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Bridal Face Masks: Cute Or Tone-Deaf?

There’s a lot to be upset about when it comes to this pandemic, like how states have to fight with the federal government for necessary supplies and people have to fight with each other at the grocery store for toilet paper. If you want something else to get mad about, I’ve found something that may rile you up. During my routine midnight scrolling through alerts, I stumbled upon a story about Haute Couture Wedding Masks, aka quarantine wedding masks, for brides and grooms, and I cannot stop thinking about it. This is no joke—bridal face masks exist, and the name makes me cringe already. In my self-isolationist cabin fever haze, I decided to investigate what these masks were all about, and what I found was a bit troubling.

The masks are made by a national bridal store chain called Winnie Couture, whose HQ is in Beverly Hills. The company has nine additional locations across the United States. When you visit the bridal shop’s website, there’s a section called “Our Response To COVID-19” and features two initatives: one is called “Masks For Heroes” and the other is Haute Mask by Winnie Couture. More on the latter in a sec. As far as the Masks for Heroes, Winnie Couture is currently participating in the  #millionmaskchallenge, for which their team is sewing washable/reusable masks (with filter pockets) for healthcare providers and essential workers. The good news: They’ve made 1,200 masks so far and are making an additional 2,500 to donate to the medical community and senior citizens. This is commendable and selfless work, and I’m here for it. If they had stopped right there, I wouldn’t have needed to go on this rant.

But let’s get to the not-good news, and the reason we’re here: the Haute Mask by Winnie Couture section. The website describes this line as “protective wedding masks for brides and grooms that offer style and safety for engaged couples across the globe,” and stress that 100% of proceeds from sales of the masks go to Direct Relief, a non-profit organization that is providing personal protective equipment and essential medical items to U.S. and international health workers responding to Coronavirus (COVID-19).

With the proceeds going to charity, what’s the problem? Let’s start with the easiest one: the masks are expensive AF. Described as “handmade, dreamy, and timeless”, they retail for $239 and $389 for the ladies, and $129 and $259 for the men.

Considering not only the loss of non-refundable wedding deposits that couples who postponed their wedding may be dealing with, but also how many people have been laid off from their jobs due to COVID-19, who has this kind of cash to spare right now?! No one.

“Omg, you know what hun? We should TOTALLY get expensive-ass bedazzled masks so we can always remember how COVID-19 f*cked up our wedding plans.” – said no one ever, I hope.

But even more problematic is the claim that these are “protective wedding masks for brides and grooms, offering style and safety”. Let’s break this down. In terms of protection and safety—yes, these masks could technically make for an adequate cloth face covering for the general public (the company uses 100% organic cotton lining for the masks) because they abide by CDC guidelines. However, there’s a big caveat: they are not really practical.

The CDC advises that cloth face covering should be able to be “laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape,” and I have a feeling that these hand-crafted beaded masks would not hold up in a washing machine. And it’s not as if you could pop over to your dry cleaner to get them laundered (hint: because we’re in lockdown). (As an aside, the masks contain a sewn-in filter pocket, though the filter is not included.)

The best-case scenario is you buy this as a glorified fashion accessory, which is in and of itself kind of tone-deaf given that we’re having a national crisis over the lack of adequate PPE for healthcare workers. The other scenario is that you spend nearly $400 to be protected one time. Neither option is ideal.

While these masks could theoretically offer some safety for, say, non-healthcare workers running errands or going outside, there’s still a problem with stating that these are “protective masks for brides and grooms.”

That’s because no one in their right mind is going forward with their in-person wedding plans right now, especially when government agencies and the CDC are advising everyone to stay at home unless absolutely necessary, practice social distancing, and even the White House is urging people to avoid gatherings with 10 people or more.

Sure, brides and grooms could wear this for their Zoom weddings, but it doesn’t totally seem like that’s what Winnie Couture had in mind. The website says, “We not only hope to protect engaged couples on their special day, but also, those affected by COVID-19 around the globe.” You know the best way to protect engaged couples on their wedding day?

Have them stay the f*ck home. If you click on the page to actually purchase one of these masks, the webpage says, “We strive to provide protective masks for weddings around the world during the current state.” One more time for the people in back: there should be no weddings around the world during the current pandemic.

I wasn’t the only one to take issue with these wedding masks. I spoke to Dr. Sidney Chiu, an ER physician on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, who had some choice words for Winnie Couture.

As a dad with two little girls at home who is now juggling intense overtime at the hospital, he took one look at these masks, then, after a long pause, said, “is this a joke? Do people not know how serious this pandemic is? People are dying and this encourages reckless behavior.”

Specifically, he expressed concerns that these masks would give people a false sense of security and they would congregate for extended periods of time. “Weddings are long affairs, people would be absentmindedly touching their face and in close proximity to one another, so you’re essentially creating a breeding ground for COVID-19. Do you really want that on your hands?”

Given that these masks are super expensive, impractical, and maybe even irresponsible, I had to ask: would anyone actually wear these? To get a bride’s perspective, I chatted with my cousin Steph who recently made the difficult decision to nix her destination nuptials in Mexico because of the pandemic. “I guess they’d make for a really expensive gag gift,” she said, adding, “But honestly, you’d have to read the room first.” Tbh, if you have upwards of $200 to spend on a joke, even if the proceeds are going to charity, you’d probably be better off just donating it directly.

Steph also thought that, even if well-intentioned, the masks were irrelevant to IRL circumstances: “I feel the smartest and safest thing to do is to cancel/postpone your wedding like we did, and these masks appear to promote the opposite of that—it’s like they’re encouraging weddings to proceed.”

Even though the proceeds from the Haute Masks are going to a good cause, that doesn’t make the concept as a whole any less tone-deaf. What’s ironic is that compared to the Haute Masks, their other COVID-19 initiative, Masks for Heroes, is genuinely commendable.

Maybe I’m just cynical, but I suspect Winnie Couture knows that coming out with a line of high-end face masks for brides and grooms (who shouldn’t be having a wedding right now anyway) is a bad look, and the Haute Masks are just a publicity play… which I suppose has worked, given that I’m writing about it.

The bottom line is that, “for everyone’s safety, particularly in this climate, you should definitely NOT be having a wedding now,” advises Dr. Chiu. But hey, if you’re somehow still living for these and/or have cash to burn and want a bougie souvenir to commemorate the pandemic à la “I survived COVID-19 and all I got was this lousy mask”, then what the hell, get a matching set for you and your hubby to be (they ship across the U.S. and worldwide). And I guess you can sleep better at night by telling yourself 100% of the profits are going to Direct Relief.

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