Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Mask Review: RFA's mask (post 4 of ?)

After a long hiatus, I'm back with another adventure in sports masks!

Along with t-shirts, sweats, and patches, clubs now have a new place to put their logo: in house-branded masks. Full disclosure: this one is from my home club. My coach found it through a wholesaler that designed this mask for use by basketball players: a sport that doesn't require a heavy mask worn over it.

So of course I had to test to see if it could work under the sweatier, messier confines of a fencing mask.


Filter Pocket: no

Ear loops or ties: ties - extremely sturdy ties of doubled-over bias tape

Nose wire: no

Sizes: one

Fashionable? Plain, black, elegant, with logo in the corner, this goes with all your sports gear (but probably pairs best with other RFA-branded items).

How is it on the strip?

Test run: 100 lunges against target wearing this mask under my fencing mask. 

This mask has minimal shaping and 2 sets of ties make the fit easy to customize. Once I found a configuration that worked it had the best fit with the least interference with low-line visibility that I've tried yet! 

There's no filter pocket but the fit is tight enough to hold one in place - it didn't shift at all. The mask stayed tied on when I put on and took off my fencing mask. Still no nose wire, but when I added one of my stick-ons there was absolutely no fogging of my glasses, a definite plus in my book.

The fabric is thin enough that I recommend a filter, but I did have problems breathing through it. This suggests the fabric isn't designed to breathe, at least not with the extra filtering I require for confident use.


Pro: flexibility of fit, sturdy ties, subtle style

Con: thin fabric, no nose wire or filter pocket, breathing difficulties

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Mask Review: Errea Italian Sportswear. Post 3 of ?

This guest review was contributed by Maggie Brasted, a club mate of Allison and Badger from Rockville Fencing Academy. Maggie found the sport of fencing and entered her first competition at age 50. Prior to that, she had never participated in competitive sports. As an oxymoron (a beginner in the “veteran” age category), she fell in love with fencing and the community of fencers . She has competed in Veteran and Senior foil and epee at local, regional, and national events. She is also a rated referee in foil and epee who, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, worked frequently at events in Capitol and Maryland Divisions.

Mask: Errea Italian Sportswear brand

Purchased from: for $20 plus shipping

I found through Facebook Veteran Fencing groups post from


Filter pocket: No

Ear loops or ties: Ear loops. Edge binding on mask form loops.

Nose wire: No

Sizes: Two—Adult and Youth. Very stretchy knit fabric could fit a wide range of face sizes.

Fashionable? In black or blue. I bought the blue, really blue and white, which looks sharp with coordinating colors. The black is solidly black and would match most fencing mask mesh.

Fit: Very stretchy single layer of knit fabric fits me snugly and comfortably. When it first arrived, I thought it was too small until I stretched it out in all directions. I think it can stretch to fit a wide range of face sizes. Youth size may also fit smaller adult faces. Nose wire does not seem needed to keep in place due to snug fit of stretchy fabric.

I have worn it both with and without a “mask bracket” or “lipstick protector” frame underneath. Either way, it fits snugly and stays in place. I very much prefer with the frame as that keeps the mask from sucking into mouth and nostrils. I find it easier to breath freely during exertion and my speech is easier to understand with the frame. The mask holds the frame in place very well without much fiddling once I have it on.

How is it on the strip? I have not been back in the salle to fence since the beginning of the pandemic. My experience with this mask has been while biking, working out, and doing solo footwork practice.

Biking is the most demanding of these. I biked over the same routes with home-made 3-layer cloth masks and the Errea mask, both with and without the frame. I found I could breathe best in the Errea mask with the frame. When climbing hills in the home-made cloth masks, I struggled for breath and had to rest and take the mask off much more than with the Errea mask on the same hills.

I also tried my Leon Paul Exchange fencing mask over the Errea mask at home to see how well the Errea mask is likely to stay in place during fencing. Donning and removing my LP mask was smooth and the Errea mask stayed put.

I note that while biking in the Errea mask my sunglasses fogged up quickly. I had to abandon wearing sun glasses when exerting myself. Thus, I would expect fogging to occur when fencing with glasses.



  • Stays put when putting on fencing mask and taking it off.
  • Comfortable snug fit.
  • Does not significantly impair breathing during exertion compared to home-made cloth masks.


  • Only one layer of fabric and no option for filter may impact the mask’s ability to act as a barrier to virus particles. Perhaps a layer of some kind (i.e., a coffee filter) could simply be placed between the mask and the separately purchased frame to enhance filtration.
  • Glasses fog up.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Mask review (2 of ?) Radical Fencing's active dome sports mask

Radical Fencing is always at the forefront of innovative, stylish fencing gear, so it makes sense they'd be one of the first vendors to offer a mask. Sure enough, their mask offers high-tech antimicrobial fabric and secure straps. But how does it stand up in action?

White oval fencing mask on gridded background, approximately 6 inches wide by 5 inches high, with thin elastic straps
same mask, same dimensions, but in black


Filter pocket: yes, carbon filters included

Ear loops or ties: 2 elastic bands that go around the head, one adjustable

Nose wire: not at the time I ordered, though it's now an option

Sizes: one size

Fashionable? in basic black and white (as well as special colors to-order) it goes with just about anything. In my opinion, the white one looks like an old-fashioned "bullet bra" cup when worn with anything other than a fencing uniform, though!

Fit: the stiffer, rounded shape stands away from the face so it's not going to stick to your mouth and nose. The straps are more secure and the adjustable side is a nice touch. I have a small head and short hair so I couldn't tighten them enough to fit me but you may not have this problem. I will likely replace them with something tighter and wider, as the elastic is very narrow.

How is it on the strip?

I wore this with one of the filters that came with it and did fifty lunges. It didn't stick to my mouth when breathing, which was nice, and though thick it's not bulky or hot. As mentioned above the elastic was too long for me so I couldn't get as tight a seal as I wanted. Removing my fencing mask pulled Radical's mask out of place. The fabric boasts water resistance, but I don't sweat much so this feature ended up untested. Like the Adidas (and I suspect, all other masks) it cuts off your low line periphery.


Pro: dense but lightweight, comfortably "cups" your face without sticking to it, comes with its own filters.

Con: elastic may be too long for some wearers, nose wire costs extra

[Comments from Badger: Fashion-wise, the black version is VERY Darth Vader. Complete with sound effects, as with the filter in place, I find my breathing is somewhat obstructed. Because mask stands away from the face, it also blocks my downward field of view more than lighter, flatter masks. Like Allison, I find that the straps are too long, even at their shortest setting, but I've dealt with that by making a small knot in the strap.]

[Badger: Also, it's a little big on me.]  

Have you tried the Radical Fencing mask or other sport/fencing masks on the strip? We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

mask review: the Adidas sport mask (1 of ?)

It didn't take long.

Well, I guess it took SOME time. Like many people I scrambled to make masks out of quilting cotton and whatever else I could find just to have something. But by five months(!) into the coronavirus pandemic, almost every clothing vendor offered some sort of mask. This includes fencing and other vendors of athletic wear.

I'm not ready to go back out onto the strip, but in anticipation of future days I've been slowly accumulating a collection of sports masks. This post is the first of several reviews of what's currently on offer. Keep in mind that anecdotes aren't data so your mileage may vary widely. Also none of these are paid promotions, so you're getting my unfiltered opinion. [Badger says: "unfiltered." Heh! I see what you did there.] 

The first to arrive via increasingly slow mail was Adidas' sport mask.


Filter pocket: yes

Ear loops or ties: ear loops

Nose wire: no

Sizes: medium (top/blue) and large (bottom/black)

Fashionable? It's compact, sleek, and the logo, while visible, is subtle. It's minimal enough to be appropriate for strip, street, and restaurant (when they open back up).

Fit: I favor sport masks for every day because most are either shaped or made out of stretchy materials that give a tight seal around the face, and the Adidas mask is no exception. It comes in two sizes but I didn't notice much difference between them. However, my husband found the large too tight around his ears to be wearable.

The ear loops are just an extension of the stretchy binding around the edges. They hold the mask tight to my face, but I'm not sure how long they'll last before tearing or stretching out of shape.

The filter pocket is a nice touch. Adidas doesn't offer a filter but I strongly suggest you use something because the mask fabric, while tightly woven, is fairly thin.

My one reservation about structure is the lack of a nose wire. I haven't worn my contacts since the pandemic started and unless a mask conforms tightly to my nose I get the dreaded glasses fogging. I fixed this by adding my own nose wire, available from multiple vendors on Etsy. One side is sticky so no sewing is required.

How is it on the strip?

As a test run I wore the size small with a carbon filter and stuck-on nose wire under my fencing mask and did 3 minutes of footwork. I don't sweat much, so I can't say how well it holds up when damp. It didn't hinder breathing as much as I expected, and while I was huffing and puffing more than usual it was manageable. It cut off my low line peripheral vision, but I think this is probably a risk with any mask.


Pro: lightweight, snug fit, pocket for your filter of choice, can fence in without suffocating

Con: thin fabric, flimsy ear loops, no nose wire (this last one easily fixable), unknown endurance when wet

Have you tried the Adidas mask or another fencing mask on the strip? What did you think? We'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, December 15, 2019


This was the view out my window last Friday:

So for the next three days, this was my best friend:

I was not the only one gasping for breath in the trapped smog, the result of a temperature inversion that apparently is pretty common in Salt Lake City December through February. Wish I could have added yet another piece of gear, an extra (clean) air supply. That might look like this?

Air Quality Dress by Dominque Paul

Note to USFA--maybe avoid holding NACs in SLC during the winter months? Please?

Problematic breathing aside, a good time was had by most (if not all). 

On to the fashion coverage.

This gentleman seemed to be geared up for the October NAC, but whatever.

Baltimore Fencing Center's Pam Dressel models mask-cords-as-fashion-accessories:

(Note the new Coaching Credentials, including spiffy lanyard, which have the added benefit of letting you check in at all competitions for the coming year and eliminates the need for the stupid adhesive admissions wristbands. Which itch. And fall off.)

Spotted on the warm-up strip:

While colorful, this seems like a great way to put a hole in your club jacket.

Epeeist Michele Bodon (Northwest Fencing Center) gets bonus points for not only creatively mismatched socks, but mismatched shoes.

Russ Cain, also of BFC, sported the latest functional fencing accessory--the "brain hat." Guaranteed to improve your strategic thinking between bouts. (Wait, might it fit UNDER the mask?)

Absolute Fencing's Lewis Vaden found a "Lexington Legends" baseball cap that echoes his mustache. 

The phrase "gloriously bewhiskered" comes to mind.

Vet Foil fencer Anne-Marie Walters shows off her World Veteran Fencing Championships t-shirt. (Anne-Marie has fenced in every Vet Worlds competition from 2006 on. #WOW.)

Referee power fashion. (If being an official isn't intimidating enough, wear skulls.) 

Cutest spectator. Even if he is a badger hound

(What, you thought I meant the dude? :)

Finally, a diptych of Vet Women fencers, courtesy of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts:

On the left, Gemin Channing, my teammate from Rockville Fencing Academy. That's me on the right. (We wanted to pose with our foils, but smuggling them into the museum seemed...problematic.)

Follow the new @fencingfashionista account on Instagram to keep up with the latest styles in our sport. 

Until St. Louis, salute!

Monday, October 14, 2019

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World(s)

Just got back from Cairo. Finished unpacking and now I'm sorting through myriad photos documenting fencing fashion at the Veteran World Championships

Rita Comes accepted a certificate recognizing the US for
fielding the largest team at the event. (We also led the medal count, with a
total of 22 podium finishes, including 6 gold.)

The venue was a rainbow of international color. After much consideration, I award the Australian team highest marks for both team colors and team mascot.

Though I think this 'roo is wearing boxing gloves!
Britain takes second place for "colors most easily spotted across a crowded venue"

The Italians were stylish (of course) though I was initially very puzzled by one of the logos on their uniforms


Which looked to me like the classic American "mudflap girls" but is in fact the logo of the fashion company and fencing sponsor Kappa. (Now I want a fashion fencing sponsor. Leads welcome.)

The french team sported matching socks. (I was told that in team events, all the fencers' socks have to match. I like to think this is because the FIE realizes that anything is cuter in multiples--but probably not.)

Often the t-shirts were even better than the uniforms.

The Netherlands won on the t-shirt front, having created a bespoke "fence like an Egyptian" design in orange (the color of the Dutch royal family). 

They should have brought extras--they could have traded these shirts for ANYTHING.

While the US uniforms were a demure grey, our team blinged them out with a great selection of pins. Check out the selection amassed by team armorer Kathy Walters:

Note the badger pin in the upper left.

Kathy also wins for best hat, though this Russian gentleman sported a very fashionable head rag:

Other highlights include most colorful uniform:

Most flamboyant stenciling. (I'm pretty sure this is technically illegal, but extra points for getting away with it.)

Coolest way to carry a country's flag colors on the strip (the Italians again, 'natch):

Cutest spectators

Strangest fencing mash-up. (Hello Kitty, really?):

 And best fencing tattoo. Certainly the best at this competition. Possibly best ever?

The Japanese delegation swept the fashion awards for the Gala on Wednesday night

Alan Garmonsway captured Gala fashion silver for Great Britain with his kilt and sporran:

Though US V50 WE fencer Valerie Asher (right, below, with Brazil's Claudia da Costa) was pretty dang elegant.

Next up on Fashionista, I'll share some observations on prepping for Vet World Championships, and run through what to expect at the event for those of you who will find yourself navigating international waters in coming years. Perhaps Croatia in 2020?

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Team Colors

I know this lady named Jane McGonigal who studies how to channel positive attitudes and improve people’s lives through good games design.  Jane’s pegged four characteristics that go into making a good game:
1)  Clear rules
2) Good feedback
3) The chance to spend time with people you like, and
4) Feeling part of something bigger

Whooping it up with Anne-Marie Walters
on her birthday at the March NAC, 2015
Fencing nails the first three. Well, you might quibble about the rules regarding foil right of way being “clear,” but they certainly are out there in digital ink to be poured over and debated. And coaches and referees, bless them, certainly provide copious feedback. Spending time with people I like (and would not otherwise see), is sufficient motivation to endure the long slog through airports to get to NACs. 

But part of something bigger? For me, not so much. Maybe to the extent that I rep my club (go RFA!) when I make it to the podium. But this year, as an accidental by-product of trying to renew my B (and falling short) I made the Vet World Team.

Which launched all sorts of predictable anxieties about travel, and as well as a quite unexpected internal conflict about fencing fashion and what it means to be “part of something bigger” when that bigger thing is Team USA.

I have a complicated relationship with patriotism. I’m deeply grateful that the US took in my paternal grandparents, pretty much penniless and unskilled, when they decamped Russia just ahead of the Cossacks in 1905. I appreciate that the porous boundaries of class in mid 20thcentury America made it possible for my maternal grandfather to go from barefoot farm boy guiding a plow in the Texas panhandle to professor of English at Phillips Exeter Academy. But I also came of age during the Vietnam war, dragged by my parents through protests in DC when I was barely old enough to keep up with the marchers. Taking flack in grade school for the fact that I shut up when we came to the “under god” part in the pledge of allegiance. And seeing my father nod approval when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised gloved fists on the podium at the 1968 Olympics. 

As the national anthem played at the 1968 Olympics,
sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their
fists to the sky. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)
The upshot of which is, I’ve never been much of one to wave the flag. I appreciate the lull at the beginning of competitions when we pause warm up for the national anthem. On the other hand  this patch—from a gift bag given to ladies on the podium at some past NAC—has been tucked in my sock drawer for about ten years because I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

Sometimes kids at my club would ask why I didn’t stencil “USA” on my lamé, and I’d say “well, if I ever fence outside the US, I’ll put it on then.” Now the joke’s on me—I had to ship my competition lamé to Oregon so Marx Enterprises could add three letters below my name. 

That sartorial addition was required by FIE rules (as was a new mask with the double-fastening strap—see below). Note that it has already acquired badgerous embellishments.

But there are many, many choices of optional gear related to being on the team, and I’ve found myself falling down a fencing fashion rabbit hole, prompted by the fact that I suddenly do feel “part of something bigger.” Probably amplified by the serotonin hit of online shopping that somewhat eases my anxieties about the whole venture.

For example, I felt MUCH BETTER about the prospect of a 12-hour flight to Cairo when I unwrapped this glove from Zzuma.

I’d long admired Zzuma’s butter-soft, beautifully designed gloves, but had never felt able to justify the expense. I’m trying not to read too much into the fact that after a just a few weeks it developed a tear in the palm, necessitating a repair and adding to my long anxiety list the fear it might not pass inspection. Sigh. (I hear a chorus of parsimonious ancestors whispering, “serves you right.”)

And the team bag. I told myself I really did need a new competition bag. My stalwart, 10-year old Leon Paul team bag (in fashionable black, adorned with badger patches) has developed a distinct list that frequently makes it tip over when I’m attempting to pull it, fully loaded, through the airport or down city sidewalks to the venue. Even though Absolute is the team sponsor (thank you Absolute! Sending you fencer love) after much deliberation I ordered the glorious, ostentatious, over-the-top Leon Paul Team USA bag, with its full in-your-face “I’m on the f$%*ing world team” design. 

Boo-ya. Just looking at it makes me feel almost competent.

Almost. But I’m still struggling with a fair case of imposter syndrome. I mean, I did earn this, but it’s not like I’m made the freaking Olympic team. On the other hand, I deeply admire the badass ladies who comprise the rest of the team and am in awe of their accomplishments. So maybe I should feel ok about myself, too? 

While I struggle with that thought, I’m systematically working my way down the long, long list of logistical prep. Booking tickets, applying for a visa, getting stuck with multiple needles (gotta love those vaccinations). Oh, and sewing phenomenally huge USA patches onto my knickers. (That’s an FIE requirement as well). 

And temporarily removing one of my beloved badger patches from the back pocket of my knickers, since it covers the FIE “800 newtons” certification mark.

And sewing suspenders onto said knickers. (I always cut them off because HELLO!  With a 10-inch differential between waist and hips, these pants are not falling off. But technically required, so back on the elastic goes.)

In the end, I feel ok about my shopping spree because it’s a strategic part of shaping the story of “Badger Goes to Cairo.” Memories are grounded in materiality. Mementos anchor shards of experience that might otherwise slip away. This adventure could be memorable for stuff that goes horrible wrong—lost bags, bad experiences with cabs or ride shares, accidentally eating gluten and making myself sick. Embarrassing myself on the strip. (May none of these happen! Knock on wood, spit and throw salt over my shoulder.)

Hopefully these fashion keepsakes will ground the good memories. The fact that I did earn my way onto the team. The love and support offered by my friends and teammates. And the fact that, at least for this year, I do feel part of something bigger. And dang, it feels good.

Vet 60 Women's Foil World Team 2019
From left: 
Jude Offerle, Anne-Marie Walters,Jennette Starks-Faulkner, Badger Merritt