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Fashion For The Germophobe

Can you feel it?

Like discrete clouds beginning to gather before a storm.

Not a trend, really. Not yet. But a tendency toward a trend. A trendency.

On the subway, on a crowded street, at a concert: a person here and there — a Great Pre-trender — wears a hand-sanitizer vial on a necklace or sports a protective mask. In China, mask mania is taking off. The South China Morning Post reports that the country's worsening air quality "has had a surprising and unexpected consequence — fashionable face masks."

Surely the U.S. will not lag far behind. Already we are seeing:

/ Courtesy of Mouth Shutters
Courtesy of Mouth Shutters

* Floral germ masks.

/ Courtesy of Darn Tough
Courtesy of Darn Tough

* Colorful antimicrobial socks.

/ Courtesy of Gloveables
Courtesy of Gloveables

* Black latex cleaning gloves with leopard-print cuffs and bows.

Could we be witnessing a veer toward fear? Precaution couture? WaryWear? Styles not for runways but for those who run away — from germs?

Too soon to tell, say fashion experts.

"Fashion has often turned toward the protective or defensive," says fashion historian Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. "However, it is difficult to draw a connection between these styles and the times, since 'uncertain times' equals most of world history."

/ Courtesy of Coolibar
Courtesy of Coolibar

She says that fashion often does respond to the moment. Contemporary health concerns have given us anti-pollution masks and hats to block the sun.

But style can also run the other direction — away from fear. "Fashion's reaction to trauma tends to tilt towards the ameliorative," says fashion reporter Robin Givhan of The Washington Post. "That is, in trying times to offer heightened beauty and escapism."


The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers – Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers – of NPR. @NPRtpj

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linton Weeks joined NPR in the summer of 2008, as its national correspondent for Digital News. He immediately hit the campaign trail, covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions; fact-checking the debates; and exploring the candidates, the issues and the electorate.