The Informant: A Respirator Mask for Everyone
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The Informant: A Respirator Mask for Everyone

Sep 07, 2023

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Jaundiced under a cloud of smoke drifting south from a smoldering Canadian forest, New York City is suddenly as yellow as a daguerreotype. The tint of bad air changes how people dress. Prepared to wait out the drifting particulate inside, they bundle up against the chill of air conditioning. Accessories change too. Masks—never gone, but definitely forgotten by more than a few commuters—are back. But the old masks, the vintage 2021 N95s, don't cut it.

And it's not just New York. Respirator masks are in vogue across the country. They are tucked into adult men's backpacks in San Francisco, where fire season has arrived again, and stuffed into chinos in D.C., which is getting smoked out by southern New Jersey. In Philadelphia, they are wrapped around peoples’ wrists. There's always something burning in Philadelphia–definitely if the Phillies lose and doubly if they win.

During the pandemic, masks made from simple fabrics and elastic became increasingly popular, to the extent that even luxury fabric houses like Scalamandre were offering masks in signature patterns. The reality, unfortunately, is that while those masks were better than nothing at all, they weren't terribly effective.

And those masks are even more poorly suited to air quality problems. A lovely pattern is nice, but a 95 percent filtration efficiency rating looks a lot smarter. The best fire season look? The N95 respirator from 3M. The 3M respirator stands out because it's low-cost, effective and doesn't look like post-apocalyptic cosplay. And unlike the KN95 everyone was sporting during the pandemic, the ones that looked like a shell that would block out any particles of the virus that might be in the air, the respirator version here actually helps filter contaminated air to a safer level for the wearer. It helps that the exhalation valve makes the whole thing a bit less claustrophobic.

Is a respirator mask a strong sartorial choice? The correct answer to that shallow-breathing question is "that doesn't matter." It's an inevitable trend because lungs, like minds, are a terrible thing to waste. Besides, it's only a matter of time before 3M does a Supreme collab for box logo respirators.

Price: $23.12

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