Is it glamorous to wear a matching face mask with your thousand-dollar couture gown? That was a question I found myself unexpectedly pondering while I scrolled through pictures from last night’s Monte-Carlo Gala in Monaco. Attendees, including Sienna Miller, Helen Mirren and Maisie Williams, posed on the red carpet while still wearing face masks—masks which, by and large, were made from the same fabric as their designer dresses.
It was a curious decision. Surely you don’t need to wear your mask for the short, five-minute spell that you stand and pose for pictures on the red carpet? If a person is able to, for example, sit down in a restaurant without a mask (as they are in most of Europe), then surely an A-lister gets a free pass to pose, mask-free from the paparazzo pack at a safe distance? There were attendees who didn’t wear masks while posing for the event, so it clearly wasn’t mandatory.
My best guess is that this was an exercise in optics. Celebrities have tried and largely failed to come across as ‘relatable’ during the pandemic. The Imagine kerfuffle; Ellen DeGeneres joke about being “imprisoned” in her $30 million mansion; anything Madonna has posted since March—all went down like a lead balloon. In an era where ‘eat the rich’ has turned into a Gen-Z catchphrase, young people are starting to resist the cult-like cultural reverence we have for drastically over-paid millionaires.
Perhaps wearing a mask on the red carpet is a way to cushion the blow of attending a black tie gala on the French Riviera, while the world still bristles up against an unrelenting global health crisis. A kind of visual Look, we’re the same as you! Or maybe it was an earnest attempt at making a ‘statement’ about the importance of mask-wearing—the event was, after all, a fundraiser for ‘Planetary Health’.
Whatever the intention, the result is strangely unsettling—in the same way the photos of mask-wielding influencers stomping around Milan Fashion Week are strangely unsettling. There’s nothing technically wrong with celebrities doing celebrity things right now. The world is teetering, with many stops and starts, back to something resembling normalcy—and they are simply returning to work, in the same way the rest of the planet is.
These photos simply serve as a reminder of the strangeness of the moment we’re living in right now. I can’t help but look at them and imagine how horrified and confused they would have made me feel a mere 12 months ago. And they’re a reminder, as if we needed another one, of the vast gulf that exists between the world of the rich and the rest of the world. The former can afford to match their masks to their designer gowns for the sake of a photo opp, the latter are stocking up on 10-for-$20s and wondering how a second lockdown could affect their financial livelihoods.
The answer is, simply, that there is no answer—but if the lukewarm cultural reaction to the VMAs, Emmys and Fashion Month has showed us anything, it’s that maybe we’re not quite ready to re-embrace the A-list just yet.