Robert Henley hides his head in the interest of psychological research
The masked ball and the Mardi-Gras have always been a feature of societies where there are strong moral and social constraints. The anonymity of the fiesta costume with its hood or its mask offers behavioural freedom. For a brief period the carpenter can become a King and the King a carpenter. Behind the mask can be created a different personality and the inhibitions imposed by religion, family and friends can all be shed – for an hour, for a day, or for a night; a form of escapism recognised to be of therapeutic mental value by both church and medicine.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England masked parties under the direction of ‘the lord of Misrule’ tended to get rather out of hand. A reverend gentleman named Prebble in the seventeenth century spoke out against the wearing of masks as ‘the concomitants of wickedness’ and the devil was commonly depicted wearing a helmet or mask of bizarre design. “Unmask the devil” exhorted the preacher, “avoid dissembling”.
Dissembling is not the objective of most of the helmets and masks popular with readers and customers of Atomage. At least, it appears not to be the principal idea. Our customers and readers are concerned with sensation: their often elaborate designs are chosen to create and give pleasure to the wearer, the choice of the materials and the way they are used being of paramount importance. Since the major human sensory organs are located in the head it, therefore, follows they deserve special attention and some of the individuality of design is shown in the pictures on these pages.
If there is a common factor, it is the need to be totally enclosed: cut off from all external influences. But there are problems: the wearer has to be able to breathe although he has a choice about the need in his design for seeing and hearing. But to be totally enclosed means establishing some method of controlling the air supply. The gas mask is the easiest choice, but the makers of gas masks lavish their attention obviously on an air filtering mechanism. the comfort of the wearer and the design of the head cover being a secondary matter.
One colour picture shows a well designed ‘respirator’ but here, as in most cases, the respirator is an addition to the helmet and not an integral part.
Equally popular is the breathing tube which gives, says an enthusiast, a unique feeling of detachment, and avoids the unpleasantness of hearing the sound on your breath – which is something of a problem with respirators. Having any breathing system in front can be restricting – particularly if there is a partner – so many choose to take the breathing tubes behind the head and air entry may frequently be fixed to the back or even at the waist.
Controlling air supply has to be done by a means involving a fool proof safety system, but it seems users like the feeling that they can restrict air flow. Some even incorporate a small oxygen cylinder. Fitting the helmet to the suit creates another set of problems; getting in and out is difficult unless the helmet is a separate item although a back zip system is one solution. Fastenings can be of various kinds: lace up, zip, press studs and buckle straps except that with latex, which is the easiest material for a head moulded helmet, (see following article) does not normally suit any common form of fixing. But as the material is so pliable it can be ‘rolled’ over the head.
‘Identity’ face masks are another form altogether but very popular with those whose wish is to enjoy a disguise. One of these moulded and cleverly coloured masks is shown on the colour page. This is an improvement on a type of mask popular in the Victorian period. Then there is the type of helmet that renders the wearer temporarily deaf and blind. It is usually more for those interested in bondage but there are many customers who ask for detachable eye, mouth and ear pieces for their hood or helmet. Women concerned about their hair style sometimes ask for a cowl and a half helmet or full mask. The variations are almost unlimited as, undoubtedly, is the pleasure the wearers get from their headgear designs.