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Ask Chris Black: Now That We All Wear Them, What Reusable Masks Do You Like?

Photo: Alix Rutsey

If you’re looking for the most powerful hair dryer or the handiest chef’s knife, those things can be easy enough to find. Other objects of desire are a little more taste-based. What’s the next status water bottle or hand wash, for instance? If you have a burning question about the next fanny pack or Noah rugby shirt, Chris Black is here to answer it in a regular column.

Now that we are all making an effort to wear them, what reusable face masks do you recommend?

The new flex will be the designer face mask. Since we cannot see each other smile or frown, a branded piece of cloth will have to emote for us. Many of the below options come from retailers that are donating masks for every purchase, but if you can afford to buy extra and donate them yourself, please do.

Etsy, not surprisingly, is home to a small fortune of cotton face masks. If you want to stay safe but also let people know you are from the greatest city in the world, replace your New Era fitted with this (nonregulation) New York Yankees–inspired face mask. Or, wear hat and mask together to really show your support.

$32 for 3

Baggu’s colorful, machine-washable versions are made from 100 percent Kona Quilter’s Cotton. The fabric’s tight weave and thick thread are effective at “blocking respiratory droplets” while still allowing you to breathe, according to the brand. Baggu is donating masks for every set it sells, and even has a video on its site that tells you how to properly put them on. The masks are available for preorder, and will ship in early June.

I have been wearing the 100 percent cotton masks from Los Angeles Apparel. They’re no frills, do the job, and come in lots of different colors and prints so you can express yourself while going to the grocery store … again. Certain colors are sold out, but others, like this plaid print called “Madeline,” are in stock and ready to ship. As this website has pointed out in its extensive list of masks, Los Angeles Apparel also donates a mask for every purchase.

In a wildcard pick, St. John, the luxury knitwear brand, has come through with the on-trend animal-print mask in a soft pique cotton for anyone who wants to take a (socially distanced) walk on the wild side. The company is donating three masks “to those in need” for every one purchased, and while it is advertising pandemic-related shipping delays, the mask is currently in stock and ready to ship.

New York–based brand Collina Strada is making some wild masks from deadstock fabrics. With their dramatic bow fastens, they look almost like couture — and are priced appropriately. But they’re not just fashion: These also have a slot for inserting a filter, making them functional, too. The brand is donating five masks to “healthcare workers in New York City” for every one purchased, making the price tag a bit more reasonable. These are in stock and available to ship, and one final note from the brand that I felt compelled to share: “If you or a loved one is sick and this is out of your price range, please reach out to us directly; we have other masks available to send to you at no charge.”

My boyfriend is turning 25 next month and I want to give him a birthday gift that feels more special to mark the occasion. But with most “experiences” off the table due to lingering shelter-in-place orders, I am having a bit of trouble deciding what to get. Can you share some ideas?

The quarantine birthday is not … the best. You won’t be taking him to Amangiri for a relaxing weekend or hitting Chez Panisse for dinner, but let’s do our best to make it a special one! Below are a handful of things that I would have liked to receive at 25 — some are trendier, others are more timeless, but all are the type of long-lasting staples for a wardrobe or a kitchen or a living room that he can enjoy for years to come.

If he’s the home-audio type, the gift of pure, pristine sound quality is one he can fully appreciate indoors. Klipsch’s The Three Wireless Speaker has plenty of inputs, so he can listen to records, tapes, hell, even CDs! It has a clean mid-century look (and is available in a darker ebony wood in addition to this lighter walnut), but don’t let its sleek appearance fool you: For its size, this thing gets plenty loud.

When it comes to clothing, shirts or shorts or even shoes might feel a bit too expected for the big 2-5. In my opinion, fewer garments say “special” like a piece of lightweight, high-end outerwear that he can rock forever, in almost any season. This black hemp overshirt from Stone Island will look good on anyone, and its timeless style and fit makes it an instant classic. He can wear it around the house on chillier days, as a light jacket in warmer months, and layer it beneath heavier jackets as it gets colder.

Maybe quarantine has brought out his inner chef? If so, free some space on your eventual wedding registry by surprising him with this set of Le Creuset’s beloved enamel, cast-iron cookware. The bundle includes a 4.5-quart Dutch oven (the brand’s slightly larger 5.5-quart Dutch oven retails for $350 alone), along with a skillet and smaller, lidded sauce pan — or pretty much everything he’d need to prepare most meals. No matter the color, it will age beautifully — and if you break up instead of get married, he will still use it. Le Creuset is that good.

A wild-card pick would be this Indian Summer Vessel by Gaetano Pesce that I, personally, can’t stop thinking about. It’s functional (use it for flowers, his matchbook collection, or as the biggest salt bowl he’s ever seen) and unforgettable — a truly extraordinary piece that would work in any space, because it’s so unique. In addition to this bold blue-on-amber palette, it’s also available in a funky turquoise-on-clear colorway.

Art is always a sophisticated choice. Dike Blair, one of my favorite artists, did an excellent series of black-and-white drawings for a show at the Karma Bookstore last year. This print, Untitled, features a couple of hot dogs and a can of Coke. It’s simple and nostalgic enough to go with anything else he might have on his walls. It’s also a limited edition and signed by the artist himself.

After copping a few tasteful photo books, I’ve decided to kick my shutterbug hobby up a notch to spice up my mundane walks around the burbs. What camera would you recommend for an amateur photographer who wants to appear tasteful and not come across as a novice hipster dork?

Love to help a blossoming photographer! I have some opinions, but I thought it would be best to call in an expert to help me. My buddy Jeff Henrikson is a skilled photographer who has shot for W magazine, Vogue, and Interview. He will be our spirit guide and is taking it from here!

Sony’s mirrorless A-series cameras like the A6100 have quickly become as much a go-to for professional photographers as models from legacy brands like Canon and Nikon. Many pros make the jump to Sony for its cameras’ quality and compactness; for me, the touch screen and built-in flash on this camera are also big pluses. Although carrying around a digital camera to capture travel or daily life seems like a thing of the past for many, using an actual camera will of course deliver better photos than your phone’s camera, without using software tricks like portrait mode and filters. If you’re savvy enough, you can even sync this to your phone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to immediately share photos on social media. For the price shown, you not only get the camera, but a carrying bag and memory card as well.

Photo: Retailer

This camera has been in the bags and jacket pockets of pros for years, ever since the genre of digital point-and-shoot cameras came into its own. It’s a bit more sophisticated and less commercial than other models, with less sparkly features (including no built-in flash) than some other up-to-the-minute models from name brands. It’s also a bit more expensive, but I think more stylish: This camera is much more likely to get you the “Hey, cool camera!” comment and is durable enough to keep on you at all times.

While it’s not digital and no longer in production, if you are looking for a less-expensive film camera to hone your ability, this Olympus MJU II 35mm point-and-shoot camera is almost always for resale on eBay or Etsy and is an excellent alternative to more expensive, trendier options from T4 or Contax. I always have it in my bag or within arm’s reach. While there are many models in Olympus’s Stylus Epic series, I would go for the MJU II for its fixed lens, which gives the best results if you’re after that point-and-shoot look. As the name suggests, it takes any regular 35mm film.

Of course, shopping for older cameras like this means that sellers usually don’t have many in stock, and often have just one camera on offer. This camera, for instance, is a one-off — but a simple search of Ebay or Etsy will turn up more if one sells out before you can snag it.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Ask Chris: What Reusable Face Masks Do You Like?