Mask Up: Students Stay Safe and Stylish On Campus

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his semester’s new must-have trend is just that—a must-have. Masks are crucial in the fight against COVID-19, and they will continue to be a staple in the foreseeable future. Students on campus have had no choice but to embrace the new normal. But that doesn’t mean they are doing it uniformly. Walking through campus, you can’t miss the variety of masks—from medical masks to hand-stitched ones to masks decorated with unique patterns. 

Among the most popular types you’ll see are the surgical disposable masks, with reusable masks, often cloth, close behind. With almost every store across the country—including both small businesses and worldwide brands—making their way into the mask market, students have been provided with endless options. Social media platforms like Instagram and Etsy have ads for teens and adults looking for trendy and affordable masks. A few popular sites include Kitsch, Claire and Clara, and Revolve

“I frequently see ads on my social media, so I primarily order them through there,” said Brenna McCormick, CSOM ’23. “Due to the necessity of masks, I enjoy buying cute ones since I will be wearing them every day.” 

Not only are students purchasing their masks from these sites, but social media has a hand in promoting the idea that they are now a fashion statement. Influencers and celebrities, such as the Kardashians and Bella Hadid, have been seen updating their profiles smiling behind their well-coordinated masks, and students are following suit. The trend has even made its way into high fashion where brands like Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, and Supreme have designed masks to be added to their collections. 

Of course, as with any other fashion trend, there are ways to join in without breaking the bank. One great way to do this is by creating homemade masks. For those who are a bit craftier, there are hundreds of videos on YouTube showing how to sew your own facemask using a fabric of your choice. 

The Centers for Disease Control has guidelines on its website concerning how to best choose a face mask—it recommends that you wear a mask with at least two layers of washable, breathable fabric that fits snugly over your mouth and nose. The CDC website also warns visitors that the efficacy of nylon gaiters and plastic face shields is still largely unknown.

Despite the relative popularity of N95 respirator masks and surgical masks on campus, the CDC advises people not to buy them for personal use to preserve a supply for medical personnel.

Effectiveness is the priority when selecting a mask—rationally judging which mask to wear in a given situation comes next. Fun, fashionable masks may complete an outfit, but they are not always ideal for hour-long lectures and class discussions. It is important that students are comfortable and can learn with as little distractions as possible. 

“When we have to be wearing them every day, almost all day, my first priority is for it to be comfortable, breathable, but also clean looking,” Allison Simon, MCAS ’23, said. “I have been wearing solid colors and silk, which I think looks clean, doesn’t irritate your skin, and also looks fashionable at the same time.” 

This has also been a challenge for professors who have had to find the masks best suitable for teaching. Michael Serazio, a professor in the communication department, has run into two common problems so far this semester. One issue, he said, is that communication is about more than just words, and masks have made it hard to give nonverbal cues. Another, he said, is that it’s hard to hear students in the back. 

“This summer, I bought, like, 10 different mask types to see which would be easiest to teach in,” Serazio said. 

Outside of the classroom, Boston College has a strict policy requiring masks to be worn inside residence halls (excluding student’s own rooms), outside on campus, and in libraries and dining halls. 

This is no different in the gym, where students have strong opinions as to what works best, given the difficulty of working out in a mask. Simon leans toward reusable masks while at the gym, while Dylan Murphy, CSOM ’24, opts for the disposable options so that he can just toss them when done.  

Some may not think of face masks necessarily as a trend—they are non-optional, integral parts of our lives now. But the way students have adapted to these times has undoubtedly shown trendy masks are here to stay. Keep an eye out this fall and watch the way face masks continue to grow in the fashion industry and campus culture. 

Caroline Quinn

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