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From scarves to masks: White House’s Dr Deborah Birx seeks to make Covid-19 a fashion pivot

US coronavirus official Dr Deborah Birx, who has attracted a cult following for wearing colourful scarves, is now on another fashion mission – to convince Americans that wearing face masks is not only sensible but stylish too.

Dr Deborah Birx is best-known for her calm, composed yet authoritative briefings at the daily White House press conferences, but she also became a pop culture phenomenon for her scarves which she carries with immense grace and sophistication.

Wrapped around her shoulders or knotted around her neck, the brightly-coloured scarves including bright florals and classic Hermes designs have been making a subtle fashion statement with much character almost daily.

Victoria Strout, a Texas resident and one of the millions who noticed Dr Birx’s style, created the Instagram account @deborahbirxscarves a few weeks after the briefings began in March this year.

The account now has over 40,000 followers.


Strout told Reuters that she hopes it (the account) provides a “brain break” for people dealing with non-stop Covid-19 coverage, as well as celebrating Dr Birx, who has had a distinguished three-decade-long career focused on global health, including HIV/AIDS and vaccine research.

Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan described Dr Birx’s style as “1950’s contemporary classic, feminine and pulled-together”. She also said Dr Birx stood out because she wasn’t in the typical Washington/federal uniform of jewel tones or a suit.

Now Dr Birx is attempting to make face masks a fashion essential. “I know some of you do watch what I wear. I’m wearing this specially today,” said Birx, showing a white mask with the words “Stay Safe! Stay Strong!”

“Masks can be a fashion statement,” the White House coronavirus response coordinator told reporters.

Birx noted that her mask was presented to her by the Salt River Tribe in Arizona which she visited last week.

Public health officials have said face masks can prevent the spread of disease and allow for safer economic activity. While some people have resisted wearing the coverings, several states and cities are now requiring them. Authorities in Spain’s Balearic Islands are making wearing of masks mandatory outdoors from this weekend. Disneyland, which prepares to reopen on July 11, shared guidelines including one that states that the mask should have proper ear loops to ensure that it does not slip off accidentally.

US President Donald Trump has refused to wear a mask publicly or ask Americans to do so, although he has said he would if he was in a crowd and could not distance himself.

— with inputs from Reuters

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