The sudden appearance of deadly Swine Flu in Mexico has people going about their business in surgical masks - a scene that may become common in other countries as the epidemic spreads. Televised scenes from Mexico City look a lot like those from Tokyo and other cities in Japan where the wearing of surgical masks is a longstanding tradition.
Wonder why people wear masks if they're not doctors or nurses? The main reasons are the desire to avoid catching colds and influenza, common courtesy by those who already HAVE respiratory illnesses and don't want to spread them, and attempts to relieve seasonal allergies sparked by pollen from Japan's millions of cedar trees.
Naturally, attempts have been made to liven up the bland, functional appearance of common surgical masks. Sometimes designers go overboard - and we've chosen 8 prime examples for your viewing pleasure!
Animal Mask Magnetism
Bird flu, swine flu; blame it all on our innocent, germ-ridden animal friends. These animal print masks are either humorous or disturbing... maybe a little of both though the pig style definitely falls into the latter category and might just attract unwanted attention if worn outdoors or in public places. (surgical mask image via Funny Junk)
Star Masks: The Germ Wars
As Billy Crystal's Fernando character from Saturday Night Live once said, "It's better to look good than to feel good." Wise words indeed - and even if you feel fine and are wearing a mask for protection, why look like a disorderly orderly? These star-printed cotton masks from Japan Trend Shop come in pink or black. And yes, they will make you look mah-velous. (surgical mask image via Japan Trend Shop)
Yoriko Yoshida's Artistic Masks
Yoriko Yoshida doesn't just design face masks, but considering the dozens of styles it's a safe bet to say considerable time was spent on the project. The masks draw upon traditional Japanese colors, styles and themes that result in, for example, The Mask of Catfish's Mouth, The Mask of Emotionlessness and The Mask of Red Doubt. Edgar Allan Poe would be impressed by that last one. (surgical mask image via Pink Tentacle)
Maiko Mask Brings Out the Geisha In You
Japan's Hara Museum is offering a series of "Get Well Soon" masks they feel would make great gifts for sick friends, care of artist & designer Samira Boon. Most have animal motifs but the Maiko mask stands out. Looks great on gals, "interesting" on guys. (surgical mask image via Hara Museum)
When Every Day is Halloween
Fear - how do you deal with it? Some choose to bounce back fear by looking scary themselves, as do the above pair of masked Goth types. One benefit to wearing a scary surgical mask? It doubles as a Halloween mask... trick or treatment? (surgical mask image via Coolbuzz)
Goth Gals Guard Against Germs
Goth is a viable fashion option for girls in Japan and the "Gothic Lolita" variation - it's pretty much what you might imagine - is showing surprisingly long life. Kind of ironic that, what with the Goth death imagery and all. Regardless, even Goths get sick from time to time and that's when the fashion masks come out. Along with the weird skeletal contact lenses. (surgical mask image via Leelefever)
Mental Dental Mask
I have nothing against dentists but should these bizarre masks catch on I just may turn into a rabid anti-dentite. What is the thought process here... we look silly and goofy so there's nothing to fear? Nuh uh - the combination of those masks, me on laughing gas and people poking sharp metal objects into my mouth is not one that inspires much mirth. Added bonus: they're from Germany. Is it safe? (surgical mask image via Ads Of The World)
Uncool USB Cooling Face Mask
The USB cooling mask from Thanko is meant to be worn over a standard surgical mask, the theory being that allergy season in Japan is typically hot & humid thus making mask-wearers even more uncomfortable. The solution? Put on a USB cooling mask and plug it into your computer's USB port. Twin fans mounted on either side of the mask commence blowing cool air across your face. Now you can answer the call of duty... just don't think of answering the phone. (surgical mask image via Coolest Gadgets)
One unforeseen consequence of mass mask mania is that for the first time in decades, Michael Jackson is at the forefront of fashion. Yep, now we can ALL look as wacko as Jacko, complete with mask-wearing kids. The only thing left to complete the look is a single glove... whomever won MJ's at the recent Neverland auction is a master of good timing. (surgical mask image via Telegraph UK)