These days, when my family ventures into town to pick up groceries, we see people wearing a rainbow of creative face masks. The facial coverings are a practical way to stem to spread of COVID-19, but they also reflect our personalities and outlook on life.

On my Instagram feed, people are wearing masks made of everything from repurposed designer hand bags to aprons. In 2020, masks aren’t just medical devices; they’re fashion.

According to Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, people have used protective facial gear throughout history to send a message to those around them. In the 1600s, doctors wore masks with long, pointed beak-like extensions at the nose, which could be stuffed with incense, since people believed that the plagues were transmitted through foul smells. “They clearly didn’t work,” Steele says. Continue reading