Essay: Unfortunate Fashions #2: The Facekini

Just when you think fashion can’t get any wackier, along comes the Facekini. Apparently now all the rage with beach-goers in China, the Facekini is ostensibly worn to protect the wearer’s face from the harsh rays of the sun. As you can see, the masks completely cover the swimmers’ heads, revealing only their eyes, noses, and mouths (Snooki from Jersey Shore, take note). These pictures show bathers in the coastal tourist city of Qingdao, Shandong Province out and about at the beach, sporting what looks to be the most unfortunate fashion craze since, well, since the toeshoe.

As you can see, some effort has been put into making them stylish, what with the bright pastel colors and patterns, even if they make you look like you’re recovering from first-degree burns to the face. And according to news reports, they’re selling like hot cakes. “They have been very popular,” said one dealer from Henan on the Internet shopping site “We are already out of the pink ones … all of them sell well. Orange is the most effective in protecting people from sea creatures.”

Unfortunately, he did not elaborate what type of sea creatures that might be. Seahorses? Scallops? Great white sharks? I can see where they might protect against jellyfish or plankton, but I’m not sure how effective a facemask would be if you’re under attack by a crazed octopus or a really pissed off giant squid.

Now, I’m all for looks that’s are as functional as they are fashionable, and it’s even better if they protect you from sea creatures, but this one really has me puzzled. Do they not have SPF 100 sunscreen in China? If you’re so worried about sunburn that you’re willing to wear a protective mask that robs you of your identity, why go to the beach at all? What happens if you absent-mindedly walk into a bank or convenience store wearing one? Does the teller throw money at you while beseeching, “Don’t kill me. I have a family!” Not surprisingly, the Chinese government is understandably concerned about their use in bank robberies.

Mom? Is that you?

And then there’s the loss of identity I mentioned above, as well as an issue with practicality. How the heck do you know who’s who when at the beach? Let’s say you get a text from friends, “We’re at the beach. Join us.” If you’re standing at the top of the dunes looking for them, how do spot them when they look the same as everyone else, especially if you don’t know what other identifying articles of clothing they’re wearing? “I’m the one in the orange Facekini” just doesn’t cut it.

All kidding aside, I know that a pale, almost ghostly complexion is a much desired look of beauty in China and other Asian countries, so in that case wearing a Facekini makes sense. Still, I’m wondering if this latest fashion trend will be confined to the beaches of Asia, or if it’s poised to sweep the world. But if you’re going to wear something this, um, unusual, why not go all the way? So here’s a list of other options you could conceivably embrace when it comes to the whole ‘I’m wearing a mask in public and I’m not Batman’ thing. Practical uses are also provided.

The Lucador: The Mexican wrestling mask has long been a unique fashion statement. It’s head hugging features lend a slightly menacing look of superiority and athleticism, while its interesting designs, colors and patterns suggest a wrestler with the soul of an artist. Extremely versatile, you can wear them in the ring during the day, and then match them with a colorful blazer and sharp pair of slacks for an evening party at George Clooney’s house.

Scarecrow: The mask worn by Batman’s evil nemesis The Scarecrow would be perfect for rustic, countrified events like hootenannies, square dances and hay rides. Its simple design suggests someone who is interested in fashion, but not married to it; someone who demands comfort over style while still looking like the talk of the town. Also, given the fact that it comes loaded with the aerosol fear toxin Scarecrow uses to paralyze his victims, it could also protect you from muggers, but probably not a really pissed off giant squid. The rope/noose necktie is strictly optional.

Executioner’s Mask: Perhaps you’re going to a goth concert or satanic ritual, and you really want to look the part. This executioner’s mask with it’s no-nonsense design and handy eye zippers will help you fit right in. While it only comes in black with a tasteful red trim, it gives you the tough, no-nonsense look of someone who’s not to be f*^#ed with, even if in reality you’re a Sheldon Cooper-ish ninety pound weakling. Wear them with leather jacket and matching leather pants for a look that just screams, “You slay me!”

Alien Face Hugger: Here’s a bold, daring look that’s really in your face, although on your face is probably more apropos. While not for all occasions (George Clooney might not appreciate it, but Rob Zombie will), this could be worn at a death metal concert or Headbanger’s Ball to establish yourself as person of discernable, if not eclectic tastes. Note that some adjustments may have be made to the fingers to allow you to see. Bonus: the hanging tail would be a marvelous stand-in for a skinny eighties-style tie (when it’s not wound tightly around your neck, of course), although this might not be something you’d want to wear to a Wham! reunion concert.

Japanese Noh Mask: Noh (or Nogaku) is derived from the Sino-Japanese word for “skill” and “talent,” both of which you’ll show off in spades when you hit the town in this interesting mask. Its greatest advantage is that it gives you actual facial features, even if its rigidity makes you look like you’ve just had your latest Botox injection. Best of all, the follically impaired can paint as much hair on the top as they like, eliminating the need for an embarrassing rug. Originally worn in classic 14th century Japanese stage productions, you’ll create your own drama when you work the crowd at Sardi’s or Lady Gaga’s birthday party wearing this singular fashion.

So there you have it, for better or worse: masks for all social occasions. Regular readers of my blog might rightfully ask why this essay does not fall under the What’s My Beefcategory, and that’s because the Chinese bathers pictured above are actually at the beach, and not a wedding, funeral or bar mitzvah. Still, I’m guessing that’s it’s only a matter of time before they hit American shores, and I’m sure an anything goes city like San Francisco will eat them alive, especially when paired with a battered Grateful Dead T-shirt, a kilt and, of course, a pair of toeshoes.


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