Much has happened since the 1950s when television’s The Lone Ranger prompted the recurring question, “Who was that masked man?”
Thanks to COVID, masks have become whimsical, fashionable, even tuned to the seasons. You can wear Swarovski crystals and rhinestones, or Van Gogh or Monet “paintings” on your face. Just in time for the holidays, there are innumerable Santa masks, as well as a reversible mood mask that says “Naughty” on one side and “Nice” on the other.
For better or worse, masks continue to be part of our wardrobes. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has extended the face mask requirement for travelers three times so far. As of this writing masks are required on all transportation networks in the U.S. or those journeying over the holidays.
The frustration level over wearing masks has spawned new thinking: Sidestep the psychodrama and turn mask wearing into fashion and play. As he stood in a checkout line at Costco, one fellow wearing a dramatic clown mask said with a shrug, “If we’re stuck doing this for the foreseeable future, we might as well have fun with it.”
Haute couture has even made its way into the mask biz. Clothing designers and artists have hopped on the mask crusade.
Among them is Ellen Kenny, a jewelry maker whose masks are popular at Fogue (pronounced like old fogey) Gallery in West Seattle, which displays and sells works by artists over 50.
Who’d imagine folks would splurge and pay $45 to $65 on a single COVID mask? Kenny’s glam masks, handmade of polyester or cotton with sparkling Swarovski crystals, sometimes lace or pearls, have sold by the dozens at Fogue. Her jewelry and mask creations are also featured at Parklane Gallery in Kirkland, on Facebook, Instagram, and surprisingly, at GCG, a boutique cigar shop in the Alaska Airlines terminal at SeaTac Airport. Kenny estimates she’s already made well over 300 masks.
Mask making began as an offshoot of Kenny’s fancy skate covers, headbands, and gloves studded with Swarovski crystals that she made and wears as an ice skater. By age 21, she was skating professionally with Disney on Ice, Ice Capades, and Holiday on Ice. Over the last 30 years, this Lynnwood, Wash., native has taught both figure and competitive skating for all ages at several rinks around the region. Her students—and even some skating coaches—kept requesting she make her eye-catching, crystal-studded accessories for them. COVID opened yet another door for her.
Making one of these conversation piece masks can take Kenny three hours or more. She also crafts striking masks with custom appliques for weddings and other special occasions.
Online, some mask makers categorize their creations for special events, casual wear, work or school, sports, date night, or a night out. For that special evening, how about a sparkly mask with rhinestones dangling down your face? Or a mask framed in black lace?
A trio of fierce Samurai warrior masks offers a more startling look. Those who’d like to be less striking might prefer a mask with Japanese ocean waves. Or tap into your inner playfulness with cartoonish Sonic the Hedgehog, SpongeBob SquarePants, Ghostbusters, and others.
Some of the boldest masks feature messages from ironic or inspirational to the funny and absurd. Aside from the predictable “I’d rather be….” golfing, fishing, surfing, or whatever, are sayings such as “Life is way too short for bad vibes” or “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” Beer lovers might be attracted to “Save water, drink beer” and “You look like I need a beer.”
What might be one of the bravest commands on a mask? “Stay Over There.”
Annie Culver developed a knack for unearthing oddball characters and improbable events as a staff writer for various newspapers. In the early 90s, she went to work for websites where she wrote sassy essays aimed at women. In recent years, she morphed into a writer for several universities in the Northwest. She retired in 2016, yet still enjoys freelancing.