| 1.3°C Dublin

Close

Premium

The meaning of Masks - making a statement through the ages

Our relationship with masks is far more complex than just instruments of medical protection or modesty. They have intrigued, disguised and delighted human nature since mankind first began to grapple with notions of identity and society, writes Rose Mary Roche

Close

Catwoman’s feline face covering was stunning, despite Michelle Pfeiffer’s admission that the latex mask both crushed her face and choked her

Catwoman’s feline face covering was stunning, despite Michelle Pfeiffer’s admission that the latex mask both crushed her face and choked her

Audrey Hepburn’s mask in How to Steal a Million was designed by Hubert Givenchy

Audrey Hepburn’s mask in How to Steal a Million was designed by Hubert Givenchy

Tutankhamun's golden death mask

Tutankhamun's golden death mask

/

Catwoman’s feline face covering was stunning, despite Michelle Pfeiffer’s admission that the latex mask both crushed her face and choked her

If we were previewed a snapshot of masked-up Irish society now back in January, we would have been intrigued, perturbed and probably frightened.

How quickly perceptions can change. Masks are now seen as protective rather than threatening; badges of civic responsibility rather than the dystopian disguise of the villain. Covid-19 has given masks a new respectability - now royalty, rock stars, celebrities and politicians are endorsing the wearing of masks as an act of communal solidarity.

In the West, generally, we have been squeamish about medical masks, unlike in Asia where masks have enjoyed popularity as both streetwear and personal protection since the Sars outbreak two decades ago.