SINGAPORE - Fashion designers across the board are in agreement - fabric masks are the new statement accessory.
Apart from off-the-shelf offerings, many designers, retail brands and tailors have also pivoted to making masks to keep their businesses afloat and sewers employed.
The past few months have seen a variety of fabric masks flooding the market - from plain to batik to cartoon prints.
There is no safety standard for fabric masks now, experts note. A spokesman for German company TUV Nord, which provides tests and certification for surgical masks, says it is widely understood in the industry that reusable fabric masks alone do not provide for particulate (virus or bacteria) filtration.
Still, they offer some level of protection and are more sustainable if you are leaving home for short periods of time or are not involved in front-line work.
The Sunday Times put fabric masks from five local brands to the test via video-conferencing app Zoom.
The judges were Mr Winthrop Wong, director of Wellchem Pharmaceuticals, whose surgical masks are used by hospitals here; Dr Teo Wan Lin, dermatologist and medical director at TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre; and ST style reporter Amanda Chai.
Each mask could get up to 20 points - five points each for comfort, breathability, durability and style.
It was a close call between the top two masks - from womenswear label Ans.Ein and retail store Independent Market - which feature similar shapes and designs.
Dr Teo praised the winning Ans.Ein mask for its comfortable fit, "nice print" and being easy to talk through.
These light, three-ply masks made from the label's fabrics are cotton on the innermost and outer layers, with a waterproof fabric in the middle.
Price: $5 to $12 from their website.
Sizes: Kids, pre-teen, women and men
Verdict: The mask earned top marks despite some sizing and fit issues.
Mr Winthrop Wong felt his was too big for his face: "There were a lot of gaps - I had to touch it a lot to adjust the fit. When I exhaled, it fogged up my glasses."
He thought the Japanese-style motifs were "quite cool".
Dr Teo Wan Lin was also taken with the geometric prints, but griped about the fit as well.
"The fabric felt smooth on my skin. I found that the elastic band was the least uncomfortable, but fit was an issue," she said.
"If I wear it a little high up, the fabric gets sucked in when I breathe. But if I pull it a little lower, I can feel air escaping."
She added that the fabric bled after she washed it just once.
No.2: Independent Market
The masks are made of double-layered cotton, with an inner cotton gauze pocket for inserting a disposable filter.
Price: $32 for a set of four adult masks from their website.
Sizes: XS to XL
Verdict: Dr Teo was concerned that the tight elastic strings, which tugged on her ears, could trigger skin sensitivity. "They could cause a condition called dermographism - which is related to hives - in those who suffer from it."
But she loved the colours, and the material is her favourite of the lot. She said of the inner lining: "I can feel it probably has a higher thread count than the outside material. It's slightly softer and more gentle on the skin."
The mask was his favourite, said Mr Wong, who found it the most comfortable. He suggested adding a nose wire for "a better product".
Fashioned from upcycled offcuts from the brand's Ankara (African wax print) fabrics, the pleated face masks have a pocket to fit a surgical mask.
Price: $19 from their website.
Sizes: Kids and adults
Verdict: This reversible mask had everyone split.
Mr Wong, who said it was not his style, tried it with a three-ply surgical mask and found it decently breathable. "But I washed it once or twice and it started to wrinkle. And since it's only two-ply, the protection is not as good."
Dr Teo liked that there were two designs and the pleated expandable shape. "The purpose of wearing a cloth mask is not to protect you, but to prevent your droplets from contaminating the environment. So a mask design like this covers a bigger surface area."
She docked points for the knotted elastic ear loops and fabrics.
"A knot, which is an irregular surface, (may cause) skin discomfort and irritation. Over time, you may even develop a mark on your skin or post-inflammation hyperpigmentation."
She also found the fabric coarse - not ideal for "wearing against the skin for an extended period of time".
The mask was, however, this reporter's favourite - for comfort and the unique, reversible designs.
No.4: 1929 Mask
The three-ply mask has an outer layer made with microfibre and spandex, a middle layer of a cotton and polyester blend, and an innermost layer of cotton. The brand claims its masks are water-repellent, antimicrobial and durable for up to 100 washes.
Price: $25 from their website.
Sizes: Kids, petite and adults
Verdict: The mask was praised for its comfort, although there were inconsistencies in sizing and points were removed for its plainness.
"It gives a tight fit, but does not press too much on my face," said Mr Wong, adding that the metal wire on the nose bridge helped prevent fogging on his glasses.
"It is slightly thicker, but I think it put some thought into the materials. I did some tests and the outer layer is actually water-repellent - the only of these masks that is. And on the inside, it absorbs water."
These are two important features of a good mask, he added. "So when you cough, all the water droplets stay inside the mask."
Dr Teo said the ideal material for an inner layer would wick moisture away from the skin. "You don't want a humid environment around your face - the skin is unable to breathe and more prone to bacterial growth and acne."
No.5: Dr.TWL Biomaterials
Engineered by Dr Teo's company, the mask slip designed for her patients with sensitive skin is made of plant-based silk and is to be worn with a surgical mask - to prolong the lifespan of each mask.
Price: $49.50 from their website.
Sizes: One size
Verdict: Dr Teo sat out of this review. Mr Wong and this reporter found the mask slip too thick when worn with a three-ply surgical mask, which made it hard to breathe.
He said: " I found the velcro and trying to fit my surgical mask in a bit fiddly. By doing that, I'm touching a lot of the mask."
For this reporter, the silk was gentle on the skin, even with a full face of make-up. But the folds of the fabric stuck to the nostrils and mouth when inhaling.
Mr Wong noted that pleated masks must be worn with the folds facing down, otherwise droplets can get trapped in the folds.
• The Sunday Times paid for the fabric masks reviewed.