Pandemic, but Make It Fashion: Ukrainian Embroidered PPE in the Time of COVID-19
Embroidered pandemic wear has become one of the newest cultural fashion trends to emerge in Ukraine and within its Canadian diaspora. This article explores the ways in which embroidery as a traditional form of culture retains meaning within modern contexts, while also serving as a vehicle for experimenting with atypical applications of cultural symbols and representations. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, cloth masks have been recommended by public health officials, including the World Health Organization, as a preventative measure to limit the spread of the virus. On the basis of digital fieldwork, I discuss the meanings and inspirations behind these embroidered masks, while conducting a material culture analysis of the objects themselves. I argue that, through a subversion of their common purpose— to hide one’s identity— masks have been used in the pandemic as an open/performative display of culture. I contend that this display acts as a means to promote tradition through ephemera and assert cultural importance. This, coupled with the personal/private use of embroidery as a protective talisman, has fueled a trend of embroidered personal protective equipment in popular culture. In this article, I examine the purpose, use, and form of these masks in order to bring light to the ways in which cultural traditions and objects act (and developed prevalence) as a form of pandemic response.
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