How face masks altered our relationship with clothes

face masks power dress

Discussing how face masks altered our relationship with clothes, and in turn our identity, part-time MA Creative Direction student Reyes Triano explores how the power of our expression through what we wear has never been more essential as our facial interactions are impaired by the pandemic.


Rediscovering ourselves


Putting a mask on is a ritual and, in many cultures, precedes a symbolic performance. Mick Cooper, Professor of Counselling Psychology, observed these effects in our daily lives: “a mask-wearer is focused on her ‘facial’ appearance, the wearing of a mask significantly increases the extent to which she feels like the character represented in the mask”, meaning we talk to ourselves about who we are through things other people can see of us. Cooper goes on to describe that ‘a seemingly innocuous change in our appearance can change the way we feel about ourselves’. The way we present ourselves puts out a message into our surroundings and we receive the same messages from others, even while social distancing.



Talking through the mask


Who hasn’t, in the last months, tried to pop your head out on the side of the plastic screen at the supermarket till to get a word out to the cashier? We feel a wider distance in our conversations. Experts studying Speech-Language Pathology during the pandemic in Brazil concluded that “face mask increases the perception of vocal effort, difficulties in speech intelligibility, auditory feedback, and difficulty in coordinating speech”. Yes, our masks make it harder to hear other people.

All gestures seem innocent enough to perform themselves, unaware that their audience lives only in the little space for inhales and exhales, pushed against the surgical fabric of the mask as thoughts ramp up to escape it. The many faces we make during conversation are simplified into one. Luckily, research shows two types of non-verbal communication available, and even enhanced, for masks-wearers: appearance and artefacts. Wearing your favourite band’s t-shirt means a lot more now than it did a year ago. The distance between our mask and us becomes larger as every other distance in the world widens too. We have been driven into introspection but the craving for conversations and self-expression is far from gone.


A blouse speaks a thousand words


To differentiate ourselves, to fit in, or to tie ourselves to social, cultural and political ideas; since our usual interactions are impaired, we can use fashion to relate to each other. The mandatory alone time has made us, as consumers, look at our values and personality traits and we want to find brands that match them. Our pieces of clothing serve as evidence of the creative process (and its sustainable production). We are becoming more intentional buyers and so the fashion industry is taking note.

For example, Provenance -a pioneer on textile tracking- partnered with knitwear designer Martine Jarlgaard to give their customers a detailed trail back from the label on the garment to the alpaca farm where the wool was sourced. Globalization made exploring only about the outside. We see it in social media, in mental health, and fashion is not an exception.



We are looking for the stories our clothes say about us in an attempt to exude it into the world. It’s about the journey. From the demystifying Maison Margiela documentary to the audio-only presentation from Edeline Lee, fashion shows have trade guest lists for strong storytelling. Online events convey the growing democratisation and diversification of fashion. This is an unavoidable step for the industry to tailor to customers who are increasingly looking to send messages about who they are out into the world.


In conclusion


Fashion has become the recipient of our quirks and gestures; of our conversation with our surroundings. We roam the world being a pair of eyebrows and clothes so we want them to resemble who we are and what we stand for.


By Reyes Triano, MA Creative Direction 


Explore how the pandemic granted the fashion industry the need for internal reflection

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