COVID trend?
September 9, 2020 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I've noticed that I tend to see men more often wearing gaiters or bandanas instead of masks while out and about. These men are overwhelmingly white and usually middle+ aged. Has anybody else noticed this? Why do they prefer other accessories over actual masks?

Datapoint: large city in Ohio. Perhaps these folks already had bandanas/gaiters on hand, but to me these are far less advantageous than masks -- they're not as convenient and they're not layered. Also, this summer has been hot, and gaiters cover up a lot of extra skin.

I can make a lot of guesses here -- it has something to do with masculinity and probably conservatism (maybe they think it makes them look cool?) -- or maybe there's some right-wing celebrity making gaiters a thing. But I was wondering if anybody else noticed something similar elsewhere or had any insights.

Thanks!
posted by snerson to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (35 answers total)
 
My brother-in-law has been collecting a certain brand of gaiters (BUFF) for years before this all happened, so he just started using them as masks. Previously he mostly used them as headbands/sweatbands, since he has long hair. At least in his case, there's no more to it than that. (And he may have stopped now that the research has come out saying they're not as effective.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:06 AM on September 9 [6 favorites]


I've used them few times as we have about 2.7 billion of them around as the whole family skis. I don't like using them as mask replacement as they are hot, but I use them if it is the first thing I come across. Masks seem to be the new socks, there is no way of buying enough of them to have one available when you need one.
posted by zeikka at 8:10 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


but to me these are far less advantageous than masks -- they're not as convenient

In fact I would argue that they are more convenient: you leave it around your neck, and then pull up and pull down. No knot tying or extra things to carry.

My wife carries her mask in her purse. I, a male, don't have a purse, so the mask either goes in my pocket (not great, right?) or I have to carry it. I'm friends with quite a few gaiter-wearers and the gaiters seem pretty simple in the usability department.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:10 AM on September 9 [14 favorites]


I suspect that it may have to do with ease of frequent putting-on-and-taking-off of a face covering.

Where I work the policy is that you have to wear a mask only if people are within 6 feet of you; however, a lot of us work in our own offices and we're sparse enough that we're isolated much of the day, so when it's just us in the room we take the masks off. I have the over-the-ears kind handy and I quick put it on when someone's come to the door; my boss does the same with his, and so do several others. But one guy at work started using the bandana/gaiter type of thing instead because that was easier than fiddling with re-looping a mask around your ears; he'd have it hanging around his neck, but if anyone came by it was a matter of simply lifting it up over his nose and mouth, and when he was alone again he let it lie back on his chest.

I've noticed bikers and joggers doing the same - when they're on the road themselves the bandana is hanging down at their chest, but when someone comes by they lift it back over their face. And when they've passed the passersby, down it goes again.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:13 AM on September 9 [4 favorites]


There have been several articles written about why men are less likely to want to wear masks. I just wanted to note that bandannas and gaiters have been proven to be much less effective than cloth masks. Neck fleeces/gaiters might actually *increase* the number of particles that you spread.
posted by pinochiette at 8:15 AM on September 9 [17 favorites]


Yeah, I find a light buff way more convenient if I'm outside because you can just pull it down around your neck if you're somewhere where you don't need to wear it. (Yes, I'm aware that they're not very effective and have adjusted my behavior accordingly).

I also think that it's probably that a lot of middle aged men had buffs and bandanas already laying around. I feel like until the major chains caught up with production the message was basically 'you should be wearing a mask-- you know someone who sews, right?' so... people used what they had.
posted by geegollygosh at 8:18 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Neck gaiters are common hunting attire which automatically makes them manlier.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:18 AM on September 9 [20 favorites]


I am a data point. Fifty five years old, white, cis male, very liberal. Had lots of bandannas to mop my sweaty brow when walking. They seemed great as masks too, and were convenient (tie in back, done!). But when the articles came out suggesting they were not as good as cloth masks, at keeping my breath off of others, I changed to cloth masks. Not actually sure those are much better though. Too many unknowns these days.
posted by sheldman at 8:20 AM on September 9 [4 favorites]


The study purporting to show that gaiters increase the number of particles you spread was flawed and the reporting on it was absolutely atrocious. Gaiters and bandanas and the like are actually pretty good.

I mostly wear a cloth mask when I'm out and about, but if I'm hiking or somewhere where i'm unlikely to encounter other people then I throw on a gaiter because they're convenient easy to pull up as needed and just sit around your neck otherwise. I am neither male nor conservative.
posted by fancypants at 8:21 AM on September 9 [48 favorites]


Yeah, I think this is a function of usability and the fact that a lot of people already have gaiters on hand (they're a common accessory for runners and cyclists, too.)

(Also, side note that a lot of scientists feel the gaiter study referenced above was misrepresented in the media and the authors never intended for their findings to serve as a directive.)
posted by superfluousm at 8:21 AM on September 9 [13 favorites]


Like with hunting, they are also a common fishing accessory, so for a lot of men they are coded as “masculine” more so than other masks.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:22 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Bigger heads means many masks with premade ear hooks (instead of ties) don't fit as well and or are less comfortable than gaiters. We bought a 12 pack of gaiters in the spring and I find them more convenient than masks. They have enough fabric for me to triple or quadruple the layers.
posted by soelo at 8:22 AM on September 9 [4 favorites]


Anecdotally, my friends and I have decided it is because masks with strings look like a bikini top for your face, while gaiters make you look like a wild west villain; one of those two is more masculine than the other and to some people this is important.
posted by cmm at 8:29 AM on September 9 [3 favorites]


I've always thought they were going for that popular "special-ops" look.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:38 AM on September 9 [6 favorites]


Mr MMDP wears a bandana as a mask not because he objects to wearing a more conventional one but because his lockdown beard is now just ridiculously large and undisciplined and he finds the bandana covers it more effectively. Me, I think we invented scissors a while back for very good reasons. We disagree about the beard (informally referred to as Friedrich.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 9:01 AM on September 9 [9 favorites]


I already had a gaiter and many of the men I know did too. For me / us it was mostly for snowboarding or hiking; in Ohio maybe for hunting or other outdoor sports. Obviously
women do these too but in my circles the men do these activities more than the women (maybe with the exception of hiking). I would think the same would apply to bandanas and assume it was more of a convenience thing than a masculinity/conservative thing. I live in a very liberal area and have noticed the same thing to an extent. Hunting is probably a more conservative sport though, so it might trend with more conservative people in some areas.

I also know a lot of women who sewer their own, or for their friends, or bought a bunch of cute ones on Etsy vs using what they already had. Men were less likely to do this.

(I’m a woman and use what I already had or what I got for free - sometimes a gaiter, sometimes a mask)
posted by sillysally at 9:01 AM on September 9


Oh and to add, I like that I can keep the gaiter around my neck. I always lose or forget masks.
posted by sillysally at 9:03 AM on September 9


I also know a lot of men with beards who have trouble fitting the masks over them.
posted by sillysally at 9:07 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


In my area (Seattle) I have only seen gaiters worn by runners, hikers, and cyclists of all genders. People walking around the city are wearing masks. I have seen one person with a substantial beard wearing a bandana.

I sewed my own masks and put in long elastic straps that go behind my head, rather than around my ears, so mine are just as convenient as a gaiter for pulling up and down!
posted by esoterrica at 9:11 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


My partner has a beard but I make masks to fit over it comfortably; they take a gaiter along to work to wear over the mask as well, for exactly the reason above-- to pull up and over quickly when approached by (frustratingly idiotic) co workers who 'forgot' to put a mask on when wandering about the office.
posted by winesong at 9:11 AM on September 9


I am not a gaiter wearer but i do have a large head and big beard - most reusable ear-loop masks are not comfortable for more than a few minutes as they start to pull on my ears - disposable procedure masks are better but my quaran-beard makes fitting the bottoms of those sometimes sketchy.

I got some beard-friendly masks (with a multitude of tie options) recently from this rad etsy seller.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:13 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


I just flew to and from a large city in Ohio over the long weekend, where I saw a lot of gaiters. Definitely more so than where I live, in New England. I saw a lot of women wearing them, so I doubt it's related to gender. And most of the people I saw wearing them appeared well-adjusted and pro-social. To the extent they were conservative, it was more likely the old school Chamber of Commerce conservatism rather than the Trumpist "masks are unconstitutional" kind. But even that's a stretch to me, as I'd be willing to bet there were some Biden voters too. I grew up in a Rust Belt small town in Ohio, so I'm pretty attuned to Ohio Trumpers, and most of the people I saw wearing gaiters didn't give off that vibe.

I'd also be surprised if it's a winter sports thing, because, well, winter sports are a lot more popular in New England than in Ohio.

Most of the gaiters I saw seemed to be athletic fabric, the lightweight polyester stuff that Under Armour and Nike claim is "moisture wicking" so as to charge more for it. That said, most of the wearers didn't seem to be particularly athletic (they're middle-aged Ohioans, after all), so it's probably not a sports-participation thing.

Having not worn one myself, they do appear to be pretty comfortable, and convenient. My biggest complaint with masks is that they hurt my ears. It's not a big problem if I'm just running into the grocery for ten minutes, but wearing a mask for seven hours while in the airport and on a plane, I was open to other ideas, let me tell you. The gaiter, being stretchy, seems to solve that problem. Masks are also kind of tough to work one-handed, which, in the situation I was in (air travel) can be handy. I wasn't carrying a bag, but if I were, and I needed to adjust my mask, I'd need to set the bag down to do so.

Personally, part of the appeal for me is that they're not a single-use item. With masks, you're not really going to use them for anything when/if "things go back to normal". Whereas with a gaiter, you can use it in "normal" times as a scarf replacement for running or skiing, or just in everyday wear. It's more versatile than a mask.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:44 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I (genderqueer, AFAB) started out wearing gaiters and bandannas because I had tons around already, and it was...an easy transition, I guess? I still get a little psychologically freaked out when I'm wearing a cotton mask on my bike and breathing hard and the cloth winds up plastered to my nose, which isn't a thing that happens with buffs and bandanas. It's also a lot easier, if I know I'll be hiking/biking in sparsely-populated areas, to just pull a gaiter or a bandana down and then back up one-handed. I've got used to masks by now and find them very comfortable (I have a tiny head, earloops are great!), but I expect I'll wear gaiters more often once it cools off, and bandanas are just endlessly useful and I'm glad I used the excuse to buy a bunch.
posted by kalimac at 10:05 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


I live in rural Ohio but am from elsewhere. My observation has been that this is a region that places a lot of emphasis on the gender binary - much more than other places I've lived - and I read the use of not-masks or barely-masks as a low grade protest against the mask mandate that is roughly tied to performing masculinity.

I'm not saying that peoples' reporting in this thread on their reasons for preferring a buff or a bandana are wrong, that's just how they read to me out here.

A male friend here reports that when he is out in public with his girlfriend, their use of masks is unremarked upon; when he's out, masked, by himself, he has occasionally been chided for wearing one.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 10:12 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Extremely liberal science believing lady here who has worn buffs and bandanas and purpose made masks interchangeably because I already had buffs and tons of bandanas and I am cheap, not going into high use areas, and don't like re-wearing anything before it's been laundered. idgaf about how it looks to anyone else, though I admit to at least culling out colors that would affiliate me with local gangs.
posted by phunniemee at 10:19 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


Gaiters and bandanas are being heavily marketed to men right now. It's actually incredible when I look at what's being marketed to me as a woman versus my husband on the internet and in our media consumption. I get "regular" masks and children's masks, he gets nothing but gaiters.
posted by juniperesque at 10:38 AM on September 9 [3 favorites]


large city in Ohio

Also large city in Ohio - definitely yes for "more men than women" wear gaiters, but I feel like it's pretty even (percentage-wise, anyway) across race & age.

If there's any group that seems to do gaiters more than others here, it's delivery drivers (UPS, FedEx, USPS), so I'll Nth that there's probably an element of quick and easy on and off, along with folks already having them because winter.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:19 AM on September 9


they're not as convenient and they're not layered. Also, this summer has been hot, and gaiters cover up a lot of extra skin.

All of these things are incorrect. They are more convenient, the ones I use are multi-layered, and they are much more comfortable in hot weather or while exercising.

I primarily wear it because I have a beard and I already had a half dozen Buff thingies before this because I cycle in all seasons. If you have a beard beyond scruff, a gaiter definitely protects far more than a mask.

Turning this into some weird gendered, right-winger anti-mask thing is really weird to me. The prevalence of gaiters in my ultra liberal city has way more to do with how active you are in recreational sports than the intentions the OP is projecting here. It's unfortunate that that one terrible study has apparently turned this into some sort of identity thing.
posted by bradbane at 12:45 PM on September 9 [21 favorites]


For the past two years or so I've been seeing ads for gaiters/buffs. Pre-pandemic, the ads talked about how they would protect you from the sun, keep dust off your face, help keep you cool, etc. The ads usually featured a lot of action sports, dirt bikes, boating, etc.

I have a few gaiters, they tend to be a very long item and are easy to fold into multiple layers. I don't wear them as masks myself but if someone didn't want to wear what's basically a turtleneck when they pull it down, you would pretty much have to fold it into multiple layers. It's possible that some of the gaiters sold now are shorter though.

I am not a man but I tend to confuse lots of ad targeting algorithms into thinking I am a man. I haven't seen any ads for gaiters recently, but I have done an unusually high number of searches about masks over the last few months as I've been sewing. Someone who has searched for gaiters or buffs in the past might have been getting pushed a lot of ads for more buffs or gaiters. Don't discount the influence of targeted ads here.
posted by yohko at 1:04 PM on September 9


White male here. When I wear a bandana it's because I anticipate needing to put on and take off my mask many times while I am out or will be in a position where I need to deploy my face covering quickly. Having something around my neck that I can pull up to cover my mouth and nose quickly with one hand is quite helpful. Bonus for an item that looks more like part of my outfit.
posted by cross_impact at 1:49 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


I can't speak to the bandana thing, but neck gaiters were kind of an athleisure accessory, so some of what you're seeing can be viewed through the same lens as, y'know, that Patagonia bro stereotype.

I live somewhere that's not only cold AF much of the year but also has a very outdoorsy and alpine-oriented culture, so there's a lot of guys (really, not just guys) who would have had a buff or two pre-pandemic. Gaiters are pretty versatile (they also work as sweatbands in the summer, you can use them as a balaclava without looking like a criminal) and they make people look outdoorsy even when they're not, so it makes sense that they're repurposing them for COVID. In this context, I'm not sure it's more political than that.
posted by blerghamot at 2:25 PM on September 9


I found out recently that a male friend who is 60 and has a beard wears bandanas because he has them on hand already, and is currently on disability with a fair number of medical expenses and is too poor to afford masks (I'm in the process of sending him some masks).
posted by gudrun at 8:57 PM on September 9


So many perspectives, thank you all for sharing! Some thoughts I wanted to respond to:

@ Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug, and others with similar thoughts:
In fact I would argue that they are more convenient: you leave it around your neck, and then pull up and pull down. No knot tying or extra things to carry.
*face/palm* All of my masks have a loop so they can be carried around the neck. EShakti makes some pretty deluxe masks for a great price, in case anyone's interested.

@ EmpressCallipygos
I've noticed bikers and joggers doing the same - when they're on the road themselves the bandana is hanging down at their chest, but when someone comes by they lift it back over their face. And when they've passed the passersby, down it goes again.
I've noticed it as well and I think that's an interesting phenomenon -- clearly the air still has your mouth germs floating about at that point? And the person you're passing will be walking right into the "cloud"? On the other hand, wearing a mask just in case you might run into somebody on a jog seems like too much. There might be no good middle ground here, but the etiquette is nice.

cmm
Anecdotally, my friends and I have decided it is because masks with strings look like a bikini top for your face, while gaiters make you look like a wild west villain; one of those two is more masculine than the other and to some people this is important.

Thorzdad
I've always thought they were going for that popular "special-ops" look.

! The wild west villain was definitely an angle I was thinking of, like maybe some folks get like a stealth cosplay kick out of it?

Lawn Beaver
I live in rural Ohio but am from elsewhere. My observation has been that this is a region that places a lot of emphasis on the gender binary - much more than other places I've lived - and I read the use of not-masks or barely-masks as a low grade protest against the mask mandate that is roughly tied to performing masculinity.

That is close to my instinctive read of the situation as well, Lawn Beaver.
A male friend here reports that when he is out in public with his girlfriend, their use of masks is unremarked upon; when he's out, masked, by himself, he has occasionally been chided for wearing one.
Oof, that throws me back to high school.

I see a lot of pickups with Don't Tread on Me stickers (though not as many as when I lived in small town OH) and I've had libertarian family members push back against the mask mandate. Elsewhere in the thread, other users mentioned the "gaiters perceived as less hygienic" thing, which perhaps factors in? Malicious compliance.

I've also seen, sadly, some Etsy stores that sell masks made of really sheer / loose material that doesn't catch droplets :/ specifically so people can go out and about unsafely without getting side-eyed. That seems to be a more feminine take on it from what I've seen. Hopefully that isn't a trend!

juniperesque
Gaiters and bandanas are being heavily marketed to men right now. It's actually incredible when I look at what's being marketed to me as a woman versus my husband on the internet and in our media consumption. I get "regular" masks and children's masks, he gets nothing but gaiters.

yohko
Don't discount the influence of targeted ads here.
I hadn't considered this at all! Fascinating!

It occurred to me based on these comments that I have seen branded gaiters as merch more around the internet (for podcasts and what have you) and I thought that was odd until I realized that gaiters are probably a lot easier to construct on the cheap than your average mask. Print the fabric, sew into a large tube, done. Depending on the fabric, you may not even need to hem it.

Turning this into some weird gendered, right-winger anti-mask thing is really weird to me. The prevalence of gaiters in my ultra liberal city has way more to do with how active you are in recreational sports than the intentions the OP is projecting here. It's unfortunate that that one terrible study has apparently turned this into some sort of identity thing.

I'm glad you live in an ultra liberal city! I wasn't aware of gaitergate until this thread, I just happened to notice this while grocery shopping. Maybe all of the ultra liberal runners grocery shop at different times than I do. Maybe I shop at the same time as a bunch of middle aged hunters! I don't really know! I'm out maybe once a week and I see one grocery store for like thirty minutes. Hence the question to a wide audience, lol. I'm sorry that the premise of my question didn't sit well with you.

I found out recently that a male friend who is 60 and has a beard wears bandanas because he has them on hand already, and is currently on disability with a fair number of medical expenses and is too poor to afford masks (I'm in the process of sending him some masks).
Thank you for caring for your friend this way!!

Thanks again everyone :) it's always a pleasure hearing from the hive mind!
posted by snerson at 9:48 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


My wife wears gaiters on her cycle commute because they work better with helmet straps and pulling down to catch her breath when it's not crowded. She's got masks too for indoors, but masks are easier to misplace for her.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:11 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I've thought about this a bit more and realized another side to your question -- why don't more women wear gaiters

So, yesterday there was a sudden cold snap where I live so I got my ski gaiter out. I didn't have anything to do in public, I was just cold. Mine has the thin gaiter fabric on one side and a wool blend on the other, or you can rotate the layers so you it's half double wool and half double of the thinner fabric - a minimum of two layers either way.

Usually I've worn this when it's more wintery out, and I'm already having to manage a lot more layers, so having to figure out where to put my hair has been a much smaller part of managing a giant pile of winter clothing. But I haven't gotten out all those things yet, because a few days ago it was still summer.

I pulled the gaiter over my head, tugged it down, and then pulled it back up to cover my neck and face. It caught my ponytail in a way that felt unpleasant, tipping it up and spilling hair every direction. I tried again, tucking it in this time, and there's no good place to put it without wearing a higher necked winter shirt. The hairs poke uncomfortably, or end up in your mouth. I ended up redoing my hair so the gaiter would be comfortable, probably this is what I've done in the winter but it's just not part of the summer routine.

It's much more common for women to have long hair, so they might be avoiding gaiters because other types of masks are more convenient to wear and some people don't want to have to wear their hair a certain way to put a mask on. Long earrings probably don't work well with them either.
posted by yohko at 4:26 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


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