It’s official. Face masks are passe as all the cool kids are wearing air purifier necklaces and portable air conditioners.
There are websites where you can get close to anything printed on t-shirts; their range of products extends to throw pillow covers, bedspreads and – lord have mercy – shower curtains (in case you’re looking for a gift for that special someone who has everything, RedBubble.com has a unique gift featuring Brisbane’s notorious ‘poo jogger’). But face masks have become the item du jour – for obvious reasons – and if your preference is to customise your facial protective gear with style, the options seem limitless.
This is, of course, reliant on you having the financial means to make it happen. The aforementioned RedBubble’s range of face masks cover every conceivable topic and design (from the elegant to the nerdy, to the outright unsettling). But unless you have at least $12 in your budget to splurge on such items, you may end up going without. Given the disparities in global wealth ($9703/month in Lichtenstein; $23/month in Burundi), custom mask wearing’s not likely to be universal.
Therein, lies at least part of the problem. The cheaper, single-use disposable variety of face masks are more than like manufactured in China. In fact, 85% of them are. When protesters in Hong Kong took to the streets in 2019 to protest against mainland intervention in the region’s affairs, those protestors were by and large wearing masks to preserve their identities. Beijing latched onto this fact and stemmed the tide of China-manufactured masks being shipped to the area.
There’s nothing like a crisis to bring out the worst in people, too. As reported on gineersnow.com, there is such a range of “Wearable air purifier necklaces that you can buy online” that they can be ranked in a Top 10.
From the piece, ‘According to Wall Street Journal report, “Personal necklace air purifiers work by emitting electrically charged molecules or atoms called ions, companies say. The ions transfer the charge to particles—such as one carrying a flu virus—in the user’s breathing zone and since like-charged particles repel each other, they are pushed out of the breathing zone.” Furthermore, personal air purifiers, small, silent devices worn around the neck, clean the air in the wearer’s breathing zone of viruses and bacteria”.’
The ranked items on the list ranged in price from the single to triple digits, reinforcing notions of late-stage capitalism AND that 16th century English poet Thomas Tusser was right. Add to this list the Gizmodo report on ‘wearable air conditioners’, which claim to ‘absorb twice as much heat thanks to newly designed internal circuitry, has better sweat resistance, and comes with more accessories and apparel options.
Then, of course, there’s always the fact that there’s straight-up money to be made. Forbes reported on a fully functional $1.5 million mask in a mesh-like design by an Israeli luxury jewellery brand. “It’s made of 250 grams of 18k gold and is set with 3,608 natural black and white diamonds, with a total weight of about 210 carats – which (company owner Isaac) Levy says makes it the most expensive mask in the world.”
So, while those of us who can remember when the must-have accessories in the 90s didn’t stray very far from scrunchies, charm bracelets and yin-yang pendants, the new millennium has presented us with hitherto unforeseen ‘must-have’ items.
Not that we should be yearning too heartily for simpler times, but it’s hard to recall a $1.5m diamond-encrusted scrunchie being for sale at Target.