In light of the Omicron variant and at the urging of public-health experts, the CDC has updated its mask guidelines. The agency’s new standards stress that fabric masks are the least protective against COVID-19, whereas well-fitting N95, KN95, and KF94 masks — which use special nonwoven materials with an electric charge to block tiny aerosol particles — do a much better job of stopping the virus’s spread. Of course, any mask is better than no mask, but since this article was last updated in August 2020, we’ve talked to doctors, scientists, and public-health experts to help you find the best and most protective of the bunch. So whether you’re looking for a comfortable N95 you can wear on a plane, a child-size KF94, KN95 masks your teenager can wear to school, or advice on double masking, we can help.
Over the past few months, protective masks have become a part of our daily lives — and likely will continue to be. In the early days of the pandemic, choosing a mask often came down to ordering whichever pack of blue surgical masks happened to be available online. But now, masks have become as much an expression of personal style as any other item in your wardrobe. From the cheerful Liberty prints of Atlanta-based designers Sid and Ann Mashburn’s version to Tia Adeola’s lace-adorned masks-slash-head-coverings that look almost like something out of a Renaissance painting, masks have transcended the purely utilitarian to become an expression of taste (not to mention, often a relatively inexpensive way to own something from a favorite brand). To hear about the most stylish (and still comfortable and secure) ones out there, we reached out to dozens of people with great style — below, their everyday masks, “fashion masks,” and everything in between.
“Hands down my favorite face mask is my black mask with the yellow Wu-Tang logo in the front. It became sort of a signature during the campaign. It’s not just because the Wu-Tang Clan is my favorite hip-hop group of all time, it’s more than that. Hip-hop is not just music; it’s a culture that was created by teenagers who were forgotten about, and they came together and turned this neglect into something beautiful. Hip-hop is the culture that raised me, along with my mother, and now Wu-Tang is what helped me connect with the people I met on the campaign trail. They know where I’m coming from without even saying anything. It also shows that wearing a mask isn’t just a way to keep yourself, your family, and your community safe — it’s a way to express yourself. Wu-Tang forever!” —Jamaal Bowman, Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress
“I am still trying to come around to the idea of seeing face masks as fashion accessories, considering that they serve as daily reminders of our current morbid reality. In any case, Studio 189 actually makes some fun ones. It has fun options in different fabrications. (My favorite is the Lola Hand Batik because — INDIGO.) They are lightweight, too, and have inserts for PM 2.5 filters.” —Niyi Okuboyejo, designer
“For everyday use, I love the Baggu masks. They come as a set of three, so you always have one to wear while you are washing the others. There is a nose wire to help with the fit, and I like the way the ties go over the back of the head for a nice, comfortable fit that doesn’t put pressure on the ears. I really love the material — it’s a Kona Quilter’s Cotton, which is a specially densely woven cotton, the type that is most recommended in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Also, the color palettes are delightful, as you would expect from Baggu.” —Chay Costello, associate director of merchandising MoMA Design Store
“After some trial and error — and I will now only allow natural fibers against my skin — I have settled on an ear strap and cotton mask from J.Crew. They come in packs of three and natural cotton in classic blue-and-white stripe and blue chambray-shirt materials. While not high protection, they are the most comfortable for the summer when there is a lot of easy outdoor social distancing to buffer. I imagine a heavier outer layer for when we return to the office and smaller spaces.” —Matthew Malin, Malin + Goetz co-founder
“I’ve been alternating between my Lele Sadoughi face masks. They come in bright colors and playful prints, making it easy to have fun with your mask while staying safe. My personal favorite is a neutral gingham printed mask with subtle hand-embellished silver stars. On top of being stylish, it’s made of a soft cotton fabric that’s easy to breath in and has colorful ear straps that can be adjusted to maximize comfort.” —Marissa Galante Frank, Bloomingdale’s fashion director for accessories and beauty
“NYC designer Susan Alexandra has truly made the super-femme, sweetly joyful mask of my dreams. Susan’s designs are fun and make me feel buoyant, which is saying a lot for a mask in 2020. They look incredible in person, are sewn from vintage cotton fabric, and have the telltale oodles of S.A. charm and personality in the form of beaded accents, baby rosettes, and rainbow ribbons.” —Natasha Li Pickowicz, pastry chef
“Because I’m always covered in wax or some sort of sticky material, I like to wear one vibrant thing that will distract people from all the other residue. Pre-COVID, I loved a bright lip, however, since visible mouths are retired, I’ve started wearing the Susan Alexandra gingham bow mask, and I adore it. It’s so playful and fun, and peacocks in the right way. Full disclosure, I didn’t pay for this mask. My sister Susan is the brilliant designer, and I stole it from her, for which I guess I should apologize … When that mask is in the wash, I do a paper medical mask. Extremely breathable; plus, surgical blue is the new neutral.” —Janie Korn, candle artist
“Lisa Says Gah’s face mask with matching scrunchie is such a cute set — it goes with everything, and the mask is breathable and durable. The best part, $1 for every mask purchase goes to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank.” —Lili Chemla, founder of LESET
“You want to have a summer mask for everyday sweat, a fashion mask, and something in between the two that’s just for every day. For my everyday mask, I like the ones from Made by Alex. He has one of the last factories on 29th Street, where they make all the masks. They’re cotton microbial masks, and if you want, they will even do custom embroidery. It’s a really good way to support a ‘made in New York’ business, and he also just makes a fantastic product.” —Olivia Rose, founder of the plan