Saturday, 25 July 2020

The masked aisle cruiser: musings on mask wearing for travel and shopping

So it is Day 2 of mandatory mask wear in shops in England, a rule which has already been in place for some time now on public transport. I haven't been to a shop since yesterday, as I have been laid low for a couple of days with one of those "corrective migraine and exhaustion episodes" my body tends to throw my way after a period of extreme physical exertion - in this case a rather strenuous garage clear out last weekend. I have, however, been practising donning a mask in the run up to the change in the regulations, and have some initial thoughts on various aspects of mask wear and disposal.

The fit

Well, where do I start? Just as shoes and dresses come in different sizes, so should masks, for people's heads are vastly different in shape. And not just their heads as a whole: for as one Facebook friend commented, separate features on her face had divergent requirements:  

"I think my nose is a D cup and my ears are only an A cup."

And then there is the matter of chin size relative to the rest of the face, and face width generally. I have tried on loads of masks and most fall short on some dimension: overall looseness, slack elastic, overly long elastic, too much bunched up fabric - giving something of a nappy look - scratchiness, unmouldability over the bridge of the nose, lack of breathability, spectacle fogging etc.


My easiest "straight-out-of-the-packet-with-no-breaking-in-tweaking-or-adjustment" mask to date is this stretchy yet breathable one from The Big Bloomers Company (see above). It also comes in pink and denim blue. The company already do a 'large' and a 'medium', which is a step in the right sizing direction and I correctly went for medium, but so far on the market I have not encountered many sizing options. Maybe the category will evolve and become more nuanced as the wearing of masks becomes an everyday reality. My favourite design in my collection is the leafy one, bottom left in the picture at the top of the post.

I also have one of these snood-cum-scarves-cum-face coverings (known officially as 'collar-shields' to their makers, Patra), which may be a bit porous to count as a mask - or maybe not. I very much doubt that any official in either a supermarket or on a train will get close enough to members of the public to check for fibre density. 


Oh, and while the charcoal grey one I just mentioned is fine for everyday use, I have succumbed to a Facebook advert for these slinky silk masks, which I figured might be nice for evening wear, when that distant time comes round and we can go out to gigs and parties again. It appears to have an adjustable toggle, which looks promising, as long as it isn't an uncomfortable accessory in itself. But hey, three for the price of two in different colourways - how could I resist....!?


The disposal aspect

Now as well as a bunch of washable fabric masks, early on in the pandemic I did buy a pack of the standard blue plastic ones - the kind that could perhaps be classed as 'low tech PPE'-grade. They are too big for my face, haha, and I also don't like the disposability aspect. I have seen quite a few of these masks abandoned in gutters and on verges, and I worry that we may be storing up a huge waste problem for ourselves comparable to the one involving microplastics. I hate to think of a dolphin being strangled by an inevitably ill-fitting mask, but that day may come.


The masked aisle cruiser

I should perhaps update this category once I have been shopping with the new rules in place, but I think I will prefer to wear a mask in the supermarket now they are mandatory. I felt rather self-conscious during my practising phase, not least because I was pretty much the only person in any shop wearing one(!), or one of only a very few. I fully expect some people to flout the rules - and not just those using the government-sanctioned excuse that it would cause them "severe distress", which is a pretty comprehensive get out for anyone actually. :)

"Those who 'cannot put on, wear, or remove a face covering without severe distress' will be exempt."

Distress levels are of course subjective...

The masked rail rider

In a major lockdown development, I went on a train the other day. I did have a friend to see at the other end, but it was also a way to get some value from my Senior Rail Card which had been lying worryingly fallow in recent months, as well as an experiment to see how I felt about using public transport, and whether I would consider it as a means of getting all the way to my French house, or the station that is half an hour's drive away, say. I think I would, but for the immediate future I could probably still do with taking my car, on account of the things I need to bring over.

On the way back from my excursion I had the whole carriage to myself! I decided to wear the mask regardless, so as not to create a miasma of respiratory droplets for anyone to inhale from Stafford to Crewe, and also to keep my face warm as the (droplet dispersing) aircon was so fierce!

On the outward leg my experience was a little more mixed. There can't have been more than a dozen people in the carriage even so, but I started out sitting next to three girls from Liverpool with big party hair and not a mask between them. They were chattering away nineteen to the dozen, so having clocked their high aerosol production, I decided to move further away. The next nearest person was a middle-aged man, quite heavily built and with a disconcerting habit of exhaling deeply with almost every breath. "That's way too much exhalation for one person", I thought to myself, and promptly moved again. The next person to whom I was relatively near kept sniffing, so I didn't last long near him, and the final person I settled near coughed rather more than I would have liked. I had however exhausted places to move to by this point. Plus they were all wearing masks at least, unlike the Scouse girls.

So it has been an interesting learning curve. Can't say I like having to wear a mask one bit, but I will persevere as long as it is the law. And at least I have some "going out masks" aka "facial glad rags" on their way that give me hope for the future...

Hendricks demonstrates my stretchy mask

What is your experience of mask wearing?

Have you tried ones of a different construction, eg with valves or the ones that come to more of a point over your nose?

Do let us know in the comments how covering your face has been for you...


Hazel said...

Trouble is, they all hook over the ears - which is a problem if you wear hearing aids. Add specs and you have severe aural overload.

Vanessa said...

Hi Hazel,

Aha, a very valid problem raised that I hadn't thought of. Ear size is also key - some of the elastic on my masks slips straight off again. Or maybe it is more down to its tightness. A minefield of interrelated factors, certainly.

Tara said...

Hi V, I wore a mask for 2 hours today at the hairdresser's and it was grim but manageable. I still wouldn't go on public transport though.
My mum said she prefers the pleated masks because the smooth ones 'feel like a gag'.
I have 3 'fashion masks' coming in the post which I now think may be an ill-fitting mistake.

Love your slinky evening mask!

Anonymous said...

Many health personnel were finding their ears getting sore from the masks, so our uni started a 3D printing project of mask extenders for them.

Masks aren't mandatory in our part of Canada, but I wear them in stores and on transit. Can't see myself taking a plane anytime soon if a mask is necessary...AnnieA

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Two hours is my limit so far - what style of mask did you wear for the salon? Look forward to seeing the results - must be so nice to have had that done.

The pleated masks are more forgiving, but can be a bit baggy. The beauty of the grey one I mentioned is that it was stretchy and just loose enough to fit well but be breathable. I do have a smooth one too I got from China and it is a complete non-starter. More like a strange white nose clamp!

The evening masks have yet to arrive actually - got one in black, that gold colour and a sort of antique rose.

Vanessa said...

Hi AnnieA,

Oh yes, I have seen pictures of health staff with marks on their cheeks too where the masks have dug in, so extenders sound ideal. Their PPE is necessarily more heavy duty to start with too.

Interesting to hear the regs on mask wearing in your part of Canada. I would only feel comfortable taking a plane if there were few people on it, the flight was quite short, or I was more used to wearing a mask for long periods! Some day.

Anonymous said...

Sorry you had one of your "heads" again - hope you are now fully recovered, and pleased with the results of your clearout.

I fancy Judi Dench's mask - image of a wild cat's mouth wide open, exposing the fangs and looking like it was hers!

I still haven't ventured anywhere, but our box of disposable masks has arrived so we are prepared for when we finally do go outside. I'm not happy about them being disposable either, but it was a panic purchase and I will now search for something like Judi's.

Love your tale of the train. To be honest, I often used to play musical seats on trains (when there was the space available) but that would have been down to smelly passengers, weirdos or noisy travellers .... didn't think about germs then.


teardrop said...

As a nurse I've had to wear a mask all day long at work for the last four months, usually the blue surgical kind, which are actually made from plastic, not paper. It took a while, but I'm pretty much used to them now. They vary a lot in comfort levels, depending on which supplier they've come from. Some are very tight around the ears, & extenders don't work for me as I have short, smooth hair & the things just slide down the back of my head. Others have wire over the nose which isn't bendy enough to pinch it into place. For certain activities I've worn the heavier duty masks with the round filter on the front, & they are incredibly uncomfortable!
I bought a set of three "Great British Designer" masks from Boots for use outside work. These are quite stiff cotton, but I expect they'll soften a little with washing. They have adjustable ear straps, good bendy wire over the nose & fit nicely from nose to chin.
I've ordered one from Pacamask which was much more expensive, but looks like a more structured design. I'll report back when it arrives. I also have a set of three batik masks on the way from Bali, ordered via Novica. I'm quite excited about these!
You're right about sizing being an issue. I ordered some stretchy ones for my partner featuring his favourite football team, & they're not quite big enough for his face!
I love the idea of silk masks, these must be much more comfy & breathable to wear, & yours looks so glamorous!
I do worry about the effects on the environment, having also seen so many discarded masks on the streets, & I really don't think surgical PPE should be worn by the general public. Hopefully once they realise masks can be a fashion statement, they'll all get themselves some more stylish reusable ones!

Vanessa said...

Hi Jillie,

I am noted for my 'heads', haha, and thanks for your good wishes. I am really chuffed with the garage clearout. I had a surprise visit from the gardener who did a lot of heavy clearance work in the garden in the spring and when I showed him the garage as it is now he was astonished and delighted! Apparently it is very rare to see an orderly garage and it was 'clear' he approved of my efforts. Let's hope I can keep it that way.

Are you going to start going out on August 1st? I do hope so, as where you live is very safe and we may be in this spot for a long while yet. I hope my brother's shielding is over soon, though Scotland has a different timetable for all this.

The Judi Dench mask sounds ace. I hope you find some fun fabric masks by and by.

And yes, I have moved seats a lot on trains in the past, usually due to children or noise. Germs adds a whole new dimension!

Vanessa said...

Hi teardrop,

Really appreciate your taking the time to comment, for as a nurse you are right in the thick of all this, and a mask veteran, with a view on all the different kinds.

I have amended the post reference to 'plastic', and thanks for pointing it out. I did know that as I was talking about plastic waste in the ocean, so I don't know what came over me. I suppose they look like paper from a distance maybe?

I have fine smooth hair and also have that sliding down issue with the 'head elastic' of some models - had forgotten about that! Same with those ties like shoelaces you can have instead of elastic. I really need ear elastic or bust. And I know what you mean about wire that isn't bendy enough. I expect those heavy duty masks with the filters are top of the list for leaving marks on your face!

The batik masks sound lovely. I am not sure I do so well with a structured design, as it presumes a certain face shape / size, and is less mouldable? And which British designers did you go for out of interest in the other ones?

I think the public are gradually gravitating towards resuable masks, and let's hope this trend continues...

Old Herbaceous said...

At the start of all this, when masks were scare in the US, I made some quick and easy no-sew masks for my family by cutting up t-shirts (you cut off the sleeves and the bottom serged hem, hang the long thin hem piece around your neck and thread the ends through the "tube" of the sleeve piece, and tie them together behind or on top of your head). Then I ordered some stretchy plain white ones made from rectangles of cotton knit -- they are less effective than woven cotton, but they were easy to get, and they're easy to wash. Now we each have a reusable fabric mask I bought at my drycleaner's -- they're pretty good. They are made with three layers of microfiber fabric, so they're quite efficient and also soft, so more comfortable. These ones are shaped to fit more closely to the face and around the nose, and they come in different colors and patterns (I got a blue and grey plaid for my husband and son). A nice bonus is that the drycleaner will clean them for free! I find that the biggest drawback to masks where I live (and I won't shop anywhere that doesn't require them, in the absence of a national mandate), is that our weather is now very hot and humid, as usual in the summer, and the mask gets sweaty. I do know how to sew, so I may experiment with making one that has some kind of absorbent layer on the inside next to the skin, maybe even terry cloth, with outer layers of a tight-weave fabric.

Vanessa said...

Hi Old Herbaceous,

Thanks for sharing your mask experience - from the point of view of a sewer too! Or should that be a person who sews, or a seamstress, to avoid confusion? ;)

I loved the ingenuity of that T-shirt mask, and how your preferences have evolved from there, and how nice that the dry cleaner's is offering a free cleaning service of its masks. Closefitting is good, as I have tried so many that hang off my face.

And you raise a very good point about wearing a mask in hot and humid weather, which is particularly an issue where you are, though it has been quite humid here too lately. Also outright raining! As with all the other aspects of this pandemic, like the hunt for a vaccine etc, I am sure the making of masks for optimum comfort and fit will become more and more refined as time goes by...

teardrop said...

The British designers I went for are Rixo, navy blue with a white pattern of doves, hearts & flowers, Julien MacDonald, a snakeskin design in black, white & lime green, & Liam Hodges, an abstract design in black, white, pink, yellow & blue.
The Rixo one is my favourite as I wear a lot of navy blue, & it's the only one I've worn so far as I've only been to the corner shop for milk since the new rules came into force!
I haven't been on public transport yet or to the haidressers, as I've become quite adept at cutting my own hair during lockdown, but I think I might need to go soon. My hair stylist is one of my oldest friends, & I think it's important to show some loyalty when so many businesses are going under.

Vanessa said...

Hi teardrop,

Having looked up those masks I realised I had seen the designs, without knowing which was which. I agree that the navy one is particularly fetching. ;)

I am impressed that you have managed to cut your own hair. I have been cutting my fringe since well before lockdown, but can't wait to see a professional to sort it all out properly - only a couple of weeks to go before I get some help! And I do agree that hairdressers need our support after being shut for so long.

Tara C said...

I am using the stretchy cowl style pull up face covering, it works well as I don’t have to constantly be taking a mask on and off and stowing it in a pocket or purse. I only wear it when legally required to and have avoided indoor venues as much as possible as I hate the mask, especially in this heat and humidity. Can’t wait for this episode to be over.

Undina said...

Masks are mandatory for shopping (and other public places) where I live for the last 3 months, I think, so we have no choice but to wear them: you just cannot get into a store or a bank without wearing it.

I have one black that I do not wear because it's not too comfortable, and a couple of white masks sent by our company for when we're back in the office, which might happen in a couple of months or later. I will probably look into buying something more colorful in a while, but for now I try not to go anywhere unless I absolutely have to. And when I do go, I can care less about how I look in those masks.

Sarah Waite said...

Hi Vanessa,
I have some old Liberty fabric that I should use for creating a bigger stock of masks, everyday my sewing machine remains in its box though.

I'm happy to wear a mask and I think we should have been forced to do this months ago. It drives me crazy that The Government have a strict rule for general public spaces and no rule for schools. Come September there'll be full classes of kids without compulsory masks. As a Teacher I'll feel as if I were in that train carriage, except it will be full, mask-free and I'll have to hang out in 6 carriages everyday.
I think I want to go to work in a deep see diving helmet, never mind a mask!

teardrop said...

The Pacamask I ordered arrived this morning, & it's not really a structured design like it appears in the website pics, but quite soft & silky in a cotton/polyester/spandex mix. It has adjustable ear straps, & although there's no wire, it's cut quite cleverly to fit over the nose & chin. I might road-test it today as I need to pop to the supermarket!
I don't enjoy wearing masks either, but I think we might be in this situation for quite a while, so I thought why not have a little wardrobe of fun or pretty designs to make it a bit more enjoyable? :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara C,

Thanks for dropping in! Interesting that you have already roadtested the stretchy cowl thing - which seems to have an infinite number of possible descriptions. ;) I bought mine in teal as it would exactly match my anorak, and plan to wear it more in the cooler weather when I might even need a light scarf. So point taken about the heat and humidity. Have you seen those "bandit-style" scarves worn backwards with a point at the nape of the neck and with loops over the ears? I wonder if they might be less constricting, assuming they count as "masks".

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Aha, I didn't realise you had had mandatory mask wearing in stores etc for as long as you have. I think there is some fun to be had with the designs, given what a miserable thing this pandemic is generally, including the very having to wear a mask!

And yes, there is no point being self-conscious in one, as we are all in the same boat.

Vanessa said...

Hi Sarah,

The mask top right in my picture is a Liberty fabric in fact - made from a remnant left over from my bathroom blind. ;) Not by me, obviously. If you have the skills, you should get sewing and make something you really like that fits well?

I hear you on the inconsistency between schools having a relaxed policy on masks and social distancing - or imminently doing so - versus the rules for public places. I guess it must be something to do with relative risks of children transmitting the virus, as far as the scientists know (though that keeps changing!). Kids certainly don't seem to get badly affected by it for the most part. But the school setting certainly multiplies the number of contacts amongst people in a major way, and I understand your unease.

Vanessa said...

Hi teardrop,

Oh, I just wrote your last thought in a reply to Undina, before I had read your comment. Like minds!

Glad the Pacamask is less structured than you thought - that would be a good thing in my book. And yes, I so agree that we might as well create a little wardrobe of masks, as we have of perfume, for as long as the situation lasts.

AustralianPerfumeJunkies said...

Hay Vanessa,
We have bought masks but I'm yet to wear one. I'm not an anti-masker, it just hasn't happened yet.
With Australia's new restrictions it may soon become mandatory.
Portia xx

Vanessa said...

Hi Portia,

Oh interesting - I didn't realise Australia hadn't yet gone that route. Perhaps they have them already in Melbourne, which I understand is in lockdown?

Anonymous said...

Love the structured masks rather than the pleated masks like those made by grizas (sold direct or from retailers in UK like julesB) because these fit well when adjusted and hold a stable airspace around your mouth making it much less constricting feeling. They are 4 layers of linen and from what I have seen some masks are ineffective, even counterproductive. No affiliation just pleased to find something that suits my whole family...
have been enjoying your blog though I have not commented recently, all the best, Helen

Vanessa said...

Hi Helen,

Lovely to hear from you and forgive me for not posting very often. Am doing a lot of firefighting on the domestic front and latterly I also have the excuse of the hot weather. ;)

Anyway, I know the structured masks you mean - I haven't tried any of that design, though I like the sound of a 'stable airspace'. I certainly feel a bit suffocated in some of my own masks after any length of time. Will check out that brand, as we may have to keep wearing face coverings for a long time to come...