As countries around the world tighten rules on mask-wearing, consumers are demanding more from their face coverings. And companies are responding.
Inventors have dreamed up masks with motorized air purifiers, Bluetooth speakers and even sanitizers that kill germs by heating the face covering (but hopefully not the face) to over 200 degrees. In South Korea, the electronics giant LG has created a mask powered with fans that make it easier to breathe.
In boutiques, patterned masks are showing up on mannequins, exquisitely paired with designer dresses. An Indian businessman said he spent $4,000 on a custom mask made of gold. And a French costume designer has filled Instagram with phantasmagoric designs featuring everything from pterodactyls to doll legs.
The urge to innovate has been great in Japan, where masks were widespread even before the pandemic. On Takeshita Street in Harajuku, the youth fashion mecca, storefronts are lined with masks ranging from the playful (plush animal faces) to the punk-inspired (leather straps studded with spikes and safety pins).
But while these masks may be fashionable, buyers should beware, said Kazunari Onishi, an expert on infectious diseases at the Graduate School of Public Health at St. Luke’s International University in Tokyo.
“If your priority is reliably preventing infection, these masks will not protect your life,” he said, adding that even if you wear a mask, “you must maintain a safe social distance.”