Image: Tina Tiller

The big government cover-up: The best and worst of public figures’ face masks

What do the masks of those in power – or vying to be – say about them? The co-founders of fashion and culture website Ensemble cast their style eyes over face coverings from the halls of power.

Never before has an accessory become a must-have item so swiftly. Masks are fast becoming the ultimate symbol of self-expression, instantly communicating whether the wearer cares about their community and the greater good… or not. Digging a little deeper unearths more.

On first instincts, you may rush out to purchase the coolest-looking reusable option. You may then find yourself the owner of an intricate contraption that needs an instruction manual to put on. Or unable to breath. Or with a mask that flops around the bottom half of your face, unable to be adjusted.

As with clothing, it’s all about fit – but for practical reasons rather than aesthetics. A good mask shouldn’t gape at the sides, and it should fit neatly around your nose and mouth. It’s worth doing your research and exploring different shapes and options rather than rushing straight out for designer duds (more helpful guidance on that here).

We’re all for designer masking, if it helps normalise the wearing of masks, and allows fashion business struggling post-Covid to make a few dollars. However, not all masks are created equal. Some pattern-making skill and expertise is required, and we hope some designer brands refine their offerings as mask use becomes mainstream. But we’d equally advocate for DIY masks, which are just as effective in both practicality and functionality.

For politicians, being seen publicly wearing a mask is a savvy political move – and whether they like it or not, the choices they make say something about their taste. So what to make of their mask picks? Let’s review!

Jacinda Ardern during a visit to the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research at Victoria University on August 27 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Jacinda Ardern (prime minister, Labour leader)

The prime minister knows the power of clothing to send messages. Some on Twitter have commented on the regularity of the colour black in her outfits at daily press briefings when she’s set to deliver “bad news”; and she’s an expert on incorporating Labour red into a look. This chic and tidy mask choice communicates, “I know my shit and I also like nice things”. Extra points for the double accessorising with her signature earrings; wearers of glasses know this is harder than it looks.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff in his coffee mask (Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Phil Goff (Auckland mayor)

A very “Wellington” look for the mayor of Auckland. We imagine this mask printed with the logos of niche coffee brands is something that a member of Fat Freddy’s Drop would choose; Mr Goff just needs to pair it with a Hills Hat trilby for full effect. The good news is, he’s nailed the “smize”. Props for purchasing this handmade-by-a-mum mask from a local small business.

Ashley Bloomfield demonstrates a mask made for him by a family friend (Image: RNZ stream)

Ashley Bloomfield (director general of health)

“It shows he has personality but not an annoying one,” says Viva fashion editor and creative director Dan Ahwa (and Zoe’s husband) of Ashley’s blue patterned number. This – and the Tardis option he also owns – is the type of mask that would be worn by someone who’d pair a colourful striped sock with their business suit. It also feels fitting that the father of the nation wears a mask made by the mother of his son’s friend. That mask could be any of us!

Paul Goldsmith in his cupcake mask (Photo: National Party Facebook page)

Paul Goldsmith (National list MP, finance spokesperson)

The sartorial equivalent of a (bad) dad joke.

Chlöe Swarbrick in her tino rangatiratanga mask (Photo: Instagram)

Chlöe Swarbrick (Green list MP, Auckland Central candidate)

The undisputed queen of communicating through social media, and an actual “fashion influencer”: her replica vintage Green Party sweater almost broke the internet. She’s using her platform to promote both the tino rangatiratanga flag and local sustainable fashion, through tagging in the maker Sew Love

Chris Bishop and Emma Mellow in their respective masks (Photos: Twitter, Instagram)

Chris Bishop (National MP for Hutt South)

He is taking zero chances in this extremely full-coverage mask by Wellington icon Hills Hats, worn on the plane (good!) but not while walking through the airport and being captured on the news (not good).

Emma Mellow (National candidate for Auckland Central)

A tie-behind-the-ears option by designer Juliette Hogan. Points for the locally made fashion, made using past season off-cuts. It feels quite on-brand for the National Party candidate for Auckland Central to have $55 to spend on a mask. We appreciate Emma wearing one while running; it can be super-stressful having a runner huffing and puffing their way past your bubble.

Golriz Ghahraman and Rangi McLean in their masks (Photo: Facebook, Te Karere)

Golriz Ghahraman (Green Party list MP) 

This whole ensemble screams “my glasses are fogging up”. Other than that, the casual styling has an effortless cool that makes you wonder if she’s been wearing a mask all her life. The denim-coloured linen has exactly the working-class, natural-fibre fashion cred you’d expect from Golriz.

Tunuiarangi Rangi McLean (Māori Party vice-president)

Full of symbolism much richer (and cooler) than cupcakes. With a kōwhaiwhai design, this mask appropriately reflects Rangi’s culture, people – and party.

Megan Woodson on a visit to the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research at Victoria University on August 27 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Megan Woods (housing minister, Labour MP for Wigram)

A classic. A plain black mask is the equivalent of a little black dress or a black blazer. This one is no fuss and very sensible – she’s protecting our borders and means business. A black mask seems a solid investment, and the practicality of this one (especially with the elastic around the ears) alleviates many of the pain points we’ve identified with fancier baubles.




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