Masks are becoming fashion. What do they say about self-expression?

The face of America is changing— literally now that many people must wear face masks outside their homes. These new accessories come with new challenges, including how we see ourselves and others.

The dawning of the mask hierarchy has already begun with brands like Reformation and Lucky making fashionable/functional masks for consumers— at a certain price tag.

Masks are also affecting cosmetics, with eye makeup getting bolder and YouTubers giving mask-specific makeup tips. Glasses companies are thinking about this too as masks can sometimes fog glasses and cause fit issues. And some men are reconsidering having facial hair. 

That’s all according to Washington Post culture reporter Maura Judkis .

What do masks mean for people’s ability to read your facial expressions? Photo by Michell Eloy.  

“I ended up talking to a facial perception psychologist … In all of their research, they found that people are actually pretty bad at reading faces in general. We make a lot of incorrect assumptions about people based on their facial features,” Judkis says. 

She continues, “Even though we're kind of bad at reading faces, we are more unnerved about it when our ability to make those kind of guesses is thwarted, even if those guesses are wrong. And so that's why you maybe get this … unease when you're trying to interact with someone in a mask. And you’re gauging them like, ‘Are you smiling? Are you upset? Or are you scowling at me under that mask?’ It makes it very difficult.”

But Judkis points out that people aren’t going to wear masks all the time in public, or when they’re interacting with family members or on a Zoom video call. 

“It will become kind of a public-facing, private-facing sort of dichotomy in how people approach their appearance with the mask,” she says. 

—Written by Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson