Etiquette has maintained its tried and true rules for centuries. She’s a lady that can be relied upon. But it cannot be said that Etiquette is outdated or irrelevant. For example, as mobile phones and e-mail communications have spread, etiquette immediately responded to them and has once again created a code of communication that, if adhered to, will help you to be successful, respected and, in any case, help you avoid many unpleasant conflicts. But now everything is a little different. Coronavirus, has proven to be one of the rare events that have sewn confusion even in the usually steadfast world of etiquette, and now we have to wait to see how Lady Etiquette reacts. I’m sure she won’t give up or go away, and will survive in good health. For example, rules on greetings show that etiquette is still on guard. Almost from day to day the rules changed. We greet each other differently, without touching, but we’ve all accepted it completely, calmly and automatically. My passion is clothing, so I wonder how this cultivated lady will deal with a new, unexpected, but from today’s perspective unavoidable, player in the field of fashion – the facemask?
Under the pressure of events, fashion designers are beginning to design masks for their collections as parts of outfits. It should be noted, however, that over the past three years, brands such as Off-White, Palm Angels, Bathing Ape and Fendi have promoted this unmistakable accessory as part of their collections, even before the need for masks that has arisen today. For example, Gucci produced a mask for singer Billie Eilish, which she wore at the Grammys, as a symbol of the message that her body her own and for her eyes only. The mask has recently also been given another unexpected political dimension. During Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, black facemasks were used as a political statement and a tool to mask identity. They became so popular that the government even tried to ban them. This otherwise inconspicuous clothing accessory has now hit prime time. It’s true that though we cover almost every part of our body, in these northern latitudes, our face remains naked. Glasses are and remain its only “clothing”.
How then, are we going to approach facemasks once wearing them is no longer a requirement, but a voluntary accessory?
- Let’s try to compare it to a hat. The 1932 Social Adviser says that a woman should never walk in public without a hat, because “it could give her a bad reputation”. A parallel to this in our current day would be not wearing a face mask, could put her in a “poor state of health”. Women would have it easy. In modern history, a hat and/or a face mask can only be taken off where you can fix your hair or make-up. Otherwise, you can keep it on. They do not need to wear it at work unless it is part of their work clothes. And, unlike men, a woman could wear a hat or face mask in a church or theater.
- With hats, it holds that when you are in a room (except in large public areas), and you are introducing yourself or talking to someone, you take it off. But that doesn’t work so well with a face mask. Here, etiquette will have to be more tolerant of men for some time and leave it up to the wearer as to when and how, depending on the assessed risk, to remove it.
- If you have removed your hat, always hold it so that the inside of the hat is not visible, pointing it towards your body. The face mask should be immediately placed in a hygienically-treated case or box so that it remains sterile if possible. As yet, we don’t have any kind of accessory like that. A little storage case for a face mask could even make a nice accessory.
- Outside today you no longer have to remove your hat in front of a woman. To express your respect to a woman or even a man, hold your hat for a moment and slightly tilt your head. It is better to touch the brim with your left hand so that your right hand remains free for a possible handshake. I think a slight bow of your head is enough here.
- Never leave a hat on your head in a restaurant. Put it in the cloakroom, put it on a chair next to you, or ask the staff to hold it for you. This also applies to women. So, what to do here? What will the new age come up with? Will men have a special sterile pouch in which they put the cloth mask and put it in their breast pocket? Women have it easier, since they can carry these small things with them in their handbag. Or will another napkin become part of the table setting, into which we can place our masks while eating? Maybe in time, however, the market will flood with enough disposable masks at affordable prices and they will simply be disposable, and when we arrive at a restaurant we will simply throw them away and put on new ones. Will we go to the toilet right after we arrive, dispose of our masks there, and then go back to the table, crossing the entire restaurant full of guests? Well, that would probably not go over very well. So, dear restauranteurs, maybe you could provide a small cloth basket that will become part of the table setting? We’ll see…
- When removing or putting on a hat, grasp it by the front of the crown top or the front of the brim. The first method is more classic, more formal, but you risk soiling your hat if you are always touching the top of the crown. When we remove our face mask, we do so with both hands from the back so that we never touch its front filter part, that is, if it serves as a protective device, not as an accessory. In the latter case, you don’t have to worry too much about how you remove it.
- If the national anthem is playing, the national flag is being raised or a funeral procession is passing by, you should remove your hat. In the past, the hat was held over the heart for such moments, but today it is enough to simply doff your hat. If you’re wearing a face mask as a mere fashion accessory, I would take that off too.
Well, we’ll see how many rules I’ve mentioned here will catch on in relation to face masks as etiquette is modernized. I keep hoping, however, that face masks will soon stop being necessary, and become merely accessories that will be subject to trends just like other parts of our clothing, and it will only be a matter of personal preference, whether we join in the trend or not.