Face camouflage: fashion vs. anxiety

Increasingly popular mask sweatshirts were recently banned by the administrators of Orange County’s Capistrano Unified School District. The concerned officials sent out mass emails warning parents to remember, while doing their holiday shopping, that kids won’t be able to wear such sweatshirts on campus. Tom Ressler, the principal of Capistrano Valley High said “There is no way to identify who kids are. Generally, we don’t think that is a good thing. It gives kids the opportunity to do something bad”.

The goggle jacket is causing a commotion in England – it isn’t illegal, but apparently the look is perturbing anyhow. According to AFP “models with dark colors convey the image of commandos or criminals, while ones with light colors give the impression of a nuclear or biological catastrophe”.

It may be unfair to assume all people are just waiting for that perfect disguise that will allow them to smash each other’s brains in, yet it’s undeniable that anonymity lifts inhibitions and brings out the darker aspects of human nature. Real life superheroes wear masks to protect their identities and to feel more confident than they might as their everyday selves. Masquerade parties make for anonymous frolicking and inebriation with minimized regret factor. At the other end of the spectrum, riot police worldwide are notorious for unnecessary brutal violence. Not only are their identities obscured by often tinted helmets, they also have the power of the uniformed pack mentality.

Helmets and gas masks give a non-human appearance that allows the wearer to abandon concern for others’ opinions and expectations. They also tend to be very cool-looking when done right! Besides, if a high school student wants to conceal his identity, they have but to wrap a t-shirt around their face and the effect will be the same. Personally I think the ban is inane and goggle jackets are a great idea, though I’m not mad about the execution

28 Responses to “Face camouflage: fashion vs. anxiety”

  1. DJ Velveteen Says:

    Question: “What, are you trying to make us nervous?”
    Answer: “Yes. Dummy.”
    Question: “But it removes some of our psychological dominance over you!”
    Answer: “Yes. Dummy.”
    *ban ban ban*

  2. Nadya Says:

    Having worked as an inner-city schoolteacher, I can totally see where the school administration is coming from and I actually side with them. I don’t think that the school officials have a problem with this style of fashion in general, only in terms of how it can enable their students to cause trouble. I take your point that the kids can take other measures to conceal their identity, like wearing a ski mask to school, but if this style is commonplace, it just makes anonymous troublemaking so much easier if there are 15 other people who have the same hoodie as you.

    In general, I’m all in favor of school uniforms. They eliminate competition and arbitrary “dress code violations” that single out freaks, and enable kids to focus on schoolwork rather than looking good. I miss the maid uniforms of The Motherland!

  3. Zoetica Says:

    While I agree that school uniforms are ideal for keeping peace in volatile school environments, I also think that banning every potentially troublesome object is not only impractical but creates further hostility that explodes once the kids are off school grounds.

    Instead of being taught trust and taking responsibility for their actions kids are potentially learning further hostile dissatisfaction with authority figures, adults, society, learning etc.

  4. Skerror Says:

    I like the jackets…I like the idea of people walking the streets all buggified. Looks like the old Sandman from the comics.

    Definitely not in schools though…our education system is in the shitter enough as is. Masks promote too much dark side in the young ones. Maybe when there’s a mass movement of kids who want to wear disguises to show off their selflessness while they run around doing good deeds…hmm, maybe Boyscouts and Girlscouts of America should be thinking about uniform design changes ;)

  5. Tequila Says:

    I like the idea if not the execution…I’d prefer (and may eventually adopt) the more ornate masks like those the King of Jerusalem wore in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. The problem with the sweatshirts is that they remind me too much of those OTHER guys who enjoy wearing white hoods…they kinda ruined the idea for everybody. Though these do look cool from a design point of view they would call way too much attention…so I don’t see why they are banned in schools. They’re run like prisons anyhow…wouldn’t be to hard for a kid to I dunno…use an t-shirt as a make shift mask and do whatever villainy he or she had planned no?

    After all if their is ever an age a kid wants or needs to wear a mask it’s high school…more so when your complexion is shot to all hell.

    The Gas Mask thing I’d support…but they’d need serious redesigns as you have too many blind spots even walking down the street. It’d be hard to pull off anything masked related nowadays without people thinking you’re gonna rob a place or be mistaken for a terrorist…and in LA the LAPD doesn’t exactly ask questions first before they pull their triggers.

  6. Mer Says:

    I don’t agree with the ban any more than I agree with anything else about our utterly arsefucked public school system, but here’s a basic tenant of human psychology: clothes and gear that prevent eye contact or obscure a person’s face make communication more difficult. These hoodies appeal to me (and no doubt lots of angsty kids) because they create a physical barrier between that person and everyone around them. It’s insulation. As you say, Zoe, it lends the wearer anonymity.

    But while the hoodies may lend some petty sense of empowerment to insecure students, there’s also something a bit cowardly about them in this context. Allowing for such a blatant level of disconnect must be counterproductive in a classroom setting. Common sense will prompt teachers (of any age group) to request that everyone remove their shades/low-brimmed hats/ hoods/headphones/gas masks/t-shirts-wrapped-around-face.

    Still, it’s always better to request than to demand. Issue too many orders to already discouraged teens, and the latter will likely opt to either flat-out refuse, sleep through class, or not even show up.

    Tch. I feel for these kids. AND their teachers.

    Incidentally, I think the Capistrano principal sounds like a choad. He presented the position poorly, to say the least. Curmudgeonly statements along the lines of “those rotten kids are just itchin’ for a chance to do somethin’ bad” are just so friggin’ counterproductive in this scenario.

  7. Nadya Says:

    Interestingly, schoolchildren are not the only ones subject to bans for this reason: so are teachers. A Muslim teacher in the UK was suspended from teaching because she would not remove her veil in class. I believe that there were similar incidents in France and Holland as well. Anything that creates this type of facial barrier between students and teachers is really counter-productive in the classroom.

    I can see some sort of compromise, like maybe the students being allowed to wear the hoodies but only having them zipped all the way up after school hours. That’s the problem with partial dress codes. They leave too much room for bullshit like this! Either do it all the way, or don’t do it at all.

  8. Brendan Says:

    I question the practicality and effectiveness of the face-masking fashion. Mer noted that this type of fashion makes communication difficult, but the problem is that silence is important, if not critical, to the aesthetic of the covered face. Imagine walking down the street in your gas mask sweater, working the “faceless badass” angle like a supervillian, then having to turn to your friend and say “Wait, let me duck into this Starbucks to use the bathroom.” It’s only effective for as long as the illusion of inhumanity is maintained. It doesn’t just make communication difficult: it demands that one refrain from communication for it to work as a fashion statement.

  9. Milly von Hilly Says:


    It’s been a hot issue in the UK for a while, now. Not even full-on masks, but hoodies alone have sparked a number of measures to ban them in shopping areas or schools.
    I suppose, at the end of the day, it’s not about self-expression but rather the opposite: hiding who you really are, full-stop. Total anonymity is a ‘right’ that people feel entitled to in the ‘free world’, but many, whether in online forums, in their cars driving like jerks or shop-lifting on the high street, will abuse this. This is where the debate comes in: accountability vs privacy. So many facets of daily life are confronted by this dilemma, from wire-tapping to the ‘NO2ID’ campaign. As far as I can see, there’s not a decisive measure that can be implemented to protect one without compromising the other.

  10. Tequila Says:

    @Mer…A level of disconnect would already exist in students who would gain any empowerment from being covered in such a manner. It wouldn’t change anything in terms of the situation but it possibly could allow such students to gain some self-respect and humanity back. At that age looks are not a vanity issue they are a social issue…you’re judged heavily on how you look, how those you befriend look, and how your looks are accepted by others.

    It can be quite severe and mix in the modern tools where everyone can be plastered online if they want to or not…those who already have issues with how they look is compounded to the point where all aspects of their lives suffer. Granted full face masks may be a bit extreme and unrealistic but something should be allowed for those who want to essentially take their face, identity, and who they are perceived to be…off the social microscope. The technology exists for that but time and time again it’s shot down for the sake of security, accountability, and the comfort level of those who made those who seek such measures uncomfortable in the first place.

    Some people want to be ghosts and shadows…no reason that should be a bad thing…even if it does come at a high personal cost.

  11. Mer Says:

    Okay, first off, I made it clear I don’t favor an outright ban, yarr? :) My main points were #1) that teachers have little or no hope of connecting with a student whose voice is muffled by a mask or whose eyes and facial expressions they cannot see and #2) that whatever sense of empowerment the wearer might gain would be flimsy at best.

    That being repeated, I’ve gotta say, I don’t believe in the existence of any hoodie (or veil, or mask) with the mystical power to render its wearer invisible, or give an insecure person back their sense of self-respect or humanity. Yes, the allowance of full facial masks in a classroom IS extreme and unrealistic, not to mention destined to backfire. Whether you have Asberger’s, a big juicy zit on your face or Proteus Syndrome, putting a bag over your head will not prevent scrutiny. Sad but true. In fact, the proverbial ostrich who insists on sticking his head in the sand in a crowded zoo is bound to draw unwanted attention to himself.

    Being under a microscope is an unfortunate side effect of being “socialized” in the buggered up American public school system. I tend to think that if these hypothetical teens’ level of disconnect is really so extreme that they can’t feel comfortable around others without being “ghosts and shadows”, why subject them to a non LD public high school classroom setting at all? Online GED courses are all the rage (and a much preferable alternative to driving some poor kid to pull a Harris/Klebold maneuver). Surely being online must help socially awkward kids today to feel more comfortable, since they have much more control over who sees what, and when. Hell, I know that helps me feel more comfortable.

    I keep thinking back to own experiences at that age. No doubt, I was flinchy as hell about my appearance and tended to hide behind my hair a lot. Entered a phase of wearing shitloads of eye makeup (that I apparently have yet to grow out of) and called it “my warpaint” because it gave me confidence. Wore headphones or had my face stuck in a book a lot. So yeah, I see where you’re coming from, Tequila, and like I said before, I feel for these kids. But I honestly don’t think wearing the equivalent of a gas mask is going to help anyone in the long run.

    Also, on an unrelated note, I pity the bro who eats Funyuns before zipping himself up in one o’ them facebags.

  12. Zoetica Says:

    Online high school education may be great for some, I certainly would have loved it, but I imagine that in many cases it could lead to socially defunct people devoid of relationship building ability. After all, learning how to deal with other humans is a huge part of the school experience, unpleasant as it might be at times. In what I perceive to be a decent school atmosphere a kid who felt like wearing a hood up would just be able to do so with out getting much more than a “whatever” from his classmates. In the end it isn’t any more alienating than wearing all black to class.

    However, the American school system appears to be an ever-crumbling institution that’s failed to protect its students by not teaching mutual respect. Instead of actually providing an environment that’s nurturing and fun they’ve created an atmosphere of hate, enforcing things like clear backpacks and metal detectors. At this point some school policies are downright dehumanizing and this is yet another step in the wrong direction.

    Of course, all this is coming from someone doesn’t answer their phone 98% of the time and wears surgical masks at work during flu season.

    @Brendan, that’s a hilarious image. Though I think it’s assuming a little too much of the wearer’s desire to be badass.

  13. Nadya Says:

    “In the end it isn’t any more alienating than wearing all black to class.”

    I still think it is different… because of the facial obstruction factor. You can’t read lips, you can’t make eye contact. It freaks the average person out! Basic human nature.

  14. fran Says:

    The hoodies look weird and cool (I can see lots of people wear them in the subway of my city, specially during wintertime!), but I feel the teachers are right.Maybe a total ban is too much, but it would be too strange for a teacher to see one of his/her students with this hood, not able to see the face; and the potencial it has to “Hide” identity is dangerous with those bully-stupid-ass kids, is giving them a way to do bad things.
    I was in a very open school were most of the teachers were almost friends (while at the same time having authority over us), and they would ban such thing too. It’s natural

  15. Ben Morris Says:

    For a fictional look at masking oneself for all interactions with others there is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which has a character (Joelle Van Dyne) who wears a full face covering veil in public at all times. She is a member of a support group whose members all wear similar veils and was founded “[to] afford the scopophobic empathic fellowship and the genesis of sturdy inner resources through shame-free and unconstrained concealment”.

    In the book is it indeterminate if she wears the veil to hide scarring from a chemical accident or because her face is so perfectly beautiful it causes people’s nervous systems to lock up, there is textual support for both.

  16. M1K3¥’s Blog » Blog Archive » links for 2007-12-28 Says:

    […] Coilhouse » Blog Archive » Face camouflage: fashion vs. anxiety (tags: fashion maskedHoodies) […]

  17. Mer Says:

    Heh, Infinite Jest. Great book. (Speaking of characters with a heartbreaking derth of social skills. They make the average Wes Anderson protagonist seem devoid of neurosis!)

    Looking past a scowl and a black trenchcoat is still far easier than emoting to an expressionless, unreadable plane where a human face should be. Talk about dehumanizing. That’s precisely what such a mask does, to both the wearer and the observer. That’s where its appeal lies. Generally, mutual respect (in the Western world at any rate, and again, provided one is not “on the curve” or troubled to a degree that they should probably not be in a public high school setting to begin with) is shown through eye contact, unobstructed verbal interaction, or at the very least, letting people see who you are.

    Why shouldn’t teachers be allowed to set reasonable guidelines? Sure, wear the latest apocalyptic trend on the quad, but when it’s time to read/discuss Kafka and practice your French diction, take the bag off your head, dude. Common sense.

  18. Tequila Says:

    @Mer…”In fact, the proverbial ostrich who insists on sticking his head in the sand in a crowded zoo is bound to draw unwanted attention to himself.”…

    true enough. I would pretty much be like putting a bandaid on a gunshot wound…but at least it would give them something to escape into. As is some School Districts have talked of extending the school day to 5pm…that many hours stuck in such an environment ends up creating a desperate need for some way to escape it beyond hiding out in the less active parts of the school. True a masked hoodie is an extreme idea…but extreme action is nothing new to American High Schools these days as is. In the end it’s unrealistic and the core issues that would even cause a person that age to find it a valid solution should be addressed…but they’re not and won’t be because such students are seen as the REAL threat to school safety because nowadays it’s assumed they’ll be the ones to shoot the place up at some point. So sadly enough they’re under even more pressure to conform or simply take the pressure placed on them to socialize as a way to “help” them.

    I agree with you on the Online School option…full on fact. The problem is getting accreditation and support from parents. Though I think a better solution is instead of having massive high schools with 1000+ students per graduating class have smaller localized schools with class sizes say no bigger than 15. It’d also help greatly if classes adopted college like organization and supplemented a lot of the in class busywork online and do away with homework so the school day ACTUALLY ends instead of dragging on and on into the home. With no time to decompress and have outside interests schools become 24/7 far too much at that level. Privatization has come up a lot in regards to this…but that just opens way to many issues about higher social and economic classes getting unfair advantages (though it seems a bit silly since they already do anyhow…)

    Ultimately a school is only as good as its teachers…and if the environment does not exist for even a mediocre teacher to do their job effectively…it’s no wonder we have such a situation today. So many great teachers leave because of it and in the end…that brings down a lot of great potential beyond the High School years.

    Side note: Sorry if it seemed like I missed or ignored your earlier points. Should have addressed them better.

  19. Mer Says:

    No worries, T.

    Obviously, this country is completely backasswards when it comes to its education policies and priorities. Quelle surprise. :P It’s so despicable to see the countless ways in which students AND teachers are belittled nowadays. But I do not support privatization. I do like the idea of smaller schools and better funding.

    I just asked my mum, a retired high school teacher, to weigh in. We seem to be on the same page: don’t ban anything that doesn’t directly physically endanger others, but implement reasonable guidelines in the classroom (like requiring students to put away their ipods, cellphones, gameboys, ski masks, executioner hoodies, whatever).

    Of course, the larger the class/school, the more difficult it will be to uphold these guidelines. After a point, overwhelmed high schools end up focusing more on crowd control than teaching. This often leads to distasteful news clips of some PTA twit frothing at the mouth about “better safe than sorry” policies and “protecting kids from THEMSELVES” etc. Ugh.

  20. Vivacious G Says:

    How I love these!!!

  21. Bunny Says:

    Isnt this kind of a moot point?
    In many areas of the country it’s illegal to wear a mask in public if you are over the age of 16. In other cases it’s only illegal if there is an intent to commit a crime… read, if you go out in a mask and a cop wants to detain you, you will be detained. I know this from experience in Atlanta when I went out with a friend I had put in full prosthetic makeup.

  22. Zoetica Says:

    Bunny – yes, the one anti-mask statue I know of for certain is West Virginia

    I wouldn’t say the point is moot, though. After all, this is all opinion anyhow!

  23. Zoetica Says:

    Another link, this time in Florida: man arrested for wearing a ninja-like mask “because of the close association between mask-wearing and troublemaking” .

    And, another chewy link.

  24. joshua Says:

    I don’t know about the argument for anonymity through wearing something that clearly draws attention to oneself.

    you really want to be anonymous…? blend in.

    i understand mer’s argument regarding high-school insecurities, but like nadya said, and i’m paraphrasing here, a mask would offer complete alienation.

    and while i’m not one for bans of any sort – i agree w/ mer. common sense, you shouldn’t wear it to school. heck, you couldn’t pay me to wear something as stupid as that in post 9.11 new york city. we live in strange, paranoid times –
    don’t be an ass for the sake of being an ass. wearing a hoodie isn’t freedom of expression. if yr genuinely concerned about basic human rights, there are far better things you can do from wearing a silly hood.

    just my two cents.


  25. Mer Says:

    Strange, paranoid times indeed. That link about the balaclava petitioner made me laugh out loud.

    Joshua, my argument was not that such masks offers true anonymity, so much as they lend a false sense of facelessness to the wearer. In fact, I agree with you that wearing something so extreme in school would be a poor way to deflect scrutiny, and said as much.

    Having thought about the subject of public masks a lot over the past day (thank you, Z), I can honestly say that if someone (or a group of someones) approached me wearing any kind of face mask, I’d have my guard up. Too reminiscent of violent masked muggers and the more irrational Black Bloc shits I have, well, NOT known.

  26. joshua Says:

    I know. I’m sorry. I got tired and gave up after reading two entries. I’m lame, i admit it.

  27. Olivia Says:

    As many have commented above me, the teachers are really in control of what goes on in the classroom. I think a complete ban of these sweatshirts is way too extreme, but teachers still have the power to enforce their classroom rules. If a student walks in to the classroom with a mask on, the teacher has the right to tell them to take it off. If the student disobeys, then they can reap the consequences (e.g. detention, suspension, expulsion, etc.)

    I think that as long as the sweatshirts can be worn without the mask being on all the time (which they can, I’m sure), then there really isnt much of a problem. Schools are way too overreactive when it comes to things like this, for fear of something really bad happening, which in this day and age is a distinct possibility. I imagine it is really hard to find a middle ground that satisfies everyone, so they just pick the one that seems “safest”, in this case an all out ban.

    Jeez, I hate high school. So…close…to being…OVER! Must…hang…on…

  28. thekamisama Says:

    On anti mask laws. Anti mask laws were mostly used to force the Klan to take off masks in public (because they were winning lawsuits to hold protests and parades). The thinking was that their main power was anonymity and most members would be too ashamed to show themselves to the community.