Don’t Forget the Mask

Brunias, Agostino, A West Indian Flower Girl and Two Other Free Women of Color, 1769, Public Domain

You may be familiar with the tignon laws which were applied to free women of color in Louisiana in the late eighteenth century. A “tignon” is a scarf worn to cover the hair. The purposes of the laws were 1) to infer that the women to whom they were applied belonged to the slave class and 2) to make the women unattractive to white men. 

What the women who were selectively targeted by the law did was ingenious. They observed the letter of the law by wearing scarves, but arranged them in elaborate patterns and accessorized them with jewels, beads, and feathers, among other things. The tignon laws were abolished after the United States purchased Louisiana, but the style continued. You can still encounter proponents of the fashion — primarily women of Creole descent — in present-day New Orleans.

The evolution of the tignon laws is an interesting research topic but is a little off the track of my visit today. I suggest that you do a deep research dive into the topic on your own. You won’t be sorry. My purpose for mentioning them, however, is that we are seeing somewhat the same thing — in practice though not purpose — occurring with government-mandated face coverings. While the majority of folks around me (and my age group) seem to be eschewing fashion for the familiar white or generic medical mask look, others are taking it a step or three further, utilizing designs, colors, and the like when they go stepping down Aisle 4 of the local supermarket. What started as a safety precaution has become a fashion statement. Some companies have begun selling entire outfits that coordinate with a face covering. Or is it vice versa? You can see some examples of this here, and they are interesting, to say the least. 

My purpose in mentioning this during our regularly scheduled Saturday morning visit is aimed at those of you who find writing fodder within our current collective experience.  If you are working on your dystopian novel using the coronavirus pandemic as a backdrop (as Mark Alpert encouraged you to do in his “Turning Crisis into Fiction” post last week) you might want to utilize the prevalence of masks or facial coverings as a plot element, particularly if you want to straddle genres and insert a crime of some sort into the proceedings. You need only peruse your local newspaper to discover that crimes of all sorts are still occurring in spite of or perhaps because of the secondary effects of the pandemic.

A mask as a general rule is an instrument of concealment. In the now, when most people in public places are wearing face coverings either by decree or due to being “strongly encouraged” to do so. This is fine as far as people with good intentions are concerned, but it gives the wolf in your story an opportunity to stalk unnoticed among the sheep since he is “dressed” pretty much like anyone else.  A mask can also distract, however, particularly if it is accessorized or otherwise made different from those worn by others in the immediate vicinity. Witnesses to crimes tend to remember, to the exclusion of much (if not most, or all) else, a mask, particularly a distinctive or memorable one. A mask or face covering can also with a bit of planning be quickly removed, disposed of, or changed to another more generic type to confuse things further, should such be advisable.   There is also a romantic and/or erotic element that the anonymity of a mask can occasionally spark. Ask anyone who has been to Mardi Gras or a costume party. 

It is a small detail, but conflagrations can result from tiny flames. I hope that your creative one burns long and bright as you hopefully take advantage of the free time created by the current impromptu gardening leave.

Enjoy and be well.





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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

24 thoughts on “Don’t Forget the Mask

  1. Good morning, Joe.

    Great, timely topic. You’ve given us some good ideas for use in our writing.

    My wife and I have had Covid-19 and recovered, so we approach “the mask” in two different ways. She, being the good, always-wanting-to-please citizen, has actually made about ten different masks to color-coordinate with her work outfits. I, being the rebel, only wear a mask to make other people comfortable, and take it off whenever I can.

    If I were to design a mask, it would have the mouth and nose uncovered, and written across the mask would be the statement, “Been there, Did that, Good to go!”

    Thanks for the Louisiana history.

    Stay healthy!

    • First! Good morning, Steve! You and Cindy have the dubious honor of being the first two people I know who have actually had COVID-19. I am so glad you recovered. You’re both on the front lines, so it’s not surprising, but still. Please stay well.

      I got a kick out of your account of Cindy coordinating all of her masks. I am a rebel too. I was dragged kicking and screaming to wearing one and try to avoid it whenever I can. Hopefully, we’ll be over this soon.

      Be well and thanks for stopping by.

  2. My car’s service light came on when I made my once-a-week to the pickup lot at Walmart. I’ve been thinking about when I’ll actually need to drive all the way down the mountain and what mask I should wear.
    Living where we do, I’ve yet to need to wear more than a Buff around my neck which can be pulled up on the off chance I actually see another human closer than 6 feet away.

    • Terry, you probably already know this, but your check engine light can come on for all sorts of reasons, including a loose gas cap. If you stop at an AutoZone store they offer free testing to see wassup, in case you don’t have a mechanic you can entirely trust. Good luck!
      I can’t remember what state you live in, but if it’s a western one where they have been practicing social distancing for 100 years or more, it probably won’t be a problem. Be well, and thanks for stopping by.

      • Colorado – up in the mountains. I got the light for routine service with the numbers that (should I look in the owner’s manual) tell what service is needed.
        But the ‘check engine light’ reminds me of a story CJ Box told about when his daughter drove home from college, and he went to check to see when she’d last had her oil changed. The ‘check engine’ light was on and when he asked her about it, she said, “Oh, don’t worry. It’s been on forever.”
        And thus, “The Highway” was born.

  3. An interesting post, Joe. My daughter, an out-of-work actor at present, has taken up sewing and has sewn a mask with a tiger pattern matching a skirt she’s making. 🙂 — Suzanne

  4. Thanks, Suzanne. Re: your daughter…I love it. And I hope she finds work soon! Be well!

  5. Joe, can you explain why, when I put on a mask, I feel an overwhelming desire to rob a liquor store? 😉 Is this a new psychological syndrome? What if masks bring out the Mr. Hyde in all of us?

    Thanks for an interesting post that made the synapses fire. I feel a short story coming on…

    • Debbie, I certainly think that a mask when cloaking one’s identity brings out one’s darker nature. I know exactly what you mean about robbing a liquor store, but for me the would-be target is our local branch of Rocket Fizz…”QUICK! I want one of every root beer brand you have, in small bottles…and all of your Japanese Oreos! And don’t mix in any exploding Fizzies packets, or I’ll be back!”

      Good luck with that story!

  6. Fun post, Joe.

    As far as masks, I think many women are so used to accessorizing that wearing one more thing doesn’t faze them. Notice I said “them”.

    Many women like to shop, too. I’m not one of them. I will drive 20 miles out of my way to avoid a store of any kind.

    And I’ve never gotten the hang of accessorizing. It’s a good day if I remember to wear my wedding ring. And the mask thing? We have some run-of-the-mill medical types that are good enough.

    The creative side of my brain just doesn’t want to be bothered with “the look”. I do, however, admire those who look so put together, even with a mask on, that they could step out on the red velvet runway at a moment’s notice and turn heads.

    BTW, had an idea for a story yesterday that I could easily insert a mask into. Now, I just need to come up with the rest of it. 🙂

  7. Thanks, Deb! Good luck with coming up with the rest of that story. If I were accused of having the same problem, I couldn’t deny it!

  8. I believe I’ve shared this, but it fits this topic. One of my online friends works at WalMart, and her stories of idiots and utterly bonkers people is a walking advertisement for how scary people are now. One insane woman is using the mask protection to attack workers. She chased one with a hammer. The police are called, she is banned, and the police let her go with a warning. She changes her mask and clothing. Rinse and repeat. The workers are terrified that it will escalate. That’s just one story.

    Yesterday, workers from most of the big box stores held a strike to protest their lack of safety gear and the danger they face from the virus and people’s behavior. Heck, yeah, they deserve combat pay and the equipment to keep them safe.

    • Thank you, Marilynn. As it happens I am a major believer in self-defense. I understand why the employees would scatter — liability issues for themselves and Walmart — but I am surprised that the customers don’t intercede, particularly when they, too, are wearing masks and could exit the premises after conclusion of the festivities. I am assuming that this did not occur in west Texas. Be well!

  9. NO mask wearer is as cool as the Lone Ranger. Except he probably didn’t have to be concerned about a virus, and probably wasn’t concerned about where to get toilet paper.

    But would Tonto have recognized him if he saw the Lone Ranger without his mask?

    • Thanks, Jim. I would agree with you but for my exposure at an impressionable age to the Phantom Lady comics. All kidding aside (…) my recollection is that it was Tonto who came across John Reid after he was ambushed and left for dead by a group of outlaws. Tonto treated Reid’s injury and then the two of them achieved revenge against the outlaws, with Reid taking on the mask and role of The Lone Ranger. Maybe Tonto should have had top billing!

      • Maybe he could have had top billing. Except all of the Spanish-speaking kids would have giggled each time Tonto was introduced, given the meaning of the word tonto in Spanish.

        • Very true, Jim. Maybe instead of “Tonto” he should have been named “Zorro”…oh, wait a minute, never mind…

          • My husband told some of our friends he wants me to call him Kemosabe.
            They thought that was cute.
            I thought it showed his age.

            • Thanks, Kay. Um…we’d all like to know…what do you call him instead? LOL

  10. Enjoyed the glimpse of Louisiana history. I wear a white men’s handkerchief and look like a bank robber. Easy and washable.

  11. Hi Joe,

    A great post! Even though wearing them is a bit of a pain, I’m a big believer in wearing them right now. If we all did, we could not only the flatten the curve, we’d crush it.

    My wife has been sewing masks, about ninety so far, the vast majority of which goes to her brother’s medical clinic. He and his fellow physicians need all the protection they can get. We each have several as well, including a few she sewed from Doctor Who themed fabric 🙂

    One thing that occurs, especially in countries such as the UK, which use surveillance camera networks in dealing with crime, is that those systems must be a lot less effective right now, if most citizens are wearing masks.

    Thanks again for a thought-provoking post!

    • Dale, you’re welcome, and thank you for your kind words and comments. You’re easy to please. 
      The Doctor Who masks are a new one on me! Very cool. 
      Your comments about masks and the UK remind me of that episode of Luther where a murderer was wearing a Punch mask and deliberately looking at the surveillance cameras after the committed the act…

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