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MASK UP WIREGRASS: Fashion & comfort keys when wearing a face covering
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MASK UP WIREGRASS: Fashion & comfort keys when wearing a face covering

Whether you want a leopard print, a flower pattern, a tie-dye vibe or llamas, there’s probably a mask out there for you.

You can even support your favorite college football team with a mask.

As Alabama’s mandatory mask order went into effect Thursday, the demand for masks jumped. While some people continued to argue the benefits of wearing masks or decried mandatory mask orders as a violation of civil liberties, others sought face coverings with flair.

“Comfort is important to me, but also I want to be cute; I want to be stylish,” Karla Phares said with a quick laugh. “If I have to wear one, I want to be stylish.”

Wearing a leopard-print mask, Phares recently was at Eagle Eye Outfitters, buying masks for her husband and son. Style wasn’t as important to them. They just wanted comfort.

“I think that’s the big thing is comfort because if we’re going to have to wear them for long periods of time … they’re hard to wear,” Phares said.

Masks made to order

Brittney Pettis began sewing masks in March, but requests had slowed until the announcement of the mandatory mask order by Gov. Kay Ivey, who sported an Auburn University mask during her news conference. Pettis said her phone began “blowing up” almost immediately.

“For a little while it was a little slower,” Pettis said of demand for masks. “I was doing like a hundred a week and then it slowed down to like only 25-ish, but it seems like it’s about to go back to pretty big.”

Even before COVID-19, Pettis had a Facebook page — Brit & Bear — to sell the dog bandanas she sewed.

Her mother is a health care worker, and Pettis used fabric scraps from the bandanas to make masks for her mom’s office. She began selling masks for $3 each just to cover the cost of elastic and fabric. For $6, Pettis can make a mask with a special logo or message, such as the solid-colored masks with “Jesus” or “Faith Over Fear” across the front that have become popular among her customers.

“Some people who work at the pharmacies like to have their names put on them, and I do a lot of the monograms, as well,” Pettis said. “I can pretty much put anything on a mask, so I do a lot of customs.”

Victoria Bludsworth Messenger makes masks in a variety of colorful fabrics. Her Facebook page has samples of fabrics in patriotic and collegiate colors as well as prints featuring Olaf from “Frozen” or sharks, lemons, stripes, honeybees, unicorns and llamas. Messenger sells her masks for $5 each and uses a variety of ties such as ribbons and elastic. She even makes button bands and headbands that can spare the wearer’s ears from elastic loops.

“The most popular thing in the beginning was the college football fabric,” Messenger said. “We made probably over 200 Alabama and Auburn masks.”

Family pitches in

Like Pettis, Messenger started making masks using what she had on hand to donate to health care workers and for her immediate family. But in the first four weeks, Messenger made over 1,000 masks. At one point, Messenger was getting so many mask orders, her daughters — ages 15 and 19 — stepped in to help.

As the pandemic progressed, and more options became available for masks, Messenger said the demand trickled down, but she still received requests.

“I have no self-control when it comes to fabric, so I’m constantly getting several different kinds of fabric in and I will post that and then I’ll get a couple of orders,” Messenger said. “So, it wasn’t like 30 orders every day.”

But the day of Ivey’s announcement, Messenger said, her phone began ringing with requests for masks.

A substitute teacher, selling the masks has supplemented Messenger’s income during the pandemic. Even at her busiest, she said she never tired of making them.

“Something about sewing is so therapeutic for me,” Messenger said.

After the governor’s announcement, the mask racks near the entrance of Eagle Eye Outfitters became popular with shoppers. Eagle Eye is selling masks from brands like Lauren James, Andy & Evan, Simply Southern and Mask Market. Depending on the style and brand, a single mask may cost around $15, while a four-pack may cost around $20.

Mask styles in adult, youth and children’s sizes range from solid colors to those with tiny hearts or in bright, tie-dyed colors. There are flower and camouflage prints, masks with Crimson Tide emblems and a variety of neck gaiters — the thin face coverings often used for sun protection when fishing or by those who work outdoors. There are even feminine infinity scarves with built-in masks that can be pulled up and looped around the ears.

School preparations

Eagle Eye owner Susan Anderson said the store has seen children’s sizes selling well in the last week as school systems announced their back-to-school plans. Anderson said demand could increase more if the order is extended.

“I feel like that’s going to be a big need here in the coming weeks,” she said.

While shopping at Eagle Eye, Kelly Rase was sporting a colorful mask made by her sister-in-law. A teacher, Rase will be required to wear a mask when school resumes. So, while picking out masks for her husband and son, Rase also was looking at masks for herself.

“I don’t want a plain Jane one,” she said.

Her son is 4, and Alabama’s mask order does not apply to anyone age 6 and younger, but Rase said she wanted him to have masks for when the family is out in public.

“My son likes camo and dirt bikes, so I’m hoping this one with little motorcycles on it will be good — anything that is going to entice him to want to wear it,” Rase said. “My husband, I don’t think he really cares.”

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