The Veil in the Middle East

Face coverings in the Middle East are most commonly associated with Islam.  Muslim women usually cover their hair, and sometimes wear an additional veil that covers all or part of their face.  However, the use of the veil and face coverings predates Islam in the Middle East, and Islam is not the only religion that sees meaning in veils (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Before being adopted by Islam, the veil was already being used in the Middle East, especially by Jewish and Christian women, for whom it was representative of their high status, or a “retreat from public life” (“Muslim Veiling”).

Also most commonly associated with women, face coverings are worn by men in some parts of the Middle East as well.

Veiling in Islam

Islam adopted the practice of veiling from local Middle Eastern cultures, and then kept the practice as Islam spread throughout the world (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Within Islam, the veil or covering the face is most closely associated with modesty, which is an extremely important value for both Muslim women and men (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Islamic texts like the Qur’an and the Hadith mention the use of the veil or headscarf for women to preserve their modesty, especially around men, but they are somewhat unclear on whether it is actually a requirement for Muslim women (Lundt).  While Islamic texts do not necessarily require women to wear a veil, many Muslim countries have interpreted it this way, and so it is required by law (“Muslim Veiling”).  The Qur’an does not even refer specifically to a veil, only to some type of screen or barrier to preserve women’s modesty (“Muslim Veiling”).

Types of Middle Eastern Face Coverings

There is a great variety of the styles of veils and headscarves worn by Muslim women, with different types being popular among different regions and cultures (Moghadam).  They are typically worn along with long, loose clothing that covers the rest of the body as well (Moghadam).  The most common type of headscarf is the hijab, and it does not cover the face, only the hair and neck (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Hijab is also often used as a general term for the headscarves and veils worn by Muslim women in the West (Lundt).  There are two main types of veils that cover the face.  The more common one is the niqab, which leaves an opening for the eyes (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  The niqab is worn along with a headscarf to cover the hair, and it can either cover the full face or half of the face (Lundt).  Women who wear a niqab also tend to cover their hands as well (“Muslim Veiling”).  The more conservative style that covers the face is called the burqa, and it covers the entire face and body, with mesh in front of the eyes (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  The burqa is used mostly in Afghanistan, where it has been enforced by the Taliban and certain colors are seen in specific regions (Lundt).  There is also another type of face covering that is now seen extremely rarely.  It is a mask called a battoulah worn around the Persian Gulf (Lundt).  The battoulah goes over the eyes, nose, and upper lip, and keeps dust out of the face (Lundt).  It is usually worn by older married women, and younger generations have not been wearing them as much as in the past (Lundt).  There are also a great number of other styles of veils and headscarves worn in the Middle East.  It is also notable that women are not the only ones who cover their heads and faces in the Middle East.  It is common for men to cover their hair as well, and some groups cover the face as well, usually as a “sign of maturity” or for religious purposes (“Muslim Veiling”).

The Purpose of the Veil

The use of the veil and the practice of face covering in the Middle East has become very controversial throughout the world, and this is partly because of questions over the real meaning of the veil.  The most basic meaning of it is modesty.  Modesty is extremely important in Islam, for both men and women (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  What is usually stated as the purpose of the veil is that it is “so that they [women] will not tempt men and maintain their chastity and honor and the chastity and honor of the men around them” (“Muslim Veiling”).  Statements like this lead critics of face covering to classify it as a form of oppression against women, and this view is especially common in the West (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Veils like the niqab and the burqa which cover the face are most commonly cited as oppressive.  Because politics in the Middle East have such a big role in women wearing veils, the practice has been described as “a mechanism of social control” and “the regulation of women” (Moghadam).  The governments of Middle Eastern nations are the ones telling women whether a veil is required or banned, as some countries, like Turkey, have banned the use of the veil in certain situations (“Muslim Veiling”).  When the veil is mandatory for women, it is also closely tied to the patriarchy (Moghadam).

A different interpretation of the veil in the Middle East is that is it actually a form of protection for women, rather than oppression.  This protection is specifically protection against rape and against “the harassment of leering men” (“Muslim Veiling”).  It works as “protection against the male gaze” because the veil communicates that an individual has modesty, worth, and is owed respect (Moghadam). 

While these views on the meaning of the veil are typically from outsiders or those not wearing a veil, perspectives on its meaning from women in the Middle East who wear veils or cover their face are very often that it is a form of religious and self-expression, and shows their devotion to their religion (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Middle Eastern women in other parts of the world frequently describe the practice as a choice, and not a requirement of Islam (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Some women even see the veil as a form of empowerment, a clear contradiction from outsiders calling it oppressive (Lundt). 

The veil has also been used as a political symbol and a sign of national identity, especially during colonization (Lundt).  It tends to be seen as anti-Western, and so it has become a political statement, especially since the 1970s (“Muslim Veiling”).  It is a symbol of “cultural identity” and “religious assertion,” and so has come to also symbolize a rejection of the West (Moghadam).  Conversely, some Middle Eastern countries have taken actions in the opposite direction.  To some, the veil represents “female illiteracy and subjugation,” and so it is in the way of moving forward with modernization (Moghadam).  Some countries, like Turkey, have banned the veil in some situations for precisely this reason (“Muslim Veiling”). 


“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam.” Facing History and Ourselves. 2021,, Accessed 3/31/21.

Lundt, Jennifer. “Veiling Trends for Muslim Women.” IstiZada. June 14, 2019,, Accessed 4/7/21.

Moghadam, Valentine M. “Veil, In Middle Eastern and North African Cultures.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2019,, Accessed 4/14/21.

“Muslim Veiling: Hijab, Niqab, History and Interpretations of the Qur’an,” Facts and Details. 2019,, Accessed 4/7/21.

Image URLs

Homemade Covid-19 Masks

The Beginning

While I was moving out of my dorm due to the pandemic in mid-March, 2020, was the first time I heard anything about masks.  This was before anyone really knew much about what was happening, and so only a few people were wearing masks.  I remember while I was moving out, I only saw one person wearing a mask, and since it was so early on, my first thought was that they were from an area of the country where cases were more common, or they were more at risk.  My mom had a slightly different reaction.  She immediately assumed that the person was either sick, or they had been exposed, and she was very worried.  After this brief moment of panic from my mom, I heard more about masks from social media and my parents when it was starting to be recommended that everyone wear a mask.

I know that I decided to wear a mask in public as soon as it was recommended, but I don’t remember when I actually first wore a mask, largely because for the first few weeks, or possibly even months, starting in March, I wasn’t even leaving my house.  I had gone home to my parents’ house to finish the semester, and so there was no place I had to be.  It might have been recommended for us to wear masks even when I was moving out of my dorm, but I didn’t wear one then because that was the first I heard anything about it, and also I didn’t have any.  I would guess that I actually started wearing a mask in late March or April, because by that point it was definitely being recommended for safety.  I understood from the beginning, in March, that wearing a mask would be necessary for keeping people safe, so I’ve never had a problem wearing them, but I still found it less than ideal in the beginning.  Since I was staying home almost all of the time in the beginning, I was rarely in a situation where I needed to wear a mask, so when I did have to wear one, I found it extremely annoying.  I wasn’t used to it at all, and it was hard to get used to it, because the times when I wore masks were generally very short and very spread out.  I was also a little concerned about how well they would work, because the only masks I had were homemade.  The stores ran out of medical masks very early on, and so my family used homemade cloth masks instead.  I was skeptical of their functionality because in my mind, they were somehow lesser because they were thrown together at home.  Now I have a whole bin of them near my door.

My slowly growing collection of masks, most of them are homemade cloth masks!

The first mask I wore was one of these cloth masks that my mom made from fabric remnants that she already had from previous projects.  I still have it, and I wear it fairly often.  It has two layers, and a short piece of wire inserted at the nose area.  The outer layer is a brown and light blue floral pattern, and it was one of the first masks my mom made, so the elastic for my ears ended up being too big.  I have knots tied to made it fit right.

My first mask, made by my mom.

The Musician’s Mask

The mask I use most often during rehearsals!

My mom ended up making an immense amount of masks for my whole family.  I only have a few that are not made by her.  The homemade masks have worked out really well.  My family and I did have to try them on a lot while they were being made so that adjustments to the size could be made, but they are very nice finished.  My mom also experimented with different patterns of masks to find out what would fit best.  My mom also made me several musician’s masks.  I play the French horn, and ensembles went back to in person when we came back to campus, but I needed a mask that would allow me to play.  The masks I use have two overlapping panels that can be pushed aside to allow me to play.  Worn socially distanced from others in the ensembles, the masks at least somewhat reduce the spread of aerosols more than if we had no masks, while still allowing us to play.

After some trial and error, this mask design worked the best.

My Current (And Favorite) Masks

The masks I have worn most often since March are the cloth face masks my mom made.  They have two layers, and are pleated, so they are essentially the same shape as the blue medical masks.  Most of my masks are made from patterned fabric, so they have become an article of clothing instead of just something for protection.  For a short time during the winter and spring of 2021, I was double masking.  I used a blue medical mask with one of my cloth masks over it.  I did this because cases in the US and especially on campus seemed pretty high, and I was going to classes in-person every weekday.

Double masking for class!

One of my favorite masks is a cloth mask made from fabric with sunflowers on it.  It was made by my mom, Barb Stucke, likely around May of 2020, in East Aurora, NY.  She used a desktop sewing machine, cotton fabric, and thin white elastic.  There is also a piece of wire, about 2 inches, in the nose area to hold the mask in shape on the face.  This mask is one of the pleated ones done in the same style as the blue medical masks, and it covers the face from the top of the nose to under the chin.  It has two layers.  The outer layer is patterned fabric with a black and gray background, and stylized sunflowers in brown, yellow, and green.  The inner layer is pale green, and the thread used in the mask matches this color.  The mask is sewn all around the edges so the two layers stay together.

My favorite mask!

Her Veil Was Never Your Business: Veiling and the Perception Held by Ignorant People

Veiling and the Hijab:

Veiling is the practice of covering some or most of the body with a garment. Women from all over the world and of varying religions veil. Oftentimes the term hijab is used to refer any covering of the hair, head, face or body. Muslim women typically wear hijab when in the presence of a male outside of their immediate family. Below you can see an illustration that depicts many of the types veils worn.

There are many different interpretations of the Quran which are used to debate whether or not women should be veiled and why. Many people who are not familiar with the practice of veiling believe that the primary purpose is to protect these women from the sexual desires of other people. Although this may be a small part of the practice there are many other reasons why women veil (Sylaj, 2020). After exploring some resources I discovered that some of these reasons include wanting to be valued as a human outside of their sexuality, making them feel powerful, showing cultural pride and so many more beautiful reasons. Veiling is constantly hit with criticism and has become a tradition that is oftentimes seen as controversial, when it just clothing. In this blog I will explore how veils began to overlap with fashion, how veiling fits into modern day politics, and the fetishization of veiling.

Veils as Fashion; Modernity and Turkey:

As Western development increased women began venture outside of the home to purchase goods. As this occurred veils became increasingly more visible to outsiders who may not have been so familiar with this practice (Shirazi & Mishra, 2010). Women leaving their homes to shop at department stores unaccompanied was a large part of modernization in the Middle East (Shirazi & Mishra, 2010). Quickly this lead to the shift in fashion trends especially when it came to veils. Women began to control the market more than they ever had and explore new “trendy” veils. For example, in the early 20th century as we see women adopting more form fitting clothing we see Muslim women abandoning their loose fitting veils and adopt a tighter head covering.

Oftentimes those who don’t veil perceive veiling to be a practice that goes against modernity when it comes to religious beliefs as well as fashion (Shirazi & Mishra, 2010). In reality we see that veiling is not meant to contrast or to push modernity away and instead this practice can easily be intertwined. Modernity has been very secular and it was widely understood that veiling would not be globally recognized as acceptable and that women would be expected to abandon the veil as a step towards western secularization. With this we can see that due to outsiders perception of the veil there is an expectation to abandon religious practice to fit into society.

Veils were designed to be looked at, even though the idea of veiling was to deter the gaze, because women are wearing these garments in public. Veiling in fashion became an interesting topic because the hijab was a traditionally “bland” garment and it was being combined with fashion which is known for breaking barriers and self-expression (Gokariksel, 2014). Many people couldn’t understand fashion and veils as one cohesive idea and when veiling clashes with fashion we see new patterns and exciting colors along with different fabrics and so on.

Gucci at Istanbul fashion show

Turkey is one of the many places known repurposing the veil to be included in the fashion industry. The people of Turkey began to reject the idea that veiling is a costume or ethnic attire and we see women who veil begin to portray both social and cultural significance in what they choose to wear (Gokariksel, 2014). Women begin to wear designer veils and others are judged for wearing veils that are no longer fashionable similar to the fashion scene in the United States (Gokariksel, 2014). By observing what some women are wearing we can see the struggle that many Muslim women have when trying to find the balance between fashion and modesty. Women still wanted to veil for religious reasons and stay true to their beliefs, but sometimes they got so caught up in the fashion aspect that their veils became less modest. Above, models are shown walking at a fashion show in Istanbul where modernity and high-end fashion became a large aspect of the women of Turkey’s lives. You can see the models dressed in modest yet fashionable high-end Gucci clothing. At this show the audience members were observed wearing trendy veils, expensive jewelry, and using the newest smartphones further demonstrating the modern lifestyle that was being adopted.

Veils in Modern day Politics and Religion:

Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians have been the primary targets of the U.S. government’s global War on Terror since the September 11, 2001 attacks (Cainkar & Maira, 2005). In the United States we have seen an incredible increase in Islamophobia and attacks on people who belong to these ethnic groups. After the 2005 bombing of London hate crimes against women who were veiling increased greatly (Lewis, 2007). After seeing this occur the government suggested that women stop veiling to prevent public assault (Lewis, 2007). This idea that people should completely abandon their practices so that they can avoid abuse due to their religious beliefs is not acceptable. People should be able to practice their religion without worrying about being stereotyped as a terrorist and assaulted as a result of a recent bombing that had nothing to do with them. I have seen the suppression of people who veil in my life. There have been a few bombings and attacks in my lifetime preformed by people of varying backgrounds, yet as soon as the tredgedy occurs I start to hear terrible things about what people are assuming about the event. I oftentimes hear people assuming that the bombing was done by a Muslim person, that muslim people are terrorists and so many more hurtful comments.

Many leaders and politicians have expressed negative views of veiling which practically allows citizens to carry an Islamophobic attitude instead of allowing people to practice their religion in whatever way they see fit (Shirazi & Mishra, 2010). For example, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, the leader of the Muslim Council of Britain explains that women should not feel the need to veil and instead should just dress modestly, which reinforces the idea that there should be restrictions on religious practice (Shirazi & Mishra, 2010). People of various countries have been told that they cannot practice veiling by their government which eliminates a right to religion and it is important that this comes to an end. Instead of forbidding religion we need those who are not tolerant of people who veil to understand it and what a hijab really means. It should not be any more threatening than what Christian nuns wear.

The cartoons above show the idea that many Western people are comfortable with nuns wearing their habit, but not comfortable with women who veil. Why are Muslim hijabs associated with terrorism and violence while Christian habits are associated with modesty and religious devotion? (Elkawa, 2019). We know that both practices are of similar intent and based on religion so why is one of them seen as threatening while the other is seen as a tradition?

Fetishization and Misunderstanding of Veiling: 

One may think that women who practice veiling would have a much lower chance of being fetishized, objectified, or harassed due to their body and desires of men, but this is often not the case. One article rejects the idea that women are hidden and the male gaze is blocked as a result of the use of veils, but instead they are not only visible, but able to see as well (Gokariksel, 2014). When women dress nicely, men stare even when women are veiled. Gökariksel and Secor explain that they spoke to women who veil and all of them expressed that the practice is not meant to bring attention to them, yet it does. When we see fashion and veiling intertwine we must discuss the gaze and what this means for women who are veiling for modesty. Women are still catcalled and harassed and the veil is actually fetishized more than you might expect. Men have been reported saying things such as “I’m interested in seeing what’s underneath” which demonstrates that they are specifically fetishizing the veil by exclaiming that they have the desire take it off of the woman and explore what he is not allowed to explore (Gokariksel, 2014). Many of the women interviewed seemed to dismiss terrible encounters like this one because they have been fairly common. The veil is not used for the pleasure of men and women should not feel uncomfortable with their religious traditions.

In 2012 artist Behnaz Babazadeh created a series of images and a short film titled Burkaphilia. The series portrays the common misconceptions of veiling, her understanding of the fetishization of the Burka and the ignorance that Western people typically hold in regards to her cultural practices (Rogers & Houghton, 2017). Babazadeh explains that when she came to the U.S from Afghanistan as a young girl she was obsessed with the candy which provided her with the content for the images (Tucker, 2016). In these images she allows candy to take the form of a burka over her body to imply the American obsession with consumption and sexualization. Her goal when creating these elaborate burkas was to challenge people’s misconceptions about veiling and make the audience truly think about what makes a burka so threatening to those who don’t practice veiling (Tucker, 2016). Is the veil still so ominous when it is made of gummy bears?

In the video Babazadeh displays herself in a latex burka. We see her fully veiled body with only her eyes showing as the camera zooms into her face, shortly after we can see a man approach her with a cake and as he cuts into the cake she reveals her mouth to take a bite, then the man begins to lick up her latex burka. By showing this series over events she expresses the idea of fetishization of women who veil and the Western obsession with consumption, food, and sex. The film “explores the cultural practice of arranged marriages, sex and taboo in ancient Middle Eastern custom through modern Western metaphors of food and fetishism” (Babazadeh, 2019). The film is linked below if you would like to view it.

Burkaphilia: Short Art Film by Behnaz Babazadeh

Concluding Remarks

Veiling is the practice of covering part or all of your body with a garment and is typically seen by Muslim women. It is a religious tradition that has oftentimes been given a negative connotation by Western people. People who veil have been classified as dangerous terrorists or their tradition is fetishized as men express the desire to see whats underneath and discover what these women are keeping private. Through educating individuals we can see that veiling is a practice that can fit into modernity if people will accept it simply as a religious tradition and as fashion. Veils are beautiful, not dangerous or ominous, and definitely not for men to fetishize.

Works Cited:

Babazadeh, B. (2019, March 7). Burkaphilia: Short Art Film. Vimeo.

Cainkar, L., & Maira, S. (2005). Targeting Arab/Muslim/South Asian Americans: Criminalization and Cultural Citizenship. Amerasia, 31(3).

Elkawa, A. (2019, October 6). Habit v. Hijab. Medium.

Gokariksel, B. (2014). The Veil, Desire, and the Gaze: Turning the Inside Out. In 1311289662 964013388 A. Secor (Author), Signs Journal of Women in Culture and Society (1st ed., Vol. 40, pp. 177-200). Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press.

Rogers, F., & Houghton, M. (2017, August 22). Behnaz Babazadeh’s candy burqas challenge cultural stereotypes. CNN.

Sylaj, H. (2020, October 15). Why do Muslim women wear hijab? Retrieved April 06, 2021, from

Shirazi, F., & Mishra, S. (2010). Young Muslim women on the FACE Veil (niqab). International Journal of Cultural Studies, 13(1), 43-62. doi:10.1177/1367877909348538Lewis, R. (2007). Veils and Sales: Muslims and the spaces of Postcolonial fashion retail. Fashion Theory,11(4), 423-441. doi:10.2752/175174107×250235

Tucker, F. (2016, January 29). Burkaphilia. Actipedia.

Why do some women wear a hijab? (n.d.). Retrieved April 06, 2021, from

The Year of Uncertainty: Masking and Isolation

My friends and I wearing our masks at a visit to Corning Museum of Glass

Masks in Media

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges that no body really expected. I would say that most people would have never thought that they would be wearing a mask in their day to day lives. Oftentimes masks are associated with the end of the world, mass destruction, war, and illness, and I was terrified of what masks could mean for us. Movies often show masks as something scary, whether they’re showing a psycho killer, a villain with a damaged face, or a post apocalyptic fighter. We rarely see masks as a good item that could save lives but instead as a warning. Shown below are some of the many characters that illustrate this.

Encountering Masks

In early March, I noticed reports of a mysterious virus all over the news. There was some anxiety among my friends and I but we still carried on with our normal routines at first. I was actually in a bubble tea cafe when I noticed that a few people were masked. It was unsettling to see the news play out in real life, but I quickly convinced myself that they were crazy to be wearing masks. There was no way this would become reality, it was going to be done soon. My roommates and I waited anxiously for the news that we knew was inevitable and as we expected, we were sent home with short notice. It is hard to explain the emotions that were being tossed throughout my mind at this time. I was excited to be going home with the understanding that I would only be home for about two weeks, I was upset to be leaving my friends, and I was nervous about the virus. Overall I would say that everyone was confused and overwhelmed.

Towards the end of March, the CDC began suggesting masks which caused more panic for many people. This disease was becoming a real threat and something most people haven’t dealt with in their lifetime. At this point masks were hard to get and not yet mandated.

My family and I were still under the impression that this would blow over and I would be back at school soon. One day my parents returned from picking up a few groceries and told my sister and I that half of the people at the store were masked. We were shocked, but again I reassured myself that they were the crazy ones. My mom scrambled to order some masks online in case we’d need them and I continued to hear about people masking more on TV. Before I knew it my family was in full lockdown. My sister’s high school shut down and my parents, who are teachers, were also told to stay home. At first, we thought they would only be home for a few weeks as well, but this was not the case. We started to have our groceries delivered, stopped seeing friends and family, and put our lives on pause. We were living in a new world.

For a while I really wanted to pretend that the pandemic was not happening and continue on without masking. I was locked up in my house after being sent home anyway. I was under the impression that we’d be back to “regular” life within a few weeks. But after no sign of change, I understood that masking would have to become part of my life at some point.

My first time masking

The news articles became intense and I quickly became terrified of the virus. I stayed in my house from the end of March until the end of June only seeing my mom, dad, and sister. I was feeling isolated and confused. I honestly didn’t really trust masks and I wanted to do my part in keeping people safe. My understanding was that I should only leave the house if I absolutely needed to and if I did, then I must mask up. The beginning of the pandemic was a time of immense uncertainty and people were processing the virus in many different ways. I was nervous for my grandparents who felt invincible, for workers who couldn’t afford to stop working, for nurses and doctors who were exhausted, and for people who were still partying and seeing all of their friends despite the danger for themselves and others. I needed to do my part.

During the 3 months I remained isolated and only wore a mask twice.

The first time was on May 1st, 2020. My mom and I ran to the super market with gloves and N95 masks that my dad had from doing house work, of course I took a selfie of our first outing with masks, a picture I never thought would exist. I remember being very paranoid and I wanted to run in and out of the store as quickly as possible. The second time was in June, my mom convinced me that I at least needed to go for a walk since I was beginning to go crazy from being in the house for so long. I wore a standard disposable medical mask that my mom had ordered from Amazon and since that day masks have become a part of my daily life. I feel safe and protected with a mask, even after being vaccinated. 

My first time wearing a mask. My mom and I with gloves and N95 masks after running to the grocery store.

Getting Creative

For a while masks were hard to come by, they were selling out and prices were going up. Many people began to make their own masks out of old clothing, extra fabric, or basically anything in their home. My dad decided to cut up a t-shirt and make his own masks which he used a few times until we were able to buy more. A few of my friends began to use their crafting abilities and sewing machines to make some beautiful masks and sell them or give them away to help with the mask shortage. Personally, I have been wearing masks the basic medical masks or masks my mom ordered from The Gap sometime during the summer. They are triple layered cloth masks with fun patterns such as paisleys, flowers, birds, or just bright colors. I grew to love these masks because they were cute, comfortable, and effective.

My favorite mask

The mask I have worn the most would be my floral mask sold by The Gap. The main color is a dark maroon-red with colorful flowers all over. It is made of three layers of cotton with an adjustable wire at the nose and over the ear straps. This mask came in a pack with two other masks and The Gap continues to sell 3-packs of masks on their website. I found that this mask was very comfortable, it didn’t hurt my ears or give me a headache, so I began to wear it all of the time including while doing work, with friends and even during a visit to the hospital after getting a concussion. As I did my research I found out that Gap Inc. actually made so much money through the sales of their masks that they decided to give back to the community by donating masks and money to people in need.

Gallery of my favorite mask in use

Honestly for me, masks have become a symbol of good and bad. They meant I was able to see my boyfriend even if it was outdoors and with a mask on, they meant I was able to see my grandma, go grocery shopping, see my friends from a distance, go to in-person classes again. Masks also meant the pandemic wouldn’t be over soon, masks eliminate the connections you can make with a stranger with a simple smile, masks mean not knowing the bottom half of your classmates face who you do all of your work with. Although I am grateful for the protection that my masks have provided me with I am definitely hoping that the end of masking is near.

A Year in Reflection with COVID-19

Rachel Mihlstin

I was in the Tampa airport in early March 2020, one of my teammates was wearing a medical-grade mask. My softball team and I were leaving Florida in fear of a travel ban that could leave us with difficulty returning home.  The threat of COVID has impacted our short-sighted view but at the time we had only thought it would last a few months. My teammate was asked why she was wearing a mask as it had not been mandated or even encouraged to wear one in public yet. She reminded us she has very bad asthma and contracting COVID could put her in critical condition. She was one of few who was wearing a mask at the time in the very large airport in a highly-populated area. I think in my head wearing a mask was frightening, it was an item associated with operating rooms and experience labs, not our everyday lives.  We had been in Florida for roughly four days during spring break before we were told to go home, and we never wore masks. Looking back at that experience it is crazy to see how everything changed so quickly and how our lives would change for at least a year.

After a month or so, I was home on Long Island with my family, and masks were now being enforced in public.  I rarely had a reason to leave my home but when I did, I wore a mask. I remember visiting my grandparents who were excited to see me since I had been away at college for several months.  I wore a mask and so did both of my grandparents during the visit. However, my grandfather who was already hard of hearing struggled, even more, to participate in conversation as he could no longer lip-read since my mouth was covered. In fact, sometimes he did not even know I was talking let alone what I was saying. This barrier was difficult for both of my grandparents as they feared getting sick and how even their lives would change.  As time went on and I continued to stay at home, only I would wear a mask when I went over my grandparents since both sides were essentially always in quarantine. 

Visiting my Grandma during the summer of 2020
My camp coworkers and I wearing masks at work

As the summer came around and COVID case numbers decreased more business and activities could open. My summer job was as an arts and crafts teacher at a summer camp.  Until then, I really had no reason to leave my house or enter the public sphere. All the employees had to wear masks at the camp while the children did not. Personally, I dreaded wearing a mask in the heat, knowing that July and August would bring 90-degree days with high humanity.  But I could not imagine not wearing a mask, not only was it heavily enforced by my superiors but the risk of contracting the virus was still very high and I did not want to put any of my family or friends in danger. 

My mother had sewn some cloth masks for me that would be good for when the mask gets dirty from sweat and dirt during the camp day and could easily be reused after a wash.  My mom had picked out a fabric with fun patterns to match my creative position. Many other camp counselors and specialists liked wearing masks with fun designs so the campers would like them and have them get used to people wearing masks. We all learned quickly that while many kids understood there was a pandemic, many of the younger could not understand why we had to wear the masks. They would often say cute sayings like “we want to see you smile.” But that would lead me or another employee to explain why the mask needed to be worn, which often was along the lines of “to protect everyone.”

Me playing softball, spring 2021

After the summer, months had gone by of people making predictions of when we would not have to wear masks anymore. I was back at college, happy to be around friends and playing sports I love. To participate in the competition, all athletes must wear a mask during practice.  However, my two months in the heat and wearing a mask did not prepare me for heavy breathing while doing sprints. The first month of the fall semester I had just been using the one-use medical masks but during the fall season of softball, I realized I needed not only a more sustainable option but a more comfortable one as well. 

A friend had recommended I looked at athletic wear retailers to see if they were selling masks and another teammate suggested Athleta. I was familiar with the brand as they are known for selling athletic clothing to women, encouraging women to pursue strong bodies instead of skinny ones.  They were selling packages of masks and so I bought a set of five, all neutral colors. However, the quality was great, and I felt like I could breathe better at practice along with less skin irritation. I specifically liked one with a light blue wash as it matched our uniforms, emphasizing school spirit.  I have used those masks mostly until the real reason came along in late February when I needed to order more because I had more practice and needed to wash the masks more often.

Athleta Brand logo
Athleta Mask Pack

Masks and Activism

Rachel Mihlstin

  In movies and pop culture, superheroes are often wearing the mask, but the fictional public has faith that the masked hero is there to protect them. However, in the real world, the public does not like anonymous figures. Masks are mostly known for covering up one’s face so that they can commit a crime, in other words, it is not a positive thing.  Marks are often dark and mysterious even if they do no harm.  On the contrary, some people who are activists that wear masks. When looking at several different activists and activist groups that wear masks, the main purposes of covering their faces are protecting their identity, making a statement with the mask and unification.  For example, the digital hacker group Anonymous are represented by the Guy Fawkes mask and that specific mask has become a symbol of activism. Other modern examples can be seen in feminist movements around the world such as the Guerilla Girls, known for wearing masks that match their name’s sake and Pussy Riots who sport balaclava masks. The last example of masks used by activist groups is the Zapatistas who stand for the face and voices of the unknown indigenous people of Mexico. Masks are used by activists for three main purposes by groups to further push their agenda despite the contrary association of anonymity with wearing a mask. 

Guy Fawkes was an Englishmen who played a major role in the Gunpowder plot, an attempt to blow up the Westminster Palace in 1605. Fawkes was recruited to help pull off the attack by Robert Catesby and his band of men. Fawkes was caught before the explosion went off and Fawkes was tortured to give the names of his conspirators (Guy Fawkes).  British graphic designer, David Lloyd, accentuated and stylized Guy Fawkes’ facial features to create the mask worn by the protagonist in the comic-turned movie V for Vendetta. The film concludes with a large crowd, unanimously donning the Fawkes mask. Since then, the mask has been used widely used to cloak the identity of protestors. Some of the larger protests include when the mask was worn by the masses was at a protest against Scientology and the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York (Waites).

Etching of Guy Fawkes
V for Vendetta Movie Poster

Another use of the Guy Fawkes mask is to symbolize the “hacktivist” group, Anonymous.  The global group is decentralized but made up of hackers to cause digital distress to those who have abused their power. For example, after the murder of George Floyd, the group is credited with flooding the Minneapolis Police Department’s website and database, rendering it unusable (Tidy, Molloy). They have done similar actions like denouncing the Ku Klux Klan and releasing personal information about members.  Another example of their work is hacking the Church of Scientology’s website. Since Anonymous, not a physical group, they only have a general goal and that is to emphasize freedom of speech, fight censorship, and other forms of government control.  The summer of 2020 saw the group’s most recent activity starting with the murder of George Floyd and then some activity threatening Donald Trump (ABC NEWS).  The anonymity of the group and its purpose of activism is an example of how lack of identity can lead to an amplified voice demanding justice as the mask not only allows those to voice their opinion but also unify as a mass. 

Protestors wearing the Guy Fawkes Mask

The artist, Banksy, is another example of how anonymity plays into activism as his identity is unknown while his art brings about controversial topics. He is a graffiti artist, an art form associated with delinquency, known for creating satirical art commenting on social and political issues. Graffiti art is also often associated with anonymity because the artists often cover their faces with a face mask to prevent them from inhaling the paint fumes and aerosol. Graffiti can be seen as one of the more popular art mediums that is used for activism.  In 2010, Time Magazine included Banksy as one of the top 100 most influential people (Ellsworth-Jones) Banksy’s persona combines the mystery and fear around anonymity with the idea of a hero, as people are not afraid of his work, they look forward to finding it on the streets of England.  People appreciate his work as it often challenged corrupt institutions. His growing success has amplified the voices of the people and their frustrations.

Banksy may be hiding his identity to protect himself from facing vandalism charges or from the public eye, but his anonymity is also hurting his art simultaneously.  Part of the Banksy ideology is against consumerism and capitalism, so it is rare for him to sell his art and merchandise with his work on it.  His art can be found on alleys and building walls in England. However, his popularity has led to many others selling merchandise with his work on it.  Banksy has taken legal action by suing those attempting to make a profit but in a turn of events, lost. The court ruled that due to his lack of identity the right of his work “are much harder to meet when they concern modern and contemporary anonymous works of art for which sufficient information that might be used to ascribe to them a chronological, cultural, or institutional context is lacking.” (Banksy Trademark) Essentially, there is not enough information known about Banksy to complete his formal, government identity.

Banksy’s Time Magazine Cover, 2010

Despite Banksy losing this case, I believe there is room for Banksy to start a new activism campaign. He could make art about the idea of identity and once again challenge the institution, in this case, copyright laws, for attempting to discriminate by conforming identity to formal and privileged aspects, such as address or background. Immigrants, homeless people, or refugees might not have all the necessary information the government requires but is that what will stop them from receiving copyright protection? There is more to one’s identity than those formal aspects. People without those formal details may feel ashamed or threatened that they do not have those credentials. Those formalities also address major societal issues like homelessness, poverty, and discrimination.  Banksy is a big enough artist to make a statement like this and claiming that his lack of identity prevents him from copyright protection seems possible to change in the future. 

Girl with Balloon, Banksy, 2006 Graffiti Art

Another example of an activist group using masks to protect their identity while unifying and making a socio-political statement is the Zapatistas. The group protests the inclusion of Mexico in the North American Free Trade Agreement, the NAFTA. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation is more generally against capitalism and democracy as they feel countries like the United States have their government and economy too closely intertwined without acknowledging it. The United States preaches and tries to spread the free market and total freedom ideology but in fact, the government is heavily involved in the regulation of the economy.  The indigenous people of Mexico have been greatly affected by these regulations like NAFTA.  The Zapatista Army and protestors wear masks to protect their identity but also represent the “ones without faces” or their indigenous ancestors as they were treated as insignificant to global powers like the United States.  There were major student protests after the signing of NAFTA in 1994.  Zapatista soldiers occupied 7 Mexican cities. Both parties wore balaclavas or red kerchiefs to be noticed as they felt their facial features caused them to be unnoticed (Wearing a Mask).

Zapatistas Student Protest, wearing balaclavas and red kerchiefs

Feminist groups have also used masks to protect their identity while making their statement.  The Guerilla Girls formed in 1985 to protest the lack of representation of female artists in the art world, specifically their representation in museums and galleries as well as international recognition in institutional honors (OUR STORY). The group covers their faces with gorilla masks and uses them to symbolize the group. However, they say the main reason they wear the mask is to keep the focus on the issues they are bringing awareness to (Tate).  This is a common theme with all the activist groups mentioned so far, they are not only protecting their livelihood from threats but by not having a specific identity attached to their cause, the cause is accentuated.    

Guerrilla Girls, Benvenuti alla biennale femminista! (from the series \”Guerrilla Girls Talk Back: Portfolio 2\”), 2005; Lithographic poster, 17 x 11 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay; © Guerrilla Girls, Courtesy
Pussy Riot Performance in Russia

Another feminist example of an activist using masks is Pussy Riot, the Russian punk group that demands separation of church and state. They noticed the Russian Orthodox Church carries an anti-woman and anti-LGBT attitude in their practices (Myzelev 2). Free speech is suppressed and there are unusually cruel punishments for women like labor camps. The idea of free speech is considered modern and western while Russia tries to hold on to a traditional way of life. The most notable protest by Pussy Riot was the group performing their punk songs on the stage of the highest Orthodox church in Moscow.  They wear brightly colored dresses and tights but also wear bright balaclavas to appear feminine but also rebellious.  They were only tried of hooliganism which is an example of Russia not acknowledging women as equal to men, Pussy Riot has a serious message that directly criticizes the two largest institutions of Russia and their trial was not treated as such (7). The use of masks is once again used to protect the identity of those in the group but also to have a rebellious appearance to match their seemingly rebellious agenda. 

Naomi Osaka, of Japan, wears face masks bearing the names of Black victims of police violence and racial profiling during the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York Osaka has been selected by The Associated Press as the Female Athlete of the Year. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, top, Seth Wenig)

Even in today’s catastrophic event, the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the peoples’ faces are covered in a protective shield to slow the spread of the virus. People have taken the liberty of expressing their political and social views on the cloth mask, for example having a Black Lives Matter mask or a gender equality symbol. These masks have been worn on people often covered by the media: athletes, politicians, and celebrities along with the public (Masked Not Muzzled).  This is another example of the use of masks playing a role in activism. While people’s mouths may be covered, they are still expressing their views and making their voices known. I believe expressing their views in such a forward way will encourage others to think about their views. Also, constantly seeing a message on people’s faces, one of the most notable features of a person, will spread awareness quicker and let people know that others have a concern that they want to be shared.

The relationship between masks and activism has not been entirely for the same purpose but there is a thread between the two. Anonymity helps assist people to express their views without fear of repercussions. Most people assume that someone wearing a mask has bad intentions but often, as we have seen with Banksy and the Guy Fawkes masks, people are just trying to spread awareness of an issue or criticize corrupt institutions.  The mask can also protect minority groups like the Zapatistas, Guerilla Girls and Pussy Riot so that they can be noticed by the institutions that overlook them.  They have endless possibilities as we have seen with the Banksy court case and the new use of medical masks to spread awareness of current socio-political issues.  In all cases, the masks can unify groups representing a collective identity to emphasize their respective cause. 

Works Cited

ABC News, ABC News Network,

“Banksy Trademark ‘at Risk’ after Street Artist Loses Legal Battle.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 17 Sept. 2020,,because%20his%20identity%20remained%20hidden.

Ellsworth-Jones, Will. “The Story Behind Banksy.”, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Feb. 2013,

“Guy Fawkes.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

“Masked Not Muzzled – the Art of the Political Mask.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 July 2020,

Myzelev, Alla. “Pussy Riot: Representing Russian Activism between East and West .” Comparative Media Arts Journal, 2021.

“OUR STORY.” Guerrilla Girls,

Tate. “Guerrilla Girls.” Tate, 1 Jan. 1989,

Tidy, David Molloy & Joe. “George Floyd: Anonymous Hackers Re-Emerge amid US Unrest.” BBC News, BBC, 1 June 2020,

Waites, Rosie. “V For Vendetta Masks: Who’s behind Them?” BBC News, BBC, 20 Oct. 2011,

“Wearing a Mask Is a Way the Zapatistas Invite Everyone into the Struggle.” Netpol, 11 Nov. 2015,

Masks in Japanese Theatre

Grace Tinklepaugh 
Dr. Alla Myzelev 
ARTH 300: Fashion, Art, and Politics 
Spring 2021

Noh theatre is a form of Japanese drama that has been around since the early 1300s. It is well-known for its glamorous and intricate costumes and masks.

Noh theatre is known for the over the top and gorgeous styling, acting, costume, masks and artwork.

Noh masks are often used to represent the supernatural or animals in theatre. Noh theatre is a drama formulated around song and dance. This type of Japanese drama is well known for the elaborate costume, makeup, wings, and masks which add to the elements of the performance and the attributes of the characters. Noh Theatre is known for its extravagant music, dance and drama and themes of dreams, supernatural, and spirits. The masks are made of wood and hand painted using a style that date back thousands of years. These masks are often hundreds of years old and passed down to others. There are many different types of Noh masks that are used for specific plays and performances. The masks are used to amplify the drama of Noh theatre, and often represent spiritual beings and animals. The masks are hand painted and known for being gorgeous and detailed. Noh theatre and masks influenced future Japanese traditions in the arts.

Noh masks are recognized for their extremely detailed artwork.

In Japan masks were very popular and common both in the arts and society. From surgical masks to fashion to art, masks have been incorporated in many aspects of Japanese life. Deriving from historic religious rituals, masks have been a major part of Japanese culture since the beginning. In Japanese theatre there are multiple types of Noh masks. In the past, there used to be up to 60 different types of Noh masks used in theatre. Currently now, there are over 200 types of Japanese Noh masks used in theatre, all stemming from the traditional Noh masks of the early 1300s. The masks represent animals, specific characters, non-human characters, and the supernatural.

Noh masks are not always human, they are often animals as well. Pictured above is a fox Noh mask.

Noh theatre masks are made of a lightweight wood, for actors to wear for long periods of time. They are decorated with natural pigment using seashells and glue, along with paint. The masks are made to be worn during long periods of time and can handle a range of actions that the actor might be performing.

Japanese Noh masks are considered a part of Japanese traditional art. The art skill used for traditional Noh masks have been practiced for thousands of years.

Noh theatre is a very popular form of Japanese theatre representing dance, drama, glamorous costumes, and elaborate makeup and masks. This form of theatre is an all-male performance that was founded in the early 1300s. This classical theatre is well known for its extravagant costume and masks, that are essential to the characters identity and plot of the theatre.

Photo above represents the intricate makeup, masks, costume, and style used in Noh theatre.

Noh theatre inspired many traditions and trends later on in Japanese culture and society. This genre of theatre is often very dramatic and extravagant, in both its content and costume. The costumes are extremely luxurious and typically very vibrant with color and patterns. It is very common in Noh costume and masks to have bright vibrant colors. The colors often have a deeper meaning in this style of theatre. For positive traits and characters, the costume and masks include the colors: red and purple. Whereas the negative and villainous characters are represented by the colors: blue, black, and green.

Pictured above is a full Noh costume with mask.

One of the most popular and notable Noh masks is called the Hannya. The Hannya represents an evil female demon that has horns, sharp teeth, and metallic eyes. The mask represents jealousy and traditional bridal headwear. In Noh theatre all of the actors are male, which is why the masks are often used to portray female characters. In Japanese theatre, the main character often wears the Noh mask, along with the accompanying character (usually playing as a female character). Not only do Noh masks represent a specific character, they also represent emotions. The emotions often represented on Noh masks are sadness, anger, and happiness. Another popular character depicted by Noh masks is Oni. Oni is a red-faced demon and was worn by parents to remind their children of the dangers of demons. Children would throw beans at this mask to cast away the demon. Other notable characters depicted by specific masks were Tengu (a birdman who scared away bad spirits), Shinto (a magical shape shifting fox), and Hyottoko (a clown).

Noh character masks are still very popular and can be purchased online. They are still hand painted and crafted in intricate detail, resembling original Noh masks.

Masks are an essential part of Noh theatre. The masks play an important role in the theatre, the main character and accompanying character(s) almost always wear masks. However, the narrator in Noh theatre never wears a mask. The masks have set roles in Noh theatre and only specific characters can wear them. There are many different types of masks in Noh theatre categorized in a few basic ways. Some of the categories used to organize Noh masks are: otoko (human male), jo (elderly), onna (woman), uba (old woman), chigo (children), jinki (the supernatural), kijin (demons), and animals. Not only were masks used in plays, they were often depicted in Japanese artwork as well. Japanese artist frequently liked to paint and depict Noh masks on Japanese prints. Noh themes, scenes, and masks were popularly portrayed on Japanese art prints during the late 18th and 19th century. Noh masks have been appreciated and admired continuously since the early 14th century into the present. Japanese prints depicting Noh masks are still being sold and created in the present. Masks have been extremely influential in Japanese tradition, culture, and art. The masks are well respected and appreciated as an art form in multiple ways. Noh masks have also inspired makeup and art among common people. The art form has been extremely influential in society, even among common people. The continuous popularity shows how rich in culture and tradition Japanese art is. Noh was not exclusively for any group of people and was often very popular among commoners. Noh theatre is often described as the “people’s dramatic art”.

Antique Japanese Noh Masks are still sold in antique fairs to this day, which can range from low to very high prices.

Noh theatre has changed a lot throughout history, but the main principles and characteristics of this art form remain and are still appreciated to this day. Noh masks are an essential part of Japanese theatre and culture. These intricate and gorgeous masks represent tradition, culture, art, and history. Noh drama and theatre masks represent a variety of characters that were not only important in theatre, but in traditional stories shared and passed down within families. Noh masks were influential to later artistic developments in Japan, like Japanese art prints.

A Japanese print depicting a demon Noh mask.

Japanese masks are still purchased and appreciated to this day. These masks are still very popular in Japanese culture as they are still remembered through childhood tales, theatre, and art.

Traditional Japanese Noh theatre mask, hand painted traditional folk art.

Works Cited

“Back Matter.” Asian Theatre Journal, vol. 20, no. 1, 2003. JSTOR, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

“Japanese Masks in Noh Theater and Kabuki.” Artelino, Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.

“Masks.” Traditional Kyoto, Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.

“Noh Masks.” Kabuki Mask, Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.

“Noh Theatre.”, Accessed 28 Apr. 2021.

Pronko, Leonard C. “Kabuki Today and Tomorrow.” Comparative Drama, vol. 6, no. 2, 1972, pp. 103–114. JSTOR, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

Scott, Adolphe Clarence. The Kabuki Theatre of Japan. E-book.

Stewart, Elizabeth. “Unmasking the Value of a Traditional Japanese Art Form.” Elizabeth Appraisals, Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.

2020: The Year of Adaptation

A photo of me taken during the pandemic, wearing a reusable light blue cloth face mask.

Masks are a part of our daily lives and they are something that we can’t seem to stray away from, just yet. Starting at the beginning of 2020, the whole globe was struck with the Coronavirus pandemic that changed everything for every individual. It was a time of adaptation and we had to band together to do whatever it is for us to stay healthy and protect the people surrounding us, familiar and unfamiliar. Masks became a mandated matter that is supposed to be worn on the streets and when surrounded by other civilians in enclosed buildings. At the beginning of this pandemic, I first heard about masks through mass media. Broadcasted on news channels, social media platforms, and word of mouth, masks started to become the main conversation I had with anyone I conversed with during this time. Specifically, if you didn’t hear about masks during this time some might say you may just be living under a rock. Now, when it came to what I thought about masks during the beginning months of February/March, I honestly was not too thrilled about it as it was something I had to begin to get used to. I would constantly step out of my car and forget them halfway into where I was walking to and had to run back to retrieve them. Let’s just say it definitely took me some time to get used to. However, I realized how important it was to wear them to ensure safety for all.

Fig. 1 – Blue Medical Mask

 I began to wear masks right at the beginning of this pandemic, as my parents stocked up on all the necessary supplies; we had copious amounts of those blue medical masks (Fig. 1) and the N95 masks lying around the house just in case we ever ran out. I vividly remember walking into a supermarket at the beginning and being in total shock walking in seeing some people with masks and some people without. I felt so out of place as I wasn’t sure if I was the odd one out or if the people who weren’t wearing them just have not heard the news yet. However, I knew that during this time I was being a proactive citizen and was doing what was best for myself and others. Also during this time what persuaded me even further for why I wore masks was the health of my intermediate family. During this time, my grandparents had moved into my 4 person home as they moved out of their house. For them, my father began to build an extension off of our house to create a one-bedroom, one-bath, apartment. But, because of the rise of the pandemic, this project had slowed down and they lived in our backroom for a longer period of time than expected. Because of this, all 6 of us were in a smaller confined space and I was very nervous to bring this virus into my household and spread the disease to them. They are both roughly eighty years old and have been through many health complications, this virus was the last thing I wanted them to come in contact with. Likewise, both my parents have been through many health complications including a variety of cancers and kidney failures where they have been through invasive surgeries. I was in an immunocompromised household and I never wanted to be the one to mess that up. I had to wear a mask no matter where I went to ensure the ones I held closest to my heart were healthy.

Fig. 2 – Floral face mask owned by my Grandmother

Parting away from the sadness of this virus, the use of masks can have a positive outlook as it can add some spice to your everyday fashion. For the longest time, the first masks I wore were the blue medical masks as I felt they were the safest. However, as time went on, I noticed they were not sustainable and were constantly seen on the ground in parking lots or within garbages. Due to this, I switched over to reusable masks that could be washed. The first masks I bought, and the same masks I wear today were from TJ Maxx. These masks came in a pack of three different colors, pastel blue, purple, and pink. Furthermore, I loved seeing the creativity shine through individuals as I watched them promote their own creation of masks. Firstly, I remember my mom coming home with a bunch from a friend of hers who had created their own with Grateful Dead, floral (Fig. 2), and tie-dye patterns. More personal to me, a friend of mine’s sisters started her own business creating masks. Watching it be promoted on both of their social media platforms, she provided essential workers with these masks as a token of appreciation for all that they have done. Although I am not necessarily as close with my friend as I used to be, I still see her sister’s progress on her Instagram as she continues to make masks for all. In the end, masks are something that we all had to get adapted to, but they have simply become part of our everyday lives and fashion choices. For as long as we have to continue, I will wear my same pink, blue, and purple masks constantly changing which one I want for the day according to what I am wearing.

Mask Catalog

  • Object/Work: Cotton mask
  • Classification: Fashion
  • Title, or Name: Purple cloth mask
  • Creation, Name of Designer(s): N/A
  • Style, Period, Group, or Movement: 2021
  • Measurements: N/A
  • Material: 100% Cotton
  • State: How Many Were Produced? Which Collection? N/A
  • Facture (Detailed Deconstruction): Cloth mask with stretchy strings that go around the ear. Bead on a string so the mask can be easily adjustable.
  • Orientation, or Arrangement: Worn over mouth and nose.
  • Physical Description: Purple cotton mask with white beads and string.
  • Condition or Examination History: Overall great condition.
  • Subject Matter: Cotton mask
  • Context: This piece was bought for social distancing and safety purposes throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Current Location: Travels with me in car 
  • Copyright Restrictions: N/A
  • Ownership History: Bought at the beginning of 2020.
  • Visual Documentation: Fig. 3, Fig. 4, Fig. 5
  • Generic Concept Authority: (Sewing, Fashion)

Progression of Head and Face-Coverings: Ancient to Contemporary Times

Masks are seen as a form of identity of an individual as they are there to conceal a person’s face and shoulders. Since the beginning of Ancient times, face and head coverings have had widespread use through all cultures including those of the Romans and Greeks. Today, the use of these coverings are still used but for slightly different purposes as we see them commonly used for martial, religious, or health purposes. Although, during Ancient times, the use of these face and head coverings had a tremendous amount of different purposes including the similar religious and marital aspects we see other uses such as purity, communication, marriage, and status. While the face and head coverings have been around for centuries, birthed during Ancient times, they have been constantly evolving in both Roman and Greek cultures. Within these cultures, there are a variety of different types of coverings that withhold different purposes that, although the purposes may differ now, carry substantial importance in our contemporary era and to an individual’s personal identity.

“Masks remain something of an enigma”

Donald Pollock
Fig. 1 – Bronze statuette of a veiled and masked dancer (Greek) The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ancient Greek Traditions

Head and face-covering practices have a lot of common misconceptions that date back to ancient times. Commonly practiced by Hellenic women, veils were also used during this time by men when in the presence of the Gods. Dating back to 750 to 30 BCE, the Himation (Fig.1) in Greek traditions, was a mantle primarily used by men and women to act as a shawl or head covering. The himation is something that can be seen on historic Greek vases ( Fig.2) where we see this rectangular cloak wrapped around or thrown over the left shoulders of Ancient Greeks. The himation typically swings over the left shoulders of the wearer where it passes under the right arm and a bulk of the fabric is met around the back. Made out of wool fabric, the himation was used for a variety of purposes. Worn over the chiton, a long tunic, until the middle of the fifth century BCE, himations made their way to be worn alone. They were typically worn and seen as an important part of their nonverbal communication; a way to express themselves without verbally using words to convey a point. The himation often showed a sign of elite status in which it was often worn by Roman and Greek aristocrats and in women it typically was used as a veil when in contact with strangers.

“As the busybody penetrates through the door of the house he ‘unveils’ its occupants to his unwanted and shaming gaze and defiles the sanctity of privacy that a house usually offers”

Fig. 2 – Mixing bowl (volute-krater) Greek, South-Italian Late Classical Period about 365–355 B.C. Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Oftentimes, the veil during Ancient Greek times was simply just the cloak or mantle being worn and often correlated to a women’s living space. This correlation is evident as both a home and veil are seen to protect the privacy of the individual; “As the busybody penetrates through the door of the house he ‘unveils’ its occupants to his unwanted and shaming gaze and defiles the sanctity of privacy that a house usually offers”(Llewellyn-Jones 255). This analogy brings into play the ultimate desire for privacy that was trying to be achieved through these face coverings. The use of the face coverings was also primarily used to prevent what is called miasma. Miasma is the state of ritual impurity that can be described as “the lingering aura of uncleanliness” in regards to a person’s contact with the Gods. As seen in Llewellyn-Jones’ writing of Aphrodite’s Tortoise: The Veiled Woman of Ancient Greece and as a feature of Hellenism, miasma comes into play with veils as it acts as a barrier to contain the potential hazards that the female body and female sexuality are capable of. Acting as a pollutant, the use of the veil is there to ultimately help women with their lack of control over their boundaries. Men were seen as self-aware and understood their limits where a woman’s body “refused to conform or adhere to the rules of containment because it was perceived as porous and hence destructive”(Llewellyn-Jones 260). Yet, as written in Plutarch’s Saying of Spartans, it raises the question of how often a woman had to wear their veils. Writing, “When someone inquired why they took their girls into public places unveiled, but their married women veiled.” He then responds, “Because the girls have to find husbands, and the married women have to keep to those who have them!” This makes it interesting as it seems that a woman is then an object to the man where she is their property upon marriage and must be protected while a woman who is searching must expose her privacy.

CHARILLUS ​197 2 “When someone inquired why they took their girls into public places unveiled, but their married women veiled, he said, “Because the girls have to find husbands, and the married women have to keep to those who have them!” -Plutarch, Saying of Spartans

Fig 3. – Statue of Vestal Virgin (Roman, 2 cent. AD) Palatine Museum
Fig. 4 – Ancient Roman Coin (Stola and Palla) 271 AD

Ancient Roman Traditions

Similar to the Greeks, the Romans also had a handful of face and head covering rituals. For many, the use of covering their heads had to do mainly with religious ceremonies and maintaining the “traditional values” of the Romans. In regards to women and their face coverings, the virgin priestesses of Vesta, also known as the Vestal virgins, wore covering called a suffibulum (Fig.3). The suffibulum was a piece of square white cloth with a purple border that covered the head and sometimes shoulders that was worn prior to or during sacrifice. Similar to the suffibulum, during ceremonies such as marriage, women wore a bridal veil that was called the ricinium. The ricinium was a shaw that covered the heads and shoulders of Roman women during ancient times. However, it was until the palla came along and the ricinium seemed to have fallen out of use. Seen on Roman coins, Roman goddesses wore the palla to cover their heads to ensure modesty. This idea of pudicitia was depicted on the coins (Fig.4)with a fully clothed and veiled woman. It was regarded as a concept that regulates the sense of shame that deems a person’s behavior as acceptable.

Many Romans were expected to follow this concept of pudicitia as it was a big indicator of an individual’s morality and loyalty. Furthermore, the palla was ultimately seen as an adaptation of the Greek garment the himation (Fig.1). Worn both by men and women this piece of clothing, pallium for men (Fig.5), draped around the body and had a variety of uses. However, like the ricinium it was put to disuse by men when another piece comes along such as the toga. To women, the palla continued to be a staple garment as it suits almost all purposes and continues to be used by many cultures across the world. Pallas can be decorative with vibrant colors and patterns or a single simple color such as white or brown. In regards to men and their use of head coverings, under both Roman and Greek culture, is used to conceal feelings of shame and embarrassment. Written in Veiling among Men in Roman Corinth, “From a Roman point of view covering the head is a potential symbol of shame for a married man of non-elite status”(Massey 509).

A mask, or in this case a head covering, contains a lot of identity of an individual as they are seen as a symbol of representation. “The mask works by concealing or modifying those signs of identity which conventionally display the actor, and by representing new values that, represent the transformed person or an entirely new identity”(Pollock 585). In our contemporary society, masks are continuously being used for a wide range of martial and religious purposes. They are used in a majority of the religions globally including Catholicism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. However, there is a difference in how they used to be treated from how they are treated now. Rather than seeing a covering as a form of social status or a symbol of a woman’s purity, they are typically seen as a sign of modesty and respect in accordance to God’s will. Furthermore, no longer is the face-covering in regards to marriage seen as important as they once were during Ancient times. Today, many brides have the opportunity to choose themselves on whether or not a veil face covering is something they choose to partake in. It no longer holds the same purposes and importance that it once did before. But again, that does not mean they are in complete extinction from society. In Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, respectively, we see these coverings of veils (Fig. 6) being worn by nuns and religious sisters and a cylindrical hat and veil known as kamilavka and epanokamelavkion (Fig. 7) worn by the monks within monasteries. In regards to head coverings as a sense of personal identity, today, we see that they allow for individuals to have their own freedom of choice and expression. It is no longer held to a person on whether or not they want to wear one but if they feel they need one to feel at peace with themselves. In a New York Times article by Hanna Ingber, many Muslim women were interviewed in which some exclaimed no need for a veil because “God exists on the inside” while others felt it provided them confidence, peace, and a “material expression of solidarity”.

Fig. 6 – Veils worn by Roman Catholic Nuns
Fig. 7 – Monk wearing both kamilavka and epanokamelavkio

For centuries, the umbrella of head coverings has been used widely in Ancient Roman and Greek times for an array of purposes. Today, although similar purposes, these coverings have a more lenient use as there is more of a choice to the individual in whether they choose to participate in wearing them. From the beginning of times, in Ancient Roman and Greek cultures, we see the use of these coverings for nonverbal communication, a sense of purity of a woman from her husband, a man’s social status, and as a form of privacy and protection of a woman’s body. In contemporary times, we see these specific purposes declining but more of a sense of modesty and dedication to one’s faith. In the end, the use of these facial coverings has provided individuals with a sense of personal identity and will continue to be used upon a person’s personal preference.


Ingber, Hanna. “Muslim Women on the Veil.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 May 2015, 

Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd. “House and Veil in Ancient Greece.” British School at Athens Studies, vol. 15, 2007, pp. 251–258. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Apr. 2021.

Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd. Aphrodite’s Tortoise: the Veiled Woman of Ancient Greece. The Classical Press of Wales, 2010. 

Marlowe, Michael. “Headcovering Customs of the Ancient World An Illustrated Survey.” Headcovering Customs of the Ancient World, 

Massey, Preston T. Veiling among Men in Roman Corinth. Indiana Wesleyan University, 2018. 

Plutarch. “Sayings of Spartans.” Plutarch • Sayings of Spartans – 208B‑236E,, Donald. “Masks and the Semiotics of Identity.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 1, no. 3, 1995, pp. 581–597. JSTOR, Accessed 29 Apr. 2021.

Social Isolation and Masks in 2020: A Recollection of Personal Experiences with the Pandemic

In January of 2020 I was sick with the flu and decided to stay in the comfort of my dorm room, to my roommates dismay. I visited the health center and was advised to wear a facemask because there was a strain of the flu that was affecting different parts of the world. I recall being tested for this flu but having negative results as my body had already processed most of the illness and was in the stages of recovering but I still wore the mask out of consideration for others. I can vividly remember masks being relatively odd to be wearing around this time and as I walked to the vending machine of my dorm building everyone who saw me wearing a mask immediately tried to get as far away from me as possible. It seemed like the generic blue disposable face mask that I was wearing would be weaponized against them based on how immediately terrified everyone was after seeing me with it. This was one of my first experiences with wearing a face mask. Two months later the pandemic hit the majority of the world and everyone had to go into quarantine.

“Nothing could match the chaos that ensued when Governor Cuomo announced that New York would have to go into a lockdown.”

The State University of New York College at Geneseo’s response to COVID-19

Nothing could match the chaos that ensued when Governor Cuomo announced that New York would have to go into a lockdown. I remember the frantic calls myself and others were making in our schools student union to our parents and family members and trying to figure out ways we could safely return home with our belongings. Back in February hardly anyone believed that this pandemic would be as severe as it was and in March as I called my dad to make last minute preparations to pick me up, I made sure to make use of the few masks I had leftover from being sick a month before. We were still in the stages of uncertainty but when I began to pack my belongings I chose to bring everything I could. I was a junior at SUNY Geneseo and I knew that once the school was unsure of something, it would probably be best to use my own judgment at that point while packing. I remember pushing down the anxiety that surrounded me and folded my clothes back into the bin I had unpacked barely three months prior. I soon took a break from packing and went to the dining hall with my friend. Most of the hall was empty with a few stragglers coming in and out and picking up food. I was too nervous to actually hold the door handle or even touch many things in the hall so I used napkins. We got our food and many other snacks because we understood that we wouldn’t be coming back for a while and didn’t want our meal plans to go to waste, and basically left the dining hall with several desserts from the bakery. I remember finishing my packing and helping my friend with his things and not knowing what to do for the rest of the night as we all sat around contemplating what the rest of the semester would be like.

A photo of me taken during the peak of the pandemic after masks were made mandatory in New York.

The next morning my dad picked me up and mentioned that we should try to find toilet paper and extra water in preparation for the worst case scenario. We stopped at multiple places during our six hour drive home and none of the places had any sanitary needs or medical equipment. There was a quietness around the areas as everyone was feeling the same emotions of fear and confusion but understood that they should not be near anyone else. Little kids were kept close to their guardians and everyone was in a desperate need to find any supplies that could help. This was before the state had notified any of us of the importance of wearing masks but everyone misunderstood that we should not stand too close to each other. In March, we were notified that masks would stop the spread and that gloves could help. I remember it being a few weeks since quarantine had begun and we were advised to stay indoors that my mom asked me to help her with grocery shopping. I remember wearing a disposable mask and gloves and securing myself in a jacket from the cold and from germs as much as I could. We went out and arrived back home and immediately used antibacterial wipes to wipe down the items that we bought and pack them away. I washed my hands next and immediately threw my clothing into the laundry. 

A photo taken outside of Target requiring that every customer enter the store with a face mask/face covering. Many stores took and still have this initiative outside of their windows to notify their customers of safety protocols.

“Everyone seemed to be trapped in the same place mentality as quarantine dragged on.”

The first masks that I wore were blue disposable ones but eventually I was able to pick up packs of them at department stores or find a few online. I preferred using the department store ones because they were soft and plain and fit me well compared to the flimsy disposable ones my mom had in our house. I can recall not being able to see my friend for months and only being able to see him over Facetime as the months started to blur together and quarantine kept us reliving the same day. I couldn’t even attend the birth of my half brother, who was born during the peak of the pandemic, and had to be hospitalized for a week after his mother was diagnosed with Covid while giving birth. Everyone seemed to be trapped in the same place mentality as quarantine dragged on. I remember moving past the initial fear three months later and visiting my friend at his house to spend time with him. His sister was a fashion major and knows how to sew and she attempted to make me a mask. Although it was a beautifully stitched mask with a green background with multicolored polka dots and red ribbons attached, it did not fit my nose and squeezed my face and ears. I believe it did not fit because she was not able to measure my face when she made it but I appreciated the effort.

It is difficult to think that it has been more than a year since the beginning of this pandemic and everyone has changed so much during their time in quarantine. Even though there is a vaccine I am not sure when I will be able to walk outside without my masks or sanitizer or if life will ever go back to the way it was before. Masks have become such an integral part of our lives that it is considered part of our everyday wardrobe at this point. In March of 2020, I was wearing any type of face mask I could get access to which were usually plain but practical ones bought from Target. The type of masks I wear now is pretty much the same but I have more options to be creative with them. Walking into a store like Target today, you can get any type of mass produced mask that you want. During the pandemic it was rare to see so many masks but now that it has become so important we can easily buy a pack of them from any store. The masks I wear now are more fun and colorful and I allow myself the chance to buy masks like these because I am not only focusing on its practicality anymore. I have also purchased many types of masks so I know which ones I prefer over others. At the moment my favorite mask to wear is a light blue and white paisley printed one with green ribbons to adjust how it fits my face. I hope to purchase more masks like this and that masks as a staple of fashion at this point can evolve along with clothing in modern times.