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I work in a medical office, where I typically wear a mask anywhere from six to twelve hours consecutively. I’ve been wearing masks long before they were truly en vogue. But I was largely unsatisfied -- and frankly, frustrated -- by the insufficiency and wastefulness of the disposable, ubiquitous blue mask, and intrigued by the innumerable reusable designs on the market. I needed to find my perfect PPE.
I embarked on this endeavor with some parameters in mind: style, comfort, sustainability, wearability, functionality. I wanted something stylish, sure. More than that, I wanted a mask that could comfortably and consistently do its job. I hoped (and prayed) for a mask that could stay fastened with ease, that wouldn't slip off the bridge of my nose the second I spoke. It also wouldn’t hurt if this mask were made of recycled fabric, or if the brand producing it were donating PPE to essential workers.
Perhaps this seems like an impossible laundry list of requirements...but I’m an investigative consumer. I scoured the internet for a mask that could fulfill all of these desires (and more) -- read on to find the perfect pick for your persona.
I’m an aspirational minimalist -- I love the idea of paring down my possessions and sporting only neutrals, but find the practice difficult. This mask would be the item to win me over: it is the platonic ideal of a mask, so great that you might not need another (or if you did, you could buy a two-pack). Handmade in Europe, this Marcellamoda Cotton Face Mask is made of two layers of 100% cotton, and includes a washable filter and built-in nose wire.
The mask immediately checked a few boxes. In the gorgeous Sapphire colorway, it’s undeniably chic, making it the perfect addition to any outfit, minimalist or not. It also sustained protective functionality and comfort all day, thanks to its impeccable design. Did I mention that the ear elastics are fitted with bead adjusters to ensure a customizable fit? The innovation! It even felt minimalist. Everything about this mask is engineered to do exactly what it should: stay in place, protect public health, and help you look polished while doing it.
Suggested Use: For the days you have to head into the office or see someone you’d like to impress from a distance. You’ll look effortlessly put-together. How does she do it in the middle of a pandemic?
Somewhere out there, Carrie Bradshaw is wearing this mask in a fictionalized Manhattan. The Clare V. “Bowie” mask sits at the perfect intersection of COVID-19 caution and couture, complete with sheer floral ribbons that fasten the mask with feminine bows and allow for a completely personal fit. The mask excels in the style and comfort categories. Made of 100% linen, the body is lightweight and breathable. When adding this mask to your bag, Clare V. also makes it easy to add on a donation to the Los Angeles Urban League.
While I feel fabulous wearing the mask and appreciate Clare V.’s philanthropic efforts, it falls slightly short in the functionality category. The ethereal adjustable ribbons come with a cost -- the mask is missing the security and simplicity of an over-ear elastic situation.
Suggested Use: For an outdoor date, en plein air! This mask will do the job as long as it’s closely tied and fastened, perfect for removing when you’re seated at your sidewalk table and at a safe distance from other humans.
Featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and The Oprah Magazine, Christy Dawn’s “The Sustainable Mask” lives up to the cultural hype. Made out of 100% doubled deadstock cotton and hand-sewn in Christy Dawn’s Los Angeles factory, this three-pack of masks comes in a variety of colorways and patterns, all evocative of the earthy yet feminine style that the brand’s clothing is known for.
The masks feature a finished binding and over-ear elastic, but do not have a built-in nose wire. Initially, I worried that the elastic might make for an uncomfortable fit, or that the mask would be slipping and sliding without a wire. I am happy to report I was completely wrong! The elastic provides a gentle but secure fit; the lightness of the cotton fabric allows the mask to stay securely in place without tugging on the ears or falling off the nose.
For each five-pack of masks purchased, a five-pack is donated. In the product description, Christy Dawn lists the names of the individual dressmakers and shipping team who are responsible for the production of these masks -- the brand’s sustainable and ethical practices are transparent and apparent. Feel safe, look great, and do good: for the earth and the people who inhabit it!
Suggested Use: Gardening, running errands, getting your essential exercise -- these masks are an everyday staple. If I had kids, I would buy the corresponding children’s pack. Eco-conscious #goals for the whole family.
Founded by Allegra Abrams, a young fashion design student from Minneapolis, luv ya mask is producing PPE in every color, pattern, and customizable style -- and I am HERE for it! Allegra’s attention to detail and thoughtful design shine; each mask is customizable, from the fabric to the over-ear elastic (some masks even come with the option to select beaded elastic straps).
I chose a black-and-white floral print pattern and black elastic, and was so excited to receive my mask. It felt elegant but playful, and satisfied the exact style I was looking for -- points to Allegra for offering such a personalized mask experience. It fit much like the Christy Dawn masks, with simplicity, comfort, and security; I could feel the quality of this handcrafted mask.
I also adore luv ya mask’s “Give Back Initiative,” which donates a portion of each sale to communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. At the moment, LYM is focused on supporting the United Negro College Fund’s efforts to provide emergency financial aid to HBCUs and their students. This mask not only fits and looks like a dream, but it also supports a Black-owned small business and an ongoing initiative we love -- a triple win.
Suggested Use: Much like the Christy Dawn masks, the luv ya mask works for every occasion. We suggest ordering a few -- a “Plain Jane” to go with everything, a “Playful Print” to spice up the monotony of quarantine, and a “Bead Happy” with your own custom lettering.
THE QUEEN OF EVERYTHING
This mask is...it. While I initially wanted to try this mask for its comfort appeal -- it’s made of deadstock double-layered cotton fabric, and the around-ear elastic is cushioned in a “scrunchie tunnel” for a gentle wearing experience -- the KkCo mask exceeded my expectations at every level. This is not an exaggeration. I never thought I could love a mask, let alone feel actively excited to put it on, until I met this girl (and yes, she deserves personification).
Let’s revisit the parameters of my mask evaluation mission: style, comfort, sustainability, wearability, functionality. She does it all! This mask is beautiful (confirmed by compliments from strangers -- at a six-foot distance, of course). While I selected the Garden colorway, there’s a pattern and style for every taste, from a natural neutral to a tri-color mixed check -- just be sure to pre-order your favorite, as these sell out fast. The double-layer cotton creates a pleated effect, so that the mask expands and contracts to fit face and mouth size (and movement). And it’s not only the scrunchie ears that make this mask so damn comfortable; the fabric itself has a fantastic breathability and sense of airiness. I wore this mask for ten consecutive hours and felt, for the first time in my mask-wearing adventures, like I could breathe freely the entire time. Even better, I didn’t feel as though my skin was irritated or breaking out by the end of the day.
There’s also a subtle wire at the nose, which holds the mask’s structure without poking or awkwardly resisting the actual shape and movement of your face. I didn’t have to adjust or fix the mask at all throughout the day. It held its place as I talked and moved -- a rare feat for any mask, medical grade or not. KkCo checks the box of sustainable and ethical practices, too. The Los Angeles-based brand made and distributed free reusable face masks for those protesting police brutality in the county, and donated supplies and PPE to medical facilities in the nascent beginnings of the pandemic. Each mask purchase (and donation to their production fund) helps to sustain these efforts of solidarity.
An unexpected perk? The mask, thanks to its scrunchie feature, fits perfectly around my wrist for premium on-the-go functionality, and is easily repurposed as a hair accessory. Is there anything more optimistic and beautiful than a mask that can transition seamlessly from our pandemic present-day to a post-COVID future? I am gushing about a protective mask: this is 2020. And yes, I want it in every color.
Suggested Use: For anything, anywhere.
It’s safe to say I found my perfect mask (and quite a few others that I adore). You’ll be seeing more of our team’s favorite PPE picks in our “What’s In My Bag” series. In the meantime, let us know which mask is checking all your boxes over @thequalityedit!
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Here's what each mask looks like when safely worn -- click on any image to shop!