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Fashion’s latest accessory

From surgical to bandanas to fun-printed cloth styles, a breakdown of the different types of face masks


The coronavirus has made face masks, for better or worse, the trendiest accessory of the season. Even as states release their shelter-in-place orders, covering your mouth and nose in public places with a mask is still strongly recommended by the CDC and in some places continues to be mandatory. They are especially important as let’s face it, it’s often challenging to keep a six-foot distance. Masks block transmission of droplets, which can reduce exposure. Along with washing our hands and carrying hand sanitizer, looping or tying a mask on our face has become a part of our daily routine.

Adjusting to the “new normal” can be distressing. Seeing your father in a surgical mask or your nephew scooting down the sidewalk wearing a cute Sesame Street themed covering can be a bit alarming. To not be able to see your loved ones’ entire face on top of not hugging them is certainly a bummer. Another downside, when was the last time you saw someone outside your home smile? You might be smiling as you pass someone while walking down the street, but there is no way to convey that unless you choose to verbally share it with them. As we emerge from isolation and try to reconnect with our lives as they were, we are going to have to make some sacrifices. Wearing a mask to protect yourself and others should be an easy choice.

Having a suitable mask is a necessity, especially as social distancing meetups are being scheduled, and store trips are becoming more frequent. Often people complain about how uncomfortable they are to wear for an extended period. If tied too tight or not looped around your ears properly, it can slip or press too hard against your face. If the fabric isn’t breathable, it can be sweaty, not to mention cause chin breakouts. Since wearing a mouth covering should be non-negotiable, figuring out the style that works for you should be a priority. There is certainly a difference with all the various types of masks or mouth coverings out there. Ahead, a breakdown of the top styles.


N95 masks are a type of personal protective equipment, or PPE, a term that has been said a lot over the past several months. This specific type of mask has a filter attached that eliminates 95% of airborne particles from reaching mouths and noses. Meant for those who are coming in direct contact with someone with the virus, N95s are usually worn by healthcare professionals, making them hard to come by. But the good news is that the layperson doesn’t necessarily need that level of protection so best to leave them for doctors and nurses anyway.


Founded by Nick Graham, the man behind cult underwear brand Joe Boxer, AirbandTM brings together science and style with the first built-in filter mask that’s washable. AirbandTM combines nanofiber web technology with a built-in RX99 filtration membrane, giving the wearer protection from 99.9% of all airborne particulates. Available in cool prints and colors, AirbandTM masks and gaiters are hand-washable up to 50 times and good for 1,200 hours of wear.


Procedure masks are the thinner rectangular masks you usually see on nurses and doctors. Made from synthetic fiber, these are breathable and often contain a wired nose bridge that helps prevent your glasses from fogging. Having a box of these handy is helpful since they are disposable and single-use. They have also become easier to buy and can now be found at pharmacies like Walgreens and local drug stores.


Although these aren’t the same level of protection as the styles above, they are certainly better than not wearing one at all. The main thing to keep in mind is the thickness of the cloth since thinner, permeable material won’t be as effective. If a DIY project is in the works, use thick material or layers of fabric so that the germ particles will be blocked. Also, make sure the fit will be secure around the head and won’t slip off the nose. Cloth masks also act as a barrier from keeping unwashed hands out of mouths and noses. When purchasing a cloth mask, choose one that has multiple layers of breathable fabric, that doesn’t leave any gaps around your chin, mouth, and nose, and is washable. Almost every fashion brand has been creating its own. You can choose a fun bright style, like the leggings company GoldSheep has been producing from the very beginning of the pandemic, or for more subtle stylish shades, check out the assorted packs of masks from BlackStrap, made from upcycled materials. Or why not go with a pretty lace option like these from lingerie brand Cosabella. The great thing about cloth masks is they are easy to wash and reuse.


Some companies are producing cloth masks with antibacterial fabric. This kills germs, providing further assurance that no particles come into contact with you. Z Supply has a unisex tie-dye set made with a terry cloth and an antimicrobial interior. If you prefer to keep it basic black, Carbon38 has a sleek mask that is not only made with fast-drying antibacterial fabric but has a multi-layered filtration system.


Anyone who is a skier or hiker probably has one of these handy, although you didn’t think you’d be reaching for yours to go to the supermarket in summer. Like an oversized turtleneck, these have a tubular shape and can be easily pulled above your nose, covering the bottom half of your face and neck. The lack of tying and the tendencies of these to be a bit looser make them a comfortable option. Look for a style like Eddie Bauer Multiclava, which is breathable, seamless, and machine washable. Another fantastic option is Buff, which Survivor fans might recognize. They have styles for the whole family and options that have cooling and UV properties.


The beauty of bandanas and scarves is that you are likely to own some options already. Bandanas will not only give you an edgy or fashionable look but are simple to adjust while you are out and about. Scarves allow you to easily protect the lower half of your face. If you are looking to add to your collection or purchase your first, Madewell has cute bandanas in paisley to polka dots patterns, and Echo has beautiful scarves like this pretty watercolor wrap.

If you need to leave your home or choose to, just remember to put on a mask and wash your hands as often as possible. Stay healthy!

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