At the 63rd Grammy Awards in March, around the same time the U.S. vaccine rollout was becoming more widely available, many artists opted for more decorative and stylized protective face masks. Taylor Swift donned a floral mask detailed with 3D petals to match the fabric on her spring-inspired Oscar de la Renta mini dress. Billie Eilish wore a multi-piece, tiger-print Gucci ensemble with a mask made from the same material. And Chika leaned into the pandemic-spurred athleisure trend by sporting a purple, pink and blue Nike tracksuit accompanied by a ruffled mask in identical colors. “Sometimes, a mask can take away from a look, but in [Chika’s case], it added to it,” says Icon Billingsley, the rapper’s stylist.
As stylists maneuvered around pandemic challenges, such as closed showrooms and delayed shipments, the creative teams behind some Grammy nominees say that the limitations made way for style innovation. “It pushed our levels of creativity,” says Wouri Vice, stylist to H.E.R., whose “I Can’t Breathe” took home the Grammy for song of the year. “If you couldn’t find it or buy it, you had to make it.” Billingsley echoes the sentiment: “I’ve always made something out of nothing. It challenged me when resources became limited, but that’s when I kicked it into overdrive.”
Billingsley says that stylists leaned on seamstresses and local designers throughout the pandemic to create masks to match their clients’ couture, adding that their seamstress Chan Gaines has also tailored pieces for superstars like Beyoncé. “People’s livelihoods changed so fast and dramatically,” says Hodo Musa, stylist to Lil Nas X. “We saw many local designers start to design masks to sell as an add-on. [Designer] Michael Igo has cool mask designs, which we always get.”
Now, as the 2022 Grammys near, stylists have incorporated masks into their regular lineup of accessories, but only see them as a minor player in an artist’s overall look. “Honestly, we are not that big on mask style,” says Musa on her approach to styling Lil Nas X, who generally wears a mask until the red carpet to follow an event’s safety protocol. “We use it as a necessity — it’s not a very big part of our aesthetic. Everything [Nas] does is with deep intent and thought.”
For Billingsley, his clients have frequented events throughout the year, so “they don’t really trip on [feeling worried about COVID-19]. Everyone’s shot up. They got their juice. Let’s figure out how we can get rid of these masks so beauty can come back to the carpet.”
He says creating a moment is the primary focus when putting together an outfit for music’s biggest night — and looking back, he has found a silver lining when it comes to having incorporated masks at all: “We have to be expressive with newness and put things into the world for people to reference in [the future]. Somebody could wear a ruffle mask in 10 years because we did it with Chika.”