Masks, Scarves, and Rooms – Fashion in a Pandemic

Style never takes a holiday. Runway shows have been suspended, but what people wear and how they decorate their homes is still very much on our minds. 

Our president may be disregarding advice from health care professionals to wear a mask, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi has turned PPE into a fashion statement. When she’s walking down the halls of Congress, the piece of fabric that covers her nose and mouth never fails to accent her outfit. During TV interviews, the mask or scarf is draped around her neck. Known for favoring bright colors, her masks stand out. 

There’s no denying Pelosi’s brilliance as Speaker of the House, but she’s also skilled at shaping public opinion. She has taken what many others consider a nuisance and elevated it into the season’s fashion accessory. And we want to follow her lead. If we have to wear a mask, why not wear one that looks good? 

The other fashion standout is Dr. Deborah Birx whose stockpile of scarves seems to be endless. While many women no longer drape silk around their shoulders, Birx may ignite a revival. Like Pelosi, Birx favors bright colors and dramatic patterns. As one of the few women on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, she stands out in a sea of blue and gray suits. Birx, unlike the president, wears a mask during news conferences, although she opts for the serviceable plain white one that doesn’t upstage whatever scarf she has on. 

Unfortunately, men in leadership positions in Washington have failed to become breakout fashion stars. Virginia’s Senator Tim Kaine at least tried, showing up for a hearing wearing a tie-dyed bandana across his face which made him look like either a hippie from the sixties or a bank robber in a Western film. Senator Richard Burr from North Carolina sported one with the University of North Carolina’s logo, while Connecticut’s Senator Chris Murphy donned one that looked like a repurposed pocket square. Not bad.

A room that would get a 10/10 on Room Rater.

Decor has become a focal point with talking heads doing TV interviews from home. We are less interested in what they are saying and more focused on what’s behind them. We are voyeurs, wanting to see how the other half lives. We scrutinize the books on their shelves. Have they really read all of them or just arranged them to impress? What’s on their walls? Do lots of diplomas indicate an insecure person? Why all those family photos? 

Sites have popped up online – perhaps the most popular is Room Rater, @ratemyskyperoom, on Twitter – that hand out scores, ten being the top. Points are given for general things like lighting and camera angles, but people really enjoy evaluating what’s in the background. Fireplaces are popular. The Washington Post’s star reporter Ashley Parker got a 10/10 on Room Rater for having her fireplace blazing. Extra points are awarded for animals, like the Great Dane that wandered into journalist John Heilemann’s well equipped kitchen while he was being interviewed by Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC. Another reporter fared less well when her two cats in the rear of the room got into, yes,  a cat fight.

After 9/11 predictions were dire for many industries. Experts advised that marketers stay close to their customers, to understand their feelings and their needs. The same applies now.

Is this what the new normal will look like? If so, there are opportunities for companies and entrepreneurs alike. What designers will begin producing face masks to elevate all of us to Pelosi’s level? Apartment staging, preparing a home for sale, is a big business. What about staging a home office? Then an expert to give advice on what equipment is needed to make sure the area is well-lit and the equipment produces great sound. (It’s amazing how many established journalists, authors, elected officials, and medical experts are poorly equipped to do interviews from their homes.) Even those who don’t end up on TV will still be on Skype, talking to their bosses and employees and trying to make a good impression. It’s time for everyone to up their game.

In the short term, however, in the absence of a vibrant fashion scene (is anyone buying new summer clothes or cocktail dresses for parties being held with social distancing?) we can follow the lead of two new style icons – Pelosi and Birx – adding colorful masks and scarves to our wardrobe.

Photos: Bigstock

Top: August 23, 2019: Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, speaking at the Democratic National Convention Summer Meeting in San Francisco, California

About Charlene Giannetti (390 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that completed filming on February 1, 2020. Charlene divides her time between homes in Manhattan and Alexandria, Virginia.