It wasn't long after Oceanside seamstress Cat Munzing and other designers on Long Island began making face masks for front-line workers that they realized people were increasingly looking for something more "cheery" or fashionable to wear when protecting themselves and others.
“It’s weird for everybody,” Munzing says of wearing a face mask. But having more stylish masks available makes wearing them “easier to swallow.”
Ever since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that face masks be used for the foreseeable future as a shield against the coronavirus, the desire of many to follow the safety suggestion without wearing a plain surgical style has been unmasked.
So, seamstresses, designers and shop owners have followed suit — creating for-sale masks at varying price points in almost every color and pattern imaginable including some festooned with flowers, paisley, polka dots, houndstooth, gingham, stripes and faux jewels, and some made from the same fabrics or patterns as the rest of an outfit for a completely matched look. Selections also include turtle-neck-like styles, and many masks are fashioned with filters or use layers of fabric instead for protection.
A part of everyday fashion
The fashionable mask trend is so widespread that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his May 26 daily update on the coronavirus weighed in on it and gave his approval. “This is cool. You want to encourage people to do this. … They have colored masks, masks that say things, some people coordinate their outfit with the color of their mask,” Cuomo says. “This has to be part of every New Yorker’s fashion and design and clothing.”
Munzing, who used to do design work and product management for Calvin Klein and Hickey Freeman, says, “Once the CDC came up with the recommendation that everyone wear them when they go out, I started getting requests for the [decorative] fabric ones.” Her MunzyGoods masks are available on Etsy.com. She sells her adult styles for $10 and, if requested, a free mask for children comes with every order.
Like Munzing, many mask makers started by donating them to those on the front lines, including some well-known designers such as Nicole Miller, who has a home in Sag Harbor and has grown her women’s fashions business into a lifestyle brand. She says that it was just a matter of time before masks came face-to-face with fashion.
“Anyone who is into fashion will want to switch up their mask to complement what they are wearing. It will become part of their overall look," Miller says. “I think the more stylish the masks become, the more willing people will be to put them on.”
Miller says she started making masks for those close to her when the virus quarantine first began and she’s now selling them to the public, with some styles ($16) selling out on her website, nicolemiller.com. She says, “Masks will definitely be in fashion shows and on store mannequins. They will be the new normal for a while. I think it's important to make them fun so people will not be so opposed to wearing them.”
Spreading style and cheer
Angela Fraumeni of Huntington, an evening wear designer who owns Tina di Martina Designs (tinadimartinadesigns.com) with her mother, Lisa Fraumeni, says they donated more than 3,000 masks to the front lines, then the demand for more of the duo’s stylish masks grew among those who wanted to buy them.
“We sold a ton — we never did the plain ones [when donating] them — we always did the more fun and funky patterns,” Fraumeni says. Masks start at $13. “We figured it would bring more happiness to people to see a fun mask or a pretty mask.” She notes an explosion in sales allowed her and her mother to hire back six seamstresses who had been let go when their shop temporarily closed as a “nonessential” business.
The mother-daughter team is now working on masks adorned in Swarovski crystals and rhinestones to match outfits in a collection of evening wear that they plan to send down the runway during New York Fashion Week in September.
And East Northport nail artist and star of TLC’s “Unpolished,” Lexi Martone just started a new fashion line — face masks ranging from camouflage and swirl patterns to skull, cocktail and cupcake designs. Martone, who is starting her mask business with her boyfriend, Joe Fraumeni (Angela Fraumeni’s brother), also of East Northport, has styles for women and men available at leximartone.com. Masks start at $40.
Martone describes the masks she designs as “very me, very spooky,” like witches and eyeballs on top of cupcakes (a shoutout to her baking skills), while her boyfriend’s feature more masculine looks. She says, “Not everyone wants to walk around with this ugly blue thing on their face, they want something with some personality that makes them feel better about the situation.”
Chelsey Hearn, a 41-year-old Long Beach resident, started making masks with a group of other mothers who wanted to help in the virus fight and saw that more could be done with the masks they were creating in feminine colors and patterns that they were donating to some front-line workers. They found male nurses wanted the opportunity to wear a more stylish face covering too.
"The male nurses were asking, 'What about me?" Hearn says, so more masculine styles such as sports team designs and political party patterns were added to the mix. The for-purchase masks ($6) are sold at chelseyhearn.com.
Kristin Sheeler, who used to be a director of color, prints and pattern for Ralph Lauren and now owns women’s the NIBI clothing stores in Montauk and Bridgehampton, says the demand for fashionable face masks is so huge that she had to temporarily remove the masks she was selling on her website because she couldn’t keep up with the demand. She sells hand block designs ($17) that are available for curbside and store pickup from her stores and are now on her website, nibimtk.com. She is planning to make matching pouches for holding her masks, and to add something that will help a wearer not forget their masks and be prepared to don one at any time. Some new styles will have a string attached so they can be worn around the neck when not in use as those more commonly used for eyeglasses.
Jane Glass, a Syosset resident who has stocked up on masks from Tina di Martina Designs, says wearing a pretty mask "makes my day sparkle a little bit."
What to look for in a face mask
Cuomo says that wearing a face covering "makes a real difference" in limiting virus spread and caused first responders to have a lower infection rate than the general population.
Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, says material masks, such as fashion masks, are a reasonable covering for most routine contact. They should not be used for patients with proven COVID-19 as something that can be used for them to go out — those patients should continue to isolate.
When shopping for a stylish mask, Nachman says one should keep in mind finding one that fits the face (covering the nose and mouth but allowing the wearer to see clearly over the top), is machine washable (masks should be washed after each use) and has ear loops that fit comfortably. Nachman also recommends looking for a fashion mask that has more than one layer to it, as the CDC suggests at least two layers of material are needed to be effective. Look for mask lining details before purchasing. Boutiques like TandyWear boutique in Commack and Uniquely Yours in Seaford, which have added masks to their online order options, now offer double-lined options, various sizing and details on removable filter pockets.