Undercover

 
 

From necessity to luxury: The evolution of face coverings during COVID-19 

Type IIR Face Mask, Zenmarket. 2020

Type IIR face mask, Zenmarket,  2020.

 

The simple cloth mask, a seemingly non-gendered and unsophisticated object, has rapidly become a symbolic and highly contested artefact since its adoption in response to COVID-19. In particular, the design, marketing, and wearing of these masks have illuminated long-running narratives in menswear concerned with ideas of protection, armour, and masculinity. 


For the last year, the Westminster Menswear Archive has been actively collecting masks and face coverings produced in response to COVID-19. In less than 12 months, they have evolved from being a functional PPE object in scarce supply to developing into a distinct new product category produced and marketed by all levels of the fashion industry. 


Presented in chronological order, the 52 face coverings in this exhibition represent a cross-section of the millions of face coverings that have been designed, produced, and worn over the last year. Though they may all look quite similar at first glance, closer inspection reveals the complex story of the menswear industry's battle, adaptation, and evolution over the last 12 months.

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March 2020

 

Wawwa

 
 
 
Face Mask, WAWWA. March 2020
FACE MASK
WAWWA
23 March 2020
£12
On 23 March 2020, the day that the first lockdown began in the United Kingdom, Manchester-based menswear brand WAWWA announced they were producing face masks. Made of 100% organic cotton they could be ordered via their Instagram account. The mask is double-layered with a white recycled polyester WAWWA label.
Made in the United Kingdom

Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.17

Fakescum

 
 
 
Yellow Scum Mask, Fakescum. March 2020
YELLOW SCUM MASK
Fakescum
March 2020
£10
 
This knitted face mask is from Fakescum, a skateboarding clothing brand established in 2018 by the musician Rat Boy AKA Jordan Cardy. Included with the mask were several full-colour adhesive stickers featuring pop culture imagery that has been adapted with Fakescum branding.
 
Made in the United Kingdom
Diolen Hygienic Poly, Polyester, Elastomeric
Archive no. 2020.100.9

April 2020

 

BoohooMAN

 
 
 
Skeleton Fashion Mask, BoohooMAN. April 2020
SKELETON MASK
BoohooMAN
19 April 2020
£5
BoohooMAN had previously sold face masks as part of their menswear range in 2019, mirroring a trend popularised by Off-White. However, when this skeleton mask was released in April 2020, they were accused of profiting at a time when the NHS was experiencing a PPE shortage and withdrew the masks from sale. 
 
Country of manufacture unknown
Polyester, Elastane
Archive no. 2020.100.49.2

Bravado

 
 
Anarchy in the UK Face Mask, Bravado. April 2020
ANARCHY IN THE UK FACE MASK
Bravado
24 April 2020
£15
One of the first commercially available face masks was from music merchandising company Bravado, part of Universal Music Group. This mask is based on Jamie Reid's subversive ransom-note lettering that he created for the Sex Pistols. Other face coverings included imagery of 2Pac, Justin Bieber, the Rolling Stones, Pantera, and Ariana Grande.
Made in Indonesia
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.2

Breathe Easy

 
 
 
Lip Reading Behind the Ear Strap, Breathe Easy. April 2020
LIP READING BEHIND THE EAR STRAP
Breathe Easy
April 2020
£15.99
An early innovation was masks with a transparent panel, so they could be worn to facilitate lip-reading. The common assumption is that they are worn by people who are hearing impaired. However, the opposite is true, those who are deaf need everyone else to wear this type of mask.
Made in the United Kingdom
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.5
 
 

Levi's

 
 
 
Reusable Printed Face Mask - Black, Levi's. April 2020
Reusable Printed Face Mask - Red, Levi's. April 2020
Reusable Printed Face Mask - Navy, Levi's. April 2020
REUSABLE PRINTED FACE MASKS
Levi's
April 2020
£15 for three masks
Instead of printing their branding on an existing mass-produced face mask, Levi's was one of the first companies to create a mask aligned with their own design language. Available in red, navy, and black, they feature a printed bandana-style pattern on one side and a distinctive Levi tab label on the other.
Made in Vietnam
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.12.1

May 2020

 

Huntsman

 
 
 
Blue Herringbone Face Mask, Huntsman. May 2020
BLUE HERRINGBONE FACE MASK
Huntsman
8 May 2020
£30
The Savile Row bespoke tailor Huntsman produced one of the earliest luxury masks in response to COVID-19. Made from fine Swiss cotton manufactured by Alumo, the pleated mask is embroidered with the letter H in the upper left-hand corner. The ear loops are made of standard 5mm white elastic.
Made in the United Kingdom
Cotton, elastane
Archive no. 2020.100.11
 

Paul & Shark

 
 
Rainbow of Hope Mask, Paul & Shark. May 2020
RAINBOW OF HOPE MASK
Paul & Shark
19 May 2020
Free
Paul & Shark converted their factory in Varese, Italy, to produce protective medical gowns for several local hospitals. They also manufactured face masks for civilian use, which were available in various colours as part of an initiative called Rainbow of Hope. From 19 May 2020, Paul & Shark included a free face mask with every order from their Spring Summer 2020 collection.
Made in Italy
Cotton, polyester
Archive no. 2020.100.30

Adidas

 
 
 
Face Cover 3-Pack, adidas. May 2020
FACE COVER 3-PACK
adidas
25 May 2020
£12.95
Designed by the advance concepts team at adidas, this face covering draws on the sportswear company’s knowledge of performance-focused design. Material and cut are balanced to ensure improved comfort and fit. Online marketing highlighted the Primegreen fabric, which uses a minimum of 40% recycled content. These masks quickly sold out.
 
Made in China
Recycled polyester, elastane
Archive no. 2020.100.1

Retrobomb

 
 
 
Obey mask, Retrobomb. May 2020
OBEY MASK
Retrobomb
May 2020
£10.67
This mask is not from the streetwear brand Obey, but an Etsy seller inspired by John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live, where the ruling class manipulate people through subliminal messages. The film's message struck a chord with consumers who bought these masks to express their objection to wearing a face covering.
Country of manufacture unknown
Polyester, cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.47

Metropolitan Police

 
 
 
Police Face Covering, Metropolitan Police. May 2020
POLICE FACE COVERING
Metropolitan Police
May 2020
Police officers were issued with navy face coverings to wear on public duty when they were not dealing with public order situations and were unable to social distance while on duty. This mask was worn on Saturday 14th June while policing far-right protests in London. 
Made in the United Kingdom
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.56

C.P. Company

 
 
 
Dryarn Social Mask, C.P. Company. May 2020
DRYARN® SOCIAL MASK
C.P. Company
May 2020
£50
C.P. Company's branding is not only woven into the fabric of this knitted mask, but it is also apparent in the level of detail that has gone into its manufacturing, packaging, and merchandising. The use of digital assets, including Certilogo, barcodes, and SKU product codes, emphasises that this is a fully resolved consumer product.
Made in Italy
Dryarn®
Archive no. 2020.100.19

June 2020

 

Manchester City

 
 
 
3 Pack face Coverings, Manchester City FC. June 2020
3 PACK FACE COVERINGS
Manchester City
3 June 2020
£15 for three masks
While football continued to be played in empty stadiums, fans could show their support by wearing a face covering from their favourite team. Manchester City FC contracted global sports merchandiser Fanatics for these masks. Specialising in on-demand production, Fanatics rapidly developed and manufactured masks for several British football clubs.
Made in the United Kingdom
Polyamide knit
Archive no. 2020.100.13

Hoezine

 
 
Black Lives Matter mask, Hoezine. June 2020
BLACK LIVES MATTER MASK
HOEZINE
June 2020
£10
On 25 May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in America, sparking protests which quickly spread across the world. Bethan Dadson, the founder of HOEZINE magazine, designed these masks featuring a clenched fist and 'BLACK LIVES MATTER' to be worn at the London protests on 6 June 2020.
Made in the United Kingdom
Synthetic material
Archive no. 2020.100.46

Raeburn

 
 
 
Great British Designer Face Coverings, Raeburn. June 2020
GREAT BRITISH DESIGNER FACE COVERINGS
Raeburn    
5 June 2020
£15 for three masks
One of the fashion industry's first coordinated responses was the British Fashion Council's Great British Designer Face Coverings. Two packs were available, one featuring Liam Hodges, Julien Macdonald and Rixo, the other RÆBURN, Mulberry and Halpern. In an independent Which? Best Buy lab survey, the face coverings came second overall.
Made in the United Kingdom 
Cotton, elastane
Archive no. 2020.100.6.3

The Bottom Half

 
 
 
Gunners 1991/93 (A), The Bottom Half. June 2020
GUNNERS 1991/93 (A)
The Bottom Half
15 June 2020
£10
Britain’s National Health Service tries to avoid becoming a political football, but these masks were designed to appeal equally to people's passion for their favourite football team and as a way of openly expressing support for the NHS. The background is based on Arsenal FC’s ‘Bruised Banana’ away shirt worn between 1991-1993.
Made in the United Kingdom
100% synthetic material
Archive no. 2020.100.4.1

New & Lingwood

 
 
 
Skull & Crossbones Silk Face Mask, New & Lingwood. June 2020
SKULL AND CROSSBONES SILK FACE MASK
New & Lingwood
15 June 2020
£30
This face mask from Jermyn Street shirtmakers New & Lingwood features a grinning skull and crossbones motif. Traditionally this iconography has served as a memento mori, a symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death. Its use for a mask could be interpreted as the wearer wishing to appear unconcerned about the pandemic's potential risks.
 
Made in the United Kingdom
Silk 
Archive no. 2020.100.21

Liberty London

 
 
 
Tana lawn cotton face coverings, Liberty London. June 2020
TANA LAWN COTTON FACE COVERINGS
Liberty London
18 June 2020
£40 for five masks
Liberty London launched their face masks in June 2020. Made from their existing stock they were available in randomly assorted packs of five. The vibrantly coloured designs of classic Liberty prints featured floral, Paisley and William Morris patterns on Tana Lawn cotton fabric.
Made in Italy
Tana Lawn cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.35.3

July 2020

 

Off-White

 
 
 
Diag over the head face mask, Off-White. July 2020
DIAG OVER THE HEAD FACE MASK BLACK/WHITE
Off-White
July 2020
£70

Though this Off-White mask, designed by Virgil Abloh, was released for Spring Summer 2020, it is almost a direct replica of a mask Off-White originally produced for Spring Summer 2019. Since May 2017, each collection has featured similar masks, and many of them are now highly collectable and traded on reseller marketplace sites including StockX.

Made in Portugal
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.44

Burton

 
 
3 pack Plain Reusable Face Coverings, Burton. July 2020
3 pack Plain Reusable Face Coverings, Burton. July 2020
3 pack Plain Reusable Face Coverings, Burton. July 2020
3 PACK PLAIN REUSABLE FACE COVERINGS
Burton
2 July 2020
£18 for three masks
This mask is from the British menswear label Burton. The pandemic surge in working from home saw their business decline as casual clothing replaced formalwear for online meetings. Burton’s owner, Arcadia, went into administration and in February 2021 Burton was bought by online retailer Boohoo.
Made in Portugal
Polyester, elastane
Archive no. 2020.100.22

Parc

 
 
Lozenge Print Reusable Mask, Parc. July 2020
LOZENGE PRINT REUSABLE MASK
Parc
July 2020
£18
This lozenge print mask is by Parc and constructed from waste production material and then lined with white cotton. It has neon green elastic ear loops and an integrated aluminium nose bar. After gifting samples to industry contacts in July, they were sold directly to consumers in October 2020.
Made in the United Kingdom
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.53

ProGARM

 
 
 
MED300 Anti-viral Flame-resistant Face Mask, ProGARM. July 2020
MED300 ANTI-VIRAL FLAME-RESISTANT FACE MASK
ProGARM
July 2020
£5.90
 
ProGARM specialises in arc flash, flame-resistant, and anti-static clothing for those employed in power generation, petrochemicals, industrial electricals, railways, and utilities. It produced this mask for electricians working on construction sites. Antiviral treatment was added to existing flame-resistant protection in response to the pandemic.
 
Made in the United Kingdom
Meta-aramid, Viscose FR, bi-component PTFE/PU FR membrane
Archive no. 2020.100.40

Climate Revolution

 
 
 
True Punk Face Covering, Climate Revolution. July 2020
TRUE PUNK FACE MASK
Climate Revolution
July 2020
 
Given to Vivienne Westwood's staff and acquaintances, this mask highlights the designer's Climate Revolution campaign. Activists wore it for Julian Assange's extradition hearing at the Old Bailey on 7 September 2020. This protest appeared in a short film released to promote Westwood's Spring Summer 2021 collection during London Fashion Week on 18 September 2020, replacing a physical runway show.
 
Made in the United Kingdom
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.24

Marks & Spencer

 
 
 
 
Antibacterial Adult Face Coverings, Marks & Spencer. July 2020
ANTIBACTERIAL ADULT FACE COVERINGS
Marks & Spencer
July 2020
£9.50 for five masks
By July 2020, face coverings had become an everyday accessory sold in stores such as Marks & Spencer, next to multipacks of socks or underwear. New regulations passed in England on 23 July 2020 made the wearing of face masks compulsory in various public places and shops.
Made in Turkey
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.24

Charles Tyrwhitt

 
 
 
2-in-1 Silk face mask/pocket square, Charles Tyrwhitt. July 2020
2-IN-1 SILK FACE MASK/POCKET SQUARE
Charles Tyrwhitt
10 July 2020
£14.95
This mask highlights many of the dilemmas designers and wearers faced as masks became mandatory in the United Kingdom during 2020. How could they be integrated into everyday wear? Shirtmaker Charles Tyrwhitt solved the problem by drawing on the established menswear accessory of the pocket square for their design.
Made in China
Silk, cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.8

Christopher Kane

 
 
 
More Joy logo face mask, Christopher Kane. July 2020
MORE JOY LOGO FACE MASK
Christopher Kane
23 July 2020
£30
 
Launched in November 2019, the More Joy capsule range developed from Christopher Kane's Autumn Winter 2018 show. It featured slogans based on the typography from the erotic guide The Joy of Sex. The juxtaposition of the More Joy slogan onto a pandemic mask could be interpreted as either optimistic or dystopian.
 
Country of manufacture unknown
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.51

Turnbull & Asser

 
 
 
Madras Check Linen Commuter Mask, Turnbull & Asser. July 2020
MADRAS CHECK LINEN COMMUTER MASK
Turnbull & Asser
23 July 2020
£45
 
Established in 1885, Turnbull & Asser is a bespoke shirtmaker on Jermyn Street, London. This summer-weight madras check mask came with its own complimentary wash bag and was designed to coordinate with a matching short-sleeved shirt in the same linen fabric that retailed for £275.
 
Made in the United Kingdom
Linen
Archive no. 2020.100.23

August 2020

 

in_house_check

 
 
 
Recycled Burberry Nova Check Mask, in_house_check. August 2020
RECYCLED BURBERRY NOVA CHECK MASK
in_house_check
1 August 2020
£21
Many brands did not initially produce their own masks as they struggled with the logistics of pivoting their businesses in response to COVID-19. As a result, online bootleggers began making fake masks with designer branding. However, this example from an Instagram seller was created by upcycling fabric from an original Burberry bedding set.
Made in the United Kingdom
Cotton, elastic
Archive no. 2020.100.31

Balenciaga

 
 
 
Care Mask, Balenciaga. August 2020
CARE MASK
Balenciaga
August 2020
£95
The fashion industry's globalisation has resulted in a complicated relationship between where brands are based and where their products are produced. Founded in Spain in 1917 by the designer Cristóbal Balenciaga, the house moved to Paris in 1937. This mask, however, was made for Balenciaga in Slovenia by Wolford, an Austrian hosiery maker.
 
Made in Slovenia    
Polyester, Elastane
Archive no. 2020.100.36

October 2020

 

Burberry

 
 
 
Vintage Check Cotton Face Mask, Burberry. October 2020
VINTAGE CHECK COTTON FACE MASK
Burberry
28 October 2020
£90
Announced on 20 August 2020, this limited-edition face mask was not available until ten weeks later, on 28 October 2020, and sold out on the same day. It included a storage pouch and a 118-page booklet explaining how to use the mask. Burberry launched seven new masks in January 2021 in a variety of colours. 
Made in Italy
Cotton, polyester
Archive no. 2020.100.7

November 2020

 

JW Anderson

 
 
 
JWA Face Mask, JW Anderson. November 2020
JWA FACE MASK
JW Anderson
1 November 2020
£35
In June 2020, London Fashion Week became an online-only event. JW Anderson's ingenious solution was to send selected journalists an A4-sized cardboard box, filled with photos, fabrics, and paper masks to convey the new season's collection. Later in November 2020, the public could buy a branded JW Anderson mask to wear themselves.
 
Made in Spain
Linen
Archive no. 2020.100.25

Louis Vuitton

 
 
Monogram Tapestry Bandana Mask Cover Set, Louis Vuitton. November 2020
MONOGRAM TAPESTRY BANDANA MASK COVER SET 
Louis Vuitton
13 November
£350
In April 2020 Louis Vuitton pivoted their worldwide production to produce face masks, which they distributed for free to healthcare workers, retirement homes, and organisations most seriously impacted by COVID-19. In November 2020 Louis Vuitton released their own elevated retail face covering which came with a monogram bandana within a drawstring pouch and sold for £350.
Made in Italy
Cotton, elastane
Archive no. 2020.100.39

Vivienne Westwood

 
 
 
CLIMATE REVOLUTION FACE MASK 
Vivienne Westwood
November 2020
£26
While Vivienne Westwood’s friends and acquaintances were given masks in July 2020 to promote the designer's Climate Revolution campaign, consumers had to wait. It was not until November that the company released a retail product available to buy online and in-store.
Place of production unknown
Cotton, polyamide, Elastane
Archive no. 2020.100.37

Johnstons of Elgin

 
 
 
Black Steward Tartan Face Mask, Johnstons of Elgin. November 2020
BLACK STEWART TARTAN FACE MASK
Johnstons of Elgin
24 November 2020
£45
 
This face mask was made by Scottish company Johnstons of Elgin for winter 20/21 demonstrating how face coverings had become seasonal. One of a range of tartan patterns woven in merino wool, these masks were also retailed by London department store Selfridges as part of their ‘Project Earth British Makers’ range.
 
Made in the United Kingdom
Wool, cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.50

December 2020

 

Paul Smith

 
 
 
Mountain Print Face Covering, Paul Smith. December 2020
Abstract Print Face Covering, Paul Smith. December 2020
Abstract Print Face Covering, Paul Smith. December 2020
'MOUNTAIN' AND 'ABSTRACT FLORAL' PRINT FACE COVERINGS
Paul Smith
1 December 2020
£35
While many menswear brands were swift to respond to customer demand for face coverings, Paul Smith waited until December 2020 and the seasonal market. This three-pack was marketed for its use of an 'Abstract Floral' and 'Mountain' print taken from the Autumn Winter 2020 Paul Smith ready-to-wear collection.
Made in Italy
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.32.1

Sunspel

 
 
Factory Print Cotton Face Mask, Sunspel. December 2020
FACTORY PRINT COTTON FACE MASK
Sunspel
3 December 2020
£10
Sunspel made use of existing fabric stock to manufacture some of their masks. This cotton mask features a stylised representation of the Sunspel factory in Long Eaton, Derbyshire. The print was previously used for a range of boxer shorts.
Made in Portugal
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.41

Ahluwalia

 
 
 
 
Great Global Design Face Coverings - Ahluwalia, Bags of Ethics. December 2020
GREAT GLOBAL DESIGN FACE COVERINGS – AHLUWALIA
Bags of Ethics 
7 December 2020
£15 for three masks
In collaboration with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) the British Fashion Council released their second range of designer face coverings in December 2020. The designers were Ahluwalia, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, and Marques'Almeida for the BFC. Mara Hoffman, lemlem by Liya Kebede, and Kim Shui represented the CFDA.
Made in India
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.38.4

January 2021

 

Royal Mail

 
 
 
Royal Mail Antibacterial Face Mask, Dongguan City Dandan Garments CO., Ltd. January 2021
ROYAL MAIL ANTIBACTERIAL FACE MASK
Dongguan City Dandan Garments CO., Ltd.
January 2021
 
In November 2020, Royal Mail made the wearing of a facemask mandatory for indoor work situations. This mask was distributed to employees in January 2021 but was quickly criticised due to the product’s labelling which read “For fashion, dress up, party (non-medical).”
 
Made in China
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.57

February 2021

 

Liam Hodges

 
 
 
Thin Ice Neck Gaiter, Liam Hodges. February 2021
THIN ICE NECK GAITER
Liam Hodges
21 February 2021
£25

This neck gaiter was marketed directly to consumers by email during London Fashion Week, which this season was a digital-only event. This neck gaiter was designed to be worn both around the neck and doubles as a face covering. It features a print of imagery found whilst mud larking around the Thames. 
Made in China
Polyester microfibre
Archive no. 2020.100.48

March 2021

 

C.P. Company

 
 
 
Chrome-R Visor Cap, C.P. Company. 2021
CHROME-R VISOR CAP
C.P. Company
March 2021
£95
This visor cap was one of the first pieces from the Spring/Summer 2021 collections released online in March 2021. It has a removable face covering and other protective elements to keep the wearer protected from mosquitoes, the sun, and bad weather. It is reminiscent of C.P. Company’s pre-COVID-19 designs, which included protective elements. 

Made in Italy
Nylon
Archive No. 2020.100.60

Rick Owens x Champion

 
 
 
BLACK COTTON FACE MASK
Rick Owens x Champion
26 March 2021
£55
Released for Spring/Summer 2021, this face mask recalls those shown in August 2018 as part of Owens’ Spring/Summer 2019 presentation. It fits tightly to the face allowing the elongated jersey to cascade down the wearer's chest. While similar in style to the half-niqab worn by some Muslim women, it is designed specifically for men.

Made in Italy
Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.59

Credits

 

Exhibition curated by
Prof Andrew Groves and Dr Danielle Sprecher.

 

Research assistant Alexandra Larion.

Thank you to the following companies and individuals for their help and support of the exhibition: Alexander Unger, Anthony Campbell, Aniqa Ali, Arabella Turek, Bastiaan Steffens, Ben Smith, Bruno Busson, C.P. Company, David Boyne, Enrico Grigoletti, Enrique De Obaldia, Glyn Billy, Neil Munn, Paul & Shark, and Sunspel. 

Thank you to the following individuals at the University of Westminster for their support:
Anna McNally and colleagues in University Records & Archives, Anastasia Kavada, Clare Twomey, and Alan Yabsley.

 

Funded by the University of Westminster’s Arts, Communication and Culture Research Community.

 
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