Skip to main content

San Clemente Journal

Mask-arade, It’s About Choices

Nov 16, 2020 08:47AM ● By Donia Moore

The haunting image of the plague doctor.

by Donia Moore

 Craving diamonds? You might like to know that an Israeli company has created a diamond encrusted mask. Thought to be the world’s most expensive face mask, it boasts 3,600 diamonds and a record breaking price tag of $1.5 million. It may be the new status symbol of the Covid-19 virus. 

Most of us are looking more towards the home-made variety at the very least, and there are free patterns galore for the do-it-yourself crowd on the internet. One popular version features a cotton bandana, pressed into service by folding it over twice and attaching it to a pony-tail elastic on each side to slip over your ears; easy to wear, easy to wash. 
Etsy, an internet company, sold more than 29 million masks in April, May and June this year at an average price of $10 each.

Designer Tory Burch has a special line that includes five-packs starting at $35 with $10 per purchase going to charity. Although they originally sold out in less than an hour, they’re available for pre-purchase. Creator of the #wearadamnmask on social media, Tory challenged her Instagram followers to share masked selfies. Jennifer Anniston, Rasheda Jones and Storm Reid, along with 75,000 other people, took up the cause.

Where Did Masks Originate?
Masks may have originated in ancient Chinese religious ceremonies. Images of people wearing masks were found in rock paintings along the Yangtze. Later mask forms brings together myths and symbols from shamanism and Buddhism.

Seventeenth century Naples had the plague. In 1656, it claimed an estimated 300,000 lives in Naples alone. A visit from the plague doctor was routine. Medical Professionals wore head-to-toe leather overcoats paired with leather gloves, breeches, boots, and a wide-brimmed hat. The whole outfit was modeled after a soldier’s suit of armor and was stifling in the Italian summers. 
Far more people died of plague than combat in the 17th century, and French doctors developed the most harrowing part of the costume. The long-beaked mask had thick glass spectacles and two small holes in the beak. The beak was stuffed with straw and aromatic herbs, such as mint, myrrh, and rose petals, among others. The beak, developed by the French medical doctor Charles de Lorme, was among the first face coverings designed to diminish the spread of illness, or at least the smell of it.

Modern Use of Masks 
Modern masks became more accepted in the 19th century when doctors went without masks while workers in factories were encouraged to use them to help filter particle-ridden air. Physicians of the day summed up why mask-wearing didn’t exactly take off in the 19th century.
“Science… is conquered by free will,” they noted, and until people realize its “usefulness,” the face mask “will have to wait.” And so, the face mask waited. 

In 1897, French surgeon Paul Berger became one of the first surgeons to ever wear a face mask during an operation.  His six-layered gauze mask tied above his nose and attached to his surgical apron. On February 22, 1899, Berger read a paper, “On the Use of a Mask in Operating,” before the Surgical Society of Paris. A Monsieur Terrier scoffed at the proposal saying, “I have never worn a mask, and quite certainly I never shall do so.” Sounding familiar yet?  

In the fall of 1910, the Manchurian Plague’s death toll would rise to 60,000 in four months. Thirty-one-year-old, Cambridge educated doctor Wu Lien Teh, arrived at the epicenter of the outbreak in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin. Wu required all doctors, nurses, and even burial staff to wear face masks.

 Early masks were made of layers of gauze, cotton, even linen. Modern disposable masks grew in popularity in the 1960s, and in 1972, the N95 respirator mask was invented, becoming a healthcare standard in epidemics in 1995.

Today, masks come in a variety of materials and styles. A quick look at online advocates Etsy or Pinterest, for example, has numerous styles and instructions of how to create them. Some more contemporary masks are using plastic face shields, which can be created by 3-D printers. Others rely on ear clips to keep the mask straps from irritating the wearer’s skin. One enterprising small company called 3-D XXXX, owned by Paige and Cris Mateski, has created hundreds of the ear clips which they generously donated to front line health professionals, hospital workers, fire-fighters, police, EMT and other mask-wearing officials. Many grateful professionals can now wear their masks longer and more comfortably.

To Sew or Not to Sew
Masks don’t have to be complicated, although they can be as elaborate as you wish.
If you want to look stylish or make a political statement, you can create a mask to match every outfit like Nancy Pelosi. Many of hers come from a small boutique in Alexandria, Virginia where she also buys some of her suits. Custom-made for her to match her clothing, every mask sold generates one mask donated to Johns Hopkins hospitals.

To wear or not to wear: “Science… is conquered by free will,” just as those early physicians noted. But please, honor the wishes of the business owners whose facilities you frequent.