One day in the distant past, legendary Victoria street cop Doug Bond tried to persuade a suspect in a credit union robbery to confess.
C’mon, Bond told less-than-co-operative criminal, you match the description given by the tellers.
“That’s bulls---,” the robber replied. “I had my face covered.”
Ah, the olden days, when masks were exclusive to A) stick-up artists, B) hockey goalies, C) trick-or-treaters, or D) the cast of St. Elsewhere.
Which is what came to mind this week when stumbling across a fifth, terrifying purpose: as a pandemic fashion accessory.
“Canadian designers on a mission to make masks more fun” read the Times Colonist headline on a Canadian Press story describing how for $25 you could buy a face covering that was not only comfortable and washable, but chic. “It becomes something to be excited about, rather than [dwelling on] the reality of why you have to wear a mask in the first place,” a Toronto designer was quoted as saying.
In Britain, the BBC weighed in with a similar piece documenting how mask couture has gone global, from Paris runways to Japan.
“It is a necessary fashion statement right now,” the article quoted an Instagram style guru as declaring. Hillary Clinton has praised Nancy Pelosi’s “mask-to-pantsuit colour co-ordination,” the story said. An Italian designer who, as a joke, posted photos of a bikini-and-mask combo known as the trikini was flooded with orders. Givenchy has come out with a cap-and-mask set that will set you back $720 Cdn.
“I wumph bawda ho druk fer vivehun dowers,” I reminded my wife.
“Pardon?” she said.
I pulled down my mask. “I once bought a whole truck for $500.”
This was true. It came with two unexplained bullet holes in the box, which gave it a certain character. And I didn’t have to worry about it clashing with the rest of my outfit, either.
This masks-as-fashion imperative just rubs salt in the wound. Right up until last week, health officials had given a bit of a shrug to the idea that most people should run around wearing non-medical masks at all. Guess they can’t hurt, was the half-hearted response. Just don’t use them as a substitute for physical distancing.
Then, on Wednesday, the message was tweaked: We should wear masks when it’s not possible to stay two metres apart. Doing so provides some protection against your germs.
Many of us welcomed this news with as much enthusiasm as Canucks fans welcomed Mark Messier. Masks are uncomfortable. They make it hard to talk, or breathe. After the first muffled “Luke, I am your father,” the novelty wears off. Also, some people squirm when they see you. (Note the 2017 Quebec law that effectively bars women who cover their faces for religious reasons from holding government jobs. Presumably Quebec politicians will now dutifully don masks and then, just as dutifully, fire themselves. Serves them right.)
Never mind. If wearing masks when we’re within spitting distance of people who don’t want to be spat upon keeps them safe, then let’s do it — but forget this nonsense about doing so in Armani. Or even Kirkland.
Good lord, have the fashionistas even been to Vancouver Island? We invented brown sandals with white knee socks. Our best pleated khakis still have price tags from Zellers. Even at the best of times, many of us aren’t trusted to appear in public without vigorous pre-screening. (“Am I wearing this to work? Of course not. These are merely my car-warming clothes. Please remind me again of what it was I wanted to wear.”)
And these are far from the best of times. The fabric pills rolling off your pyjamas, the ones you haven’t been out of since March, resemble little coronarviruses. When you see the stains on the front of your shirt, you don’t know if it’s this morning’s breakfast or last night’s supper. Last time you looked in the mirror, you felt sorry for your reflection, tried to slip it five bucks (or audition it for the lead in Castaway: The Musical). Meanwhile, even the unshorn Justin Trudeau is starting to look a little like Frank Zappa.
So, no, we’re not going to go around saying things like: “Nasty cough you go there, Bob, but that red face bandana really brings out the bloodshot in your eyes.” Let the real cops bust real masked bad guys, but fashion police be damned.
Share a photo of your mask
Are you wearing a mask when you go outside now? High fashion or low, we’d like to see it!
Share a photo of your mask or face covering, and we’ll feature some of our favourites in the paper and online. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “mask” in the subject line, and tell us a bit about your mask and whether you made it yourself or purchased it. Be sure to include your name and the city where you live.