Navigating Life in a Pandemic

Airiel Pearlman

Covid-19 has impacted our lives in so many ways and has forced us to think about how we operate in society. It seems fitting to chronicle and examine fashion and accessories and by extension masks and the role they have played in our lives as we navigate life in a post-pandemic world. While we are not entirely clear of the pandemic yet, the correct steps have been taken by handing out vaccines and having better access to Covid tests, as well as tracking. Masks have also changed greatly over the last year and throughout the second part of this paper, I will try my best to catalogue and narrate my experience with masks during Covid.

My sister and I in Spain, December 2019

Back in December of 2019, I was in Spain for three weeks over winter break, and no one in Europe was concerned with masks. Even as Covid spread rapidly throughout China, no one in Europe was worried; it was simply another international headline that no one thought would reach the level it did. When I returned for spring semester in January of 2020, I still had no idea how much Covid would impact my life, I was only going about my regular day to day life; I had work, ski practice and school. I had never worn a mask for health reasons until Covid.

The day that things changed for me, and I suspect many other people was Monday March 9th, 2020. There were many cases of Covid sprouting up from the Manhattan and downstate near New York City and Long Island. I was at work when I received a text from my Mom in our family group chat. She was frantically texting everyone that she was trying to buy some masks at Target, but they were out. Later that day, Governor Cuomo announced that students in the SUNY system who were studying abroad would be called to come home. A few days later, he would announce that all SUNY campuses would be shut down for two weeks, and that deadline would only keep being extended. I ended up going home to Rochester, where my Mom and younger sister helped me move out on one of the designated days that campus had set up. It would be two weeks later when I would finally be able to get my things, and the statewide mandate that everyone wear masks would go into effect shortly after quarantine began.

Like most people in quarantine, it was difficult to find a mask at first. Because it was March and still cold for the most part, whenever I left the house, I would wear a ski mask that was a neck warmer, and I would also wear a bandana. My family did not get our hands on medical disposable masks until the end of March, early April. I have inserted a picture of me wearing the first mask I received (Figure 1).  I tried to wear it as long possible, it became stained with my make-up and foundation. I was trying to be resourceful, and I think I was considering the only time I left my house was when I would drive around with my younger sister just to get away from the rest of our family.

The first cloth/fabric maskI bought was in June from target when more masks were in supply and being circulated. It did not have a wire to go around your nose, and because of the size discrepancy I had to buy a child’s mask. Either Target did not understand the size of people’s faces or I have the face size of an eight-year-old. My family and I often teased each other about the cheap and ill-fitting masks we would come across, or if we were unlucky, there were masks we bought thinking they would fit.

A picture of me on vacation with the first cloth mask I bought from Target back in June 2020.

One such mask for me was another one I got from Target. It said it was an adult small, and my sister and I had ventured out into the world in the middle of June, it was right before my birthday. We bought a two pack of masks that were an adult small, thinking they would fit us, but we were sorely mistaken. The mask I had wanted was a tan, taupe color with white floral designs on it. It had an adjustable nose wire and loops to go around my ears. The moment I put it on, it hung well below my chin. I had thrown away the receipt, believing it would fit and, but I was mistaken. My sister’s mask did not fit any better than mine, so we went home to see if they would fit my parents or younger brother, and to no one’s surprise they did not fit. We ended up donating the masks that did not fit to people who needed them much more and did not have the money to go out and buy masks as regularly as my family did. One of the more sobering moments for me during the pandemic was realizing how fortunate my family was in regard to financial security during the pandemic.

As the months of quarantine wore on, I decided to invest in a mask of my own because it was August and the pandemic had been around for much longer than anyone had anticipated, my wardrobe had started to adapt to wearing masks all the time. For instance, one of the biggest changes that I went through was not wearing large hoop earrings or my cartilage piercing for some time because the loops of my mask would always get caught and snagged on my piercings. It was just easier to not wear earrings at all, so I wore studs or nothing.

Another large change that I had not truly realized I had adapted was my make-up routine. As I mentioned before, in the first masks I wore my foundation would rub off leaving my mask stained. Between having to re-wear masks and the humidity of the summer months, my skin suffered breakouts because of the masks. I began not wearing any foundation, and then not any setting powder and then it came to not even any concealer. Slowly over the summer I became confident in going bare faced out in public and on zoom calls. I was working from home remotely, as many of us were relegated to during those long-quarantined months. During department meetings where we were highly encouraged to have our camera on as part of ‘team building’ as my boss had described, I would not have any make-up on.

Even now, a year into the pandemic, I have opted to continue my minimal make-up routine. It mainly consists now of a bit of concealer, eyebrow gel, mascara, and a bit of blush. My skin has never been clearer, and my confidence has grown leaps and bounds. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned throughout this pandemic is that I have to enjoy every moment to the fullest, not because it could all end, but because I have the opportunity it to enjoy it.

One mask that became one of my favorites during the school year.
Another mask I ordered on Etsy.