From Pandemic Necessity to Human Billboard—How Face Masks Evolved into a Must-have Accessory


Fast Company | September 15, 2020


Face masks have been a part of daily life for months—and will continue to be—face masks are starting to morph from a personal necessity to a form of personal expression. People are giving some serious pizzazz to their PPE, and it has a surprising historical parallel. The T-shirt.

T-shirts were originally solely utilitarian. They evolved from long johns in the late 1800s and were considered underwear. It wasn’t until the 1950s that T-shirts started to become acceptable as outerwear. In the ’60s and ’70s, graphic T-shirts replaced the plain white tee, when improvements in screen printing intersected with major political movements. Masks have undergone a similar evolution—from the blue-and-white surgical mask to using your body as a message of communication. Both the Biden and Trump campaigns now sell face masks; US Open tennis champion Naomi Osaka wore masks emblazoned with the names of Black victims of violence for each of her seven matches; and there are a variety of political and social justice-related masks on Etsy.


So don’t just think of your masks as PPE—think of them as an extension of yourself, and a tiny canvas for your face.


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