels. 
“Stud earrings definitely make things easier when you’re taking off a mask,” says designer/owner Sarah Cotterall. “So do sleeper hoops, the kind that once fastened have no opening, so there’s nothing to snag.” 
She believes people have been paying more attention to jewellery in general during Covid. “Jewellery is easy to buy online - there’s no ‘fit’ issue - and there’s an instant feel good factor to it.” When it comes to wearing a mask, something sparkly counteracts the practicality of the medical requirement. “So much expression is lost when you wear a mask,” says Cotterall. “Wearing a necklace or earrings is another way to express yourself.” 
And then there’s the mask itself: while the government’s Unite Against Covid-19 website states that, “Any mask is better than no mask,” it points out that, used correctly, a disposable high filtration mask or particulate respirator (P2/N95) offers the highest levels of protection.
And disposable “blue” medical masks with ear loops can offer better protection for a longer period than fabric face masks which vary depending on the style and material used. If in doubt, you could layer a disposable mask under a fabric mask, which will help stop any leaks from the bottom mask. So called “double masking” offers protection plus individuality.
And as we get used to masks, we’re getting adventurous. “At Standard Issue, we started with basic black and navy,” says Emma Ensor, CEO of the New Zealand knitwear company that stocks a rainbow of Zero Waste Cotton Face Masks, $40.
“But as they became part of our daily attire, we could see colour would become important and colour matching became a thing, too. We’ve found that a lot of customers who first bought navy or black, have come back for the fun colours.”For the fashion aware, face masks have become a natural extension of style: “Wearing an unexpected print in a mask is a great way to add personality to an outfit,” says designer Kate Sylvester who is known for her extensive range of fashion prints and makes a pretty range of masks with ruched ear straps made from fabric off cuts, $39.
The finishing touch? How you wear your mask when it’s not on your face: is yours pulled neatly under your chin while you sip your coffee, or does it hang nonchalantly from one ear? My favourite was the cyclist I spotted next to me at the traffic lights with an unusually fetching, tiny pale blue puffed sleeve on his black Lycra-clad arm. It was in fact a pushed-up medical mask. Jaunty! 
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