Of course, while masks have been broadly recommended by the CDC, hand tools have not. But as quarantine restrictions end and we’re allowed out of our homes, germs will be top of mind. “This virus will create a whole new generation of germaphobes that will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” Fisher continues. “Even when [Coronavirus] is gone, I think most of us will be hyper-aware of touching surfaces at retail. I would expect to see a long-term effect when it comes to items like these that allow us to live our lives without worrying as much about the germs. I’d also expect this to be a major catalyst in being a cashless, contactless society faster than we ever imagined.” He noted that Suitsupply is considering erecting partitions between its tailors and customers, and that Saks has spoken publicly about making sure its cleaning crews are “front and center during business hours.”
Their effectiveness is up for debate. According to the New York Times’ product review website the Wirecutter, these no-touch tools may be more hype than help. “Yes, they can serve as that important in-between keeping your bare hands from touching an infected surface—and given enough time, viruses will die on copper,” writes Nick Guy. “But if you’re just tossing the tool back into your pocket or bag after you use it, you could still be exposing yourself to what you’re trying to avoid.”
Guy goes on to reference a study from the New England Journal of Medicine that found the viral source of COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, remains on copper for up to four hours, compared to plastic or steel, where it can endure for a whopping three days. “It’s not that copper kills the novel coronavirus on contact, but rather that the surface is inhospitable for it.” The Times’ final recommendation is to just wear disposable gloves.
Perhaps the appeal is more philosophical. If masks are our new tools of outward expression, then these little doodads can be seen as a reflection of something more interior. Like worry beads or good luck charms, no-touch tools can live within our pockets, the perfect thing to nervously run our hands over like talismans, a way to work through our unending jitters about the microbes crawling all over every surface. They’re a reminder that disease is everywhere, even if they’re not an airtight shield from said disease. They also remind me of the phenomenon of wearing your keys visibly, often hanging from a belt loop on a carabiner.
And as anyone who follows fashion knows, utility is just one part—often a small one—of why we buy what we buy. Wearing sneakers is less often about working out than broadcasting an idea about yourself. And right now, in the spring of 2020, one of the most important things a person could broadcast about themselves is that they are aware of the dangers lurking on every surface, and that they are taking precautions to shield themselves and others from illness. And if you think that people aren’t closely monitoring you’re behavior, you’d be wrong: Coronavirus shaming is a thing (of course), and health initiatives like wearing a mask and social distancing are becoming partisan issues.
If sweats can go from slovenly to aspirational, and masks from treacherous to trendy, then why can’t a practically brand new commodity break into the world of fashion? As the world began to confront climate change more seriously, sustainability became a huge fashion buzzword. In the face of a highly contagious disease, might germophobia be due for a rebrand? What used to be hypochondria now looks—and is being sold—as something like common sense. And if there’s a market there to support those feelings, you can expect enterprising designers to step up and fill it.