Czechs embrace the face mask as a fashion item

Vendula Kramářová, photo: archive of Vendula Kramářová

The Czech Republic was one of the first countries where people were obliged to wear face masks in public. A month later, the face mask has become an accepted part of one’s attire and even a fashion accessory. Czechs have come together to help each other out in sewing and distributing masks which, in defiance of the doom and gloom surrounding the pandemic, have become brighter and more colourful with every passing day.

Vendula Kramářová, photo: archive of Vendula Kramářová

The order for all to don face masks came on March 18th when, paradoxically it was near impossible to get them on the market. But Czechs –often perceived as a nation of complainers - rose to the occasion and put their DIY skills to good use. Within hours millions of people around the country were churning out masks for themselves and for others, supplying hospitals, social workers, firemen, old-age homes, the local authorities and unknown passers-by, who picked them for free off improvised stands in the form of “mask trees”.

First people used whatever material they had at home, and when the government acknowledged the effort by allowing the re-opening of fabric stores people queued up for hours to buy brightly coloured and better-suited materials.

Fashion designers and artists poured their creative skills and energy into this unexpected piece of clothing, using pricy fabrics which had been lined up for the summer collection. And while Czechs are not the most fashion conscious Europeans, it seems that they are setting increasing store by their face masks. With every passing week it is evident that women are matching their masks to their outfit and even men are seen wearing colourful and funny masks – such as when the transport minister appeared wearing a face mask spotted with toy cars and trucks.

Photo: PECKA fashion
This being central Europe it was only a question of time before folklore motives would appear – based on folk costumes sporting traditional motives and colours linked to the individual regions.

Seamstresses and fabric designers in South Moravia have started making masks with motifs typical for Moravia - be it folk embroidery, color patterns or even blueprint. Vendula Kramářová, a Moravian fashion designer from Drnholec in the Břeclav region, combines brightly coloured animal and folklore motifs in her work. She says her original intention was to make masks for the village and health workers, but word got round and soon people from near and far were begging for a mask.

“They are so colourful and cheerful, with original patterns, that everyone is asking if they can have one too. I have an ethical problem asking for money for them in this situation, so I decided I would just hand them out to people for free. That makes me feel good. I use every spare minute of my time –my evenings and breaks during the day, as well as spare bits of material to make them.”

Politicians have advised people to use cloth masks in order to save surgical masks and respirators for people on the front line, further fuelling the trend of original hand-made masks. And given the fact that members of the Central Crisis Staff fighting the coronavirus epidemic have indicated that masks are likely to remain obligatory through the summer it looks like Czechs will soon have as many clothes masks as they have scarves and ties. Vendula Kramářová says she understands people’s desire for a special, original mask.

“If you are forced to wear something that covers half your face it is not something people will overlook. So of course people want it to look good, to complement what they are wearing, or to have an interesting pattern that people will notice. Because if you have to cover your face for the entire work day and deal with people then it is important that you feel good wearing your face-mask.”