Can you feel it?

Like discrete clouds beginning to gather before a storm.

Not a trend, really. Not yet. But a tendency toward a trend. A trendency.

On the subway, on a crowded street, at a concert: a person here and there — a Great Pre-trender — wears a hand-sanitizer vial on a necklace or sports a protective mask. In China, mask mania is taking off. The South China Morning Post reports that the country's worsening air quality "has had a surprising and unexpected consequence — fashionable face masks."

Surely the U.S. will not lag far behind. Already we are seeing:

* Floral germ masks.

* Colorful antimicrobial socks.

* Black latex cleaning gloves with leopard-print cuffs and bows.

Could we be witnessing a veer toward fear? Precaution couture? WaryWear? Styles not for runways but for those who run away — from germs?

Too soon to tell, say fashion experts.

"Fashion has often turned toward the protective or defensive," says fashion historian Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. "However, it is difficult to draw a connection between these styles and the times, since 'uncertain times' equals most of world history."

She says that fashion often does respond to the moment. Contemporary health concerns have given us anti-pollution masks and hats to block the sun.

But style can also run the other direction — away from fear. "Fashion's reaction to trauma tends to tilt towards the ameliorative," says fashion reporter Robin Givhan of The Washington Post. "That is, in trying times to offer heightened beauty and escapism."


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