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The Phases of Face Mask Wear: From the Necessary to Nonsensical

Society’s fascination with celebrity culture is nothing new. Celebrities and public figures are, for better or worse, role models for millions of people, who want to be like them, dress like them, live like them. This can be inspiring and aspirational to some degree, but when it comes to matters of life and death, it’s crucial that those in the limelight understand the power of their influence.

As the global pandemic persists and we’re seeing the emergence of new variants, some celebrities have used their prestige in productive ways, especially by publicly encouraging vaccinations. Everyone from Gayle King to Julia Roberts to John Legend and even Big Bird have documented their vaccination journey, empowering and educating fans on the importance of vaccines.

But when it comes to protective face masks, that’s another story. We often see paparazzi photos of celebrities in masks that provide little to no coverage. We watch their Instagram stories as they venture out in public with ill-fitting fabric masks. We stare in awe at their fashion-forward masks on red carpets. Yet we rarely – if ever – see these influential stars donning masks that effectively protect against coronavirus.

The immediate and top priority for masking right now is as a safeguard against COVID-19. We won’t put a stop to the pandemic if we’re purchasing masks based on aesthetic value or because we found a mask that looks like something Lady Gaga wore at an awards show. Don’t get us wrong – you can still find a mask that offers full protection and then find a way of making it suit your style (or your favorite celebrity’s style). Check out our numerous Instagram posts where we customize the OCTO Respirator Mask (ORM) for some inspiration on how protective masks can be personalized.

With evolving celebrity influence throughout the pandemic, we’ve identified a multi-phase process for the general public’s adherence to masks:

Phase 1: Wear a mask

When it became clear that we were facing a pandemic in March 2020, people were advised to cover their nose and mouth to prevent human-to-human transmission of the virus. Inventory of N95 masks, surgical masks and industrial respirator masks were quickly depleted. This gave rise to a frenzy of homemade alternatives. Anyone with sewing skills began crafting cloth masks while major fashion brands pivoted from designer gowns to designer masks. Social media’s influence also played a role, showing how you could turn a t-shirt or socks into a makeshift face mask. Most simply believed it was important to wear a mask, no matter what kind.

Phase 2: Mask fatigue and fury

As experts started identifying which masks work (and which don’t), vaccine development began to ramp up. Once vaccines became available, mask mandates began to ease. Many celebrated the premature and misguided “return to normal,” which made the re-introduction of mask mandates in late Summer 2021 more challenging to digest. As a result, some people have outright refused to wear a face mask. We saw celebrities gather at major events without masks. Videos and news stories began to surface of travelers aggressively attacking flight crew members over mask requirements. Even NYC police officers have been spotted on duty and inside subway buildings without masks – in direct conflict with existing state guidance. Parents unleashed fury about mask mandates at school committee meetings. The return to masking, which never should have stopped in the first place, was an uphill battle.

Phase 3: Masks make a comeback

As strange as it seems, there’s a ‘reboot’ of face masks happening now. Unfortunately, it’s not the type of sequel we were hoping for. The creation of RGBs, sweet scents, edible face masks, secret “merch drops” and celebrity collaborations have reignited interest in masking. But, have we forgotten their actual purpose? Masks should be seen as trusted, scientifically tested, and necessary tools for safety, but instead they’ve become a dollars-forward opportunistic venture. Consumers are purchasing masks again, many not to protect against COVID-19, but instead for TikTok likes, emotional resonance, and parasocial relationships with celebrities.

As we evolve through future phases of masking, we hope to see more manufacturers – and celebrities –prioritizing function over fashion.

When we created the ORM, we set out to make air safer to breath. Design considerations weren’t focused on scented filtration or colorful lights. What we did create is an innovative elastomeric respirator mask…to save lives. Even so, we are leveling-up our mask design to meet the demands for a protective mask that also offers unique customization. To see some of OCTO’s creative pre-production designs, click here to see what the brand currently has in development.