According to costume historian Jane Malcolm-Davies, masks were invented around 1750 but fencers resisted wearing them because it "indicated a fear of inartistic work by a opponent." By 1800 it appears these masks were in use, but were fairly spare wire things:
|A rare fencing ensemble, French, late 18th century - first half 19th century, comprising padded natural linen jacket with chamois breast. Courtesy Kerry Taylor Auctions|
Through the 19th century masks became bulkier and more protective (scroll down), but still offered indifferent throat protection.
|Epee master, France, 1899. Found on Tumblr, further provenance unavailable|
|Chatham University PA, ca. 1908. Courtesy U. of Pittsburgh Library|
Bibs don't seem to show up consistently until the 1930s:
|L'escrimeuse, 1933 by Willy Kessels, courtesy Arcadja Auctions results|
By the 1940s the mask is taking a more recognizable form:
|U.S. Naval Academy ca. 1942, courtesy Library of Congress|
Today's masks have a larger (safer!) bib, but for foil the lower half is now electric so it won't cover target. I'm sure many foilists remember having to retrofit our old masks a few years back:
How many old lames gave their lives for the new rules?
Mesh is now available in every color of the rainbow, though not seen terribly often:
And of course there are infinite possibilities for patterns:
How do you style your mask?
Malcolm-Davies, Jane. "‘And at the Plastron Push’: The Historical Development of Fencing Kit." Costume 36.1 (2002): 100-111.