Until recently, face masks were seen as something a medical professional wears in order to safeguard themselves and others on the job. However, with recent events, face masks are now not only a hot topic to be talked about, but also something that has become commonplace in many businesses and households. Suddenly, they are no longer an item exclusive to certain professions, and it seems it will stay this way for the foreseeable future.

But where did the cotton face mask originate? Why are we all being told to wear them? Who is taking advantage of this crisis? These are the kinds of questions we are going to address in the article below, so read on to find out the answers and learn more about something that had has only been around for a relatively short amount of time.


There is no exact answer to the origins of the cotton face mask, although the first recorded usage of them was by Paul Berger, a French surgeon, however, there is no evidence to suggest that he was the inventor. Unfortunately, we will likely never know for certain where they came from, or whose idea they were, but they did gain popularity very quickly after Berger first used one during a surgical operation in 1897.

The rapidly increased use of face masks was in part due to the beginning of the twentieth century being plagued by infectious diseases, most notably the Manchurian pneumonic plague which occurred from 1910-1911, and the Spanish Flu starting in 1918.

At the time of the Manchurian pneumonic plague, a Malaysian doctor called Wu Lien-teh, created a new design for the cloth face mask and through testing was able to optimize it and help decrease the spread of the Manchurian plague. Its efficiency at being able to help stop bacteria meant that when the flu pandemic of 1918 hit the world, these masks were recommended for everyone worldwide.

It will no doubt be surprising to many, that the first known use of the face mask was little more than a hundred years ago, where previously, the world was continuously dealing with vast amounts of sickness and infectious diseases. Perhaps the cloth face mask has been around for a lot longer than we are aware of, but one thing’s for sure, it has no doubt saved countless lives since its first use.


While there have been several different flu outbreaks since the regular use of face masks in the medical field, not every outbreak or pandemic has required people to wear one. Ultimately, the idea behind wearing a mask is so that people who have a virus cannot spread it to other people through air droplets that occur anytime someone speaks, coughs, or sneezes. Masks are there for people’s protection but haven’t been as popular during flu outbreaks that have a low contagion level.

This is the biggest problem we are facing nowadays with the coronavirus, the fact that is it so contagious and therefore, spreads like a wildfire is why masks are being made mandatory in many countries in order to control the spread as much as possible and help not overwhelm each country’s health services and medical resources.

Like with the coronavirus, the flu of 1918 was also incredibly contagious and this meant that wearing a mask became common practice all over the world.

Among flu global flu outbreaks, there has also been the pandemic of the H2N2 in 1957, the H3N2 flu of 1968, the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, Avian flu which circulated in the 2010’s, and the SARS outbreak which lasted between 2002-2004. These are some of the most notable flu surges of the last one hundred years, although due to the fact that they were not as contagious, the idea of using face masks was given as a suggestion rather than an obligation.

Aside from helping us protect ourselves and each other during flu outbreaks, around the 1940’s in particular the cotton face mask started being given to nurses the world over in order to aid in keeping them safe when treating tuberculosis patients, as although a vaccine was available, it wasn’t yet in wide circulation.

It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the modern surgical face mask was invented, this ultimately replaced the cloth mask for medical professionals, although a standard cotton mask is what was and still is acceptable for other members of the public to wear. That is not to say that you cannot buy a surgical mask if you are not a doctor, they are available for anyone to buy online are far more effective at stopping bacteria and germs, however, with a hefty price tag, you will be forgiven for sticking to an ordinary mask for protection.


Although many people have gone their whole lives without thinking about or wearing a face mask, for others, it was part of their life by way of an accessory long before the coronavirus.

If you travel to any country in East Asia, particularly Japan, you can expect to see people wearing a mask in public wherever you go. This doesn’t mean that there is a virus going around, but rather, wearing a mask has become a part of Eastern culture.

The persistent use was believed to have been due to two things; firstly, the various global flu outbreaks and the high importance of health and cleanliness in Asian culture, and secondly, over time the air quality of this side of the world has decreased dramatically with pollution and smog filling the skies of many cities – wearing a mask became a great way for people to filter the air they were breathing in.

However, because face masks became such a normal part of life, nowadays you will find plenty of people who wear them for neither of the reasons mentioned above; but rather for reasons including ensuring that people don’t talk to them, women who want to cover their face if they are self-conscious about not wearing makeup, and many people who have made them into an accessory and view them just as you would a scarf or a necklace.

Since cotton masks are both reusable and washable, it has meant that collecting masks in different colors and styles is affordable and even practical, for many it is better to keep safe and be stylish than to go without.


In music culture, face masks and coverings have been a part of the scene for decades, especially in hip-hop and rap, with various artists citing different reasons as to why they prefer to don a mask on stage or in public. Kanye West, for example, frequently wore a mask on stage during his Yeezus tour which then went on to be part of his branded merchandise. Rappers such as Ayo & Teo have said they prefer to cover their face after receiving multiple comments on their facial expressions when they perform. Artists like Future and Young Thug have stated they like the mystery it provides when they are out on stage or walking around, and other artists have been quoted as saying they prefer to have anonymity from the public when they are going about their daily life.

K-Pop groups and idols such a BTS are also often spotted wearing masks when they perform or are out in the public, although as we mentioned previously, this is most likely due to their Asian culture.


During any crisis, there will always be people and businesses that flourish above the rest of us. To refer back to the question in the opening of the article ‘who is taking advantage of this crisis?’, well the fashion industry is certainly a contender. There are literally millions of dollars to be made from people selling cotton masks, with people panic buying for their whole family in a bid to keep everyone safe. Now, there is nothing wrong with companies capitalizing on manufacturing this product and making a profit, this is just the reality of businesses, there are, however, some companies that are generating far more revenue than others.

The fashion industry is a billion-dollar sector, and certain brands can essentially charge what they want for any item because there will always be more than enough people who are willing to pay for that brand name. As a result, we now have the option for a designer facemask. Whether this is ethically correct is yet to be addressed, but for the time being, there are plenty of companies who are doing their best to sell their masks at a high price as long as there is a demand for them.

Brands like Nike, Off White, Supreme, and Bape are charging anywhere from $100 to $400 for a simple cotton face mask, with resales online being even higher. Or you can pick up one of our Killin’ It face masks for $15 ?

On the other end of the scale, some fashion brands such as Prada, Chanel, and Zara have stepped up and have dedicated resources to producing protective gear only for medical staff, and some companies selling masks to the public but donating profits to various charities and foundations that are needed at the moment more than ever. For every company that is using a pandemic to create profits, there is another company using their resources and time to help other people. Therefore, while they may not be making the money they could be, there is no doubt that people around the world will remember which companies helped in a time of need; perhaps this recognition is worth far more in the long term.

For now, it seems that face masks are going to be part of daily life for many of us around the world. It doesn’t always feel like the most practical of items to wear, but with the rise of the designer mask at least it is something that can be accessorized to your wardrobe. This may be a passing trend or it could change the way we carry out seemingly normal tasks, but either way, the world will never see face masks in the same way again.