a taxonomy of masquers

It feels like we should all be making eye contact with strangers more now that people’s mouths are covered with masks, preventing them from smiling or saying hello. But I think the opposite is true; when I go for walks, I note that in general people are withholding their gaze as well as their smiles and greetings, as if eye contact too could prove perilous.

One thing I enjoy about walking around in a masked world is observing the different masked personae I see people adopting. Around here, I’d say that (appropriately for California), I see a lot of people sporting bandanas with an air of vintage roguishness; that is to say, in a style evocative of nineteenth-century train robbers or other maverick outlaw types.

Another prominent style has a completely opposed vibe: those wearing surgical or N95 respirator style masks have a clinical look.

There are also a surprising number of people sporting what I think of as the “Arctic explorer” look, which is particularly peculiar-looking in the springtime in Los Angeles (it’s sunny and in the 70s here). These masquers usually have their collar turned up and a scarf bundled around their faces.

I’d characterize my own masked persona as slightly disheveled boho (the disheveled part is mostly because my hair (which is longer, I think, than it’s ever been in my adult life) is always getting tangled up in my mask ties. My look also has a whiff of ’70s-heiress-taken-hostage-develops-Stockholm-syndrome-robs-bank.

Here’s a fuller list of masked personae, if you’re looking for a style to make your own:

  • Arctic explorer
  • bandit
  • belly dancer
  • bride
  • dancer of seven veils
  • Darth Vader
  • deep sea diver
  • executioner
  • fencer
  • gladiator
  • harlequin
  • hostage
  • highwayman/woman
  • knight
  • niqābīah
  • phantom of the opera
  • plague doctor
  • seventeenth-century French prisoner, possibly royal
  • surgeon
  • superhero or supervillain
  • train-robber
  • Venetian masquerader
  • World War II evacuee

And if you need some visual inspiration for how to pull off glamorous masquery, behold the following nunnish, Orientalist, and robberish variations:

fair nun unmasked
Henry Robert Morland, The Fair Nun Unmasked
Arabian Nights 1942
Maria Montez as Sherazade in a still from The Arabian Nights, dir. John Rawlins (1942)


Ooh, and here’s another, which Christian Siriano tweeted. I especially like this one because it looks like the mannequin has bubbles all over her face:

pearl mask

In fact, it’s quite difficult to distinguish Siriano’s design from a house of Kareem original, made long before masks were in vogue: