Me in one of my new favorite masks, September 2020. The sunglasses add a metropolitan touch.
observations tips

Mask Culture

We are now over 6 months, 204,000 deaths, and 7.06 million cases into the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Those are sobering statistics for a sobering worldwide event.

While this 6 months has felt like about 10 years in terms of the stress we have been under, it’s a relatively short amount of time to create some major habit shifts. It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, with an average of 66 days for a habit to take hold.

We’ve had to become accustomed to online meetings, working and learning from home, avoiding physical contact, eating more at home, spending more time outdoors, and limiting travel. Aside from all of this, we’ve had to adapt to consistently wearing masks when we are around people from outside our households.

As we’ve developed the mask-wearing habit over the past 180 days or so, we’re creating a mask culture.

We started with hastily digging out masks we had in our homes, garages, and workshops, the ones normally used for dirty home improvement projects. These masks with their rubber straps aren’t terribly comfortable, nor are they indefinitely reusable. People also used bandanas and neck gaters in a pinch.

Home sewers immediately got to work making masks at home using fun fabrics from their stash and clearing out cotton fabrics at local fabric stores. Home sewers love having a reason to make something useful and this was a calling they were more than happy to accept, finding patterns online to follow or creating their own.

Me in one of my homemade masks, July 2020.
Me in one of my homemade masks, July 2020.

Once manufacturers both large and small got tooled up to meet the mask-buying market, paper masks were no longer in short supply and cloth masks were offered in a variety of patterns, colors, sizes, and styles.

At this point, there are lots of masks available and people can choose them based on fit, functionality, and personal taste. Which is where the fun of mask culture is found.

I was one of the army of home sewers making masks at the beginning of the pandemic, turning out about 50 of them from a pattern I found on YouTube. I loved using up interesting fabrics from my stash and making sure family members had masks to protect themselves and others.

The pattern I used allowed a person to wear their mask looped around their neck when they didn’t need it covering their face. Unfortunately for me, this fabric loop was not comfortable sitting on and rubbing the patch of eczema on my neck. I also discovered that it could be difficult to scrunch up and tie these masks in such a way that they were providing the appropriate amount of protection. If the mask was too loose, there were gaps along the sides.

After a few months of using my homemade masks, I found some white cotton and black cotton masks with ear loops by Hanes and bought some to try out. While they appeared to be identical, other than color, I discovered that the white ones fit me, but the black ones were too big. They had the bit of metal inside for forming over the nose in order to provide a better fit. In terms of fit and comfort, the white Hanes masks are some of my favorites.

Me in one of my white Hanes masks, September 2020.
Me in one of my white Hanes masks, September 2020.

Ever the industrious fiber artist, I found a kit that featured a mask with ear loops and wanted to give it a try. The kit had enough supplies for 4 masks. Because I mucked up 2 of them during sewing, I ended up with 2 masks. They were comfortable for the first wearing, but after washing them, the shrinkage caused the ear loops to be too tight. This was a failed mask experiment.

The mask kit that didn't work for me, July 2020.
The mask kit that didn’t work for me, July 2020.
Me in one of the kit masks, July 2020.
Me in one of the kit masks, July 2020.

Because the Hanes mask packaging said to replace the masks after 20 washings (I’ll be wearing them as long as possible), I’ve been on the hunt for other masks to replace them. Also, they’re stark white, which is just blah in terms of style. I really preferred the fabrics I used when making my first batch of masks, so I’ve been looking for masks in fun fabrics with ear loops.

I tried a set of bright pink masks from Target, but they were too big.

I recently found more at Walmart, some that are heftier, cover more of my face due to the design, have the metal piece in the nose and adjustable ear loops, and come in attractive fabrics. I bought 6 and these have joined my Hanes masks as favorites.

Me in one of my new favorite masks, September 2020. The sunglasses add a metropolitan touch.
Me in one of my new favorite masks, September 2020. The sunglasses add a metropolitan touch.

I can’t recommend masks with metal nose pieces and proper fit enough. I have watched more people struggle to keep masks up on their noses due to improper fit. COVID-19 loves nasal passages, so it’s important to ensure that your nose is covered while out and about. The better a mask fits and the more comfortable it is, the more likely you are to wear it.

My husband has found a couple of handmade green masks he got at work are his favorites because they don’t fog his glasses as much as other masks do. That’s another important consideration in finding masks that work for you.

My husband's favorite green mask. September 2020.
My husband’s favorite green mask. September 2020.

Aside from choosing the right masks, other habits have developed around mask culture. Because we need masks to enter most stores, we’ve had to train ourselves to remember them on the way out of the house. I’ve taken to stashing at least 2 masks in my purse at any given time. My husband keeps his on a table in the front hall.

His green masks loop over his neck, so he can pull them up or down with ease. He tends to put his mask on just before he steps into a store. I put mine on in the car and walk up to the store with it on so I don’t have to fiddle with it as I reach the door.

While wearing a mask is not always a sunshine-and-roses experience, I’ve discovered a benefit beyond avoiding COVID-19. I recently found out that I’m allergic to dogs, cats, and oak leaves. We live in a house that is surrounded by oak trees and we have a sweet dog who sheds profusely. I have to vacuum up after him regularly and now wear a mask while doing so. This prevents me from inhaling too much dust and dander. I will also sometimes wear a mask while walking him or mowing the lawn so I’m not breathing in as much leaf litter. Mask-wearing for a pandemic gives me an easy excuse to wear a mask for other reasons.

What sorts of things have you noticed in terms of mask culture? Have you found masks that fit you well or that you like for their style? What are some side benefits from wearing masks?