Last night, my husband and I ventured out to enjoy a night on the town. Our first stop was one of our favorite neighborhood spots. As you might expect, we ran into some friends, and exchanged friendly hugs and kisses.
While our hellos may have been brief, the lingering aroma of our male friend’s cologne on my cheek was not. For the rest of the night, it was if he was snuggled right beside me. I couldn’t shake his scent. Each morsel of food and sip of drink had the distinct flavor of men’s cologne. Later in the evening, I actually asked my husband to sniff my face where the kiss had been planted to confirm my opinion. When we got home, I wasted no time in washing it off.
Men are not the only ones who can overdo it with too much fragrance. A woman whom I admire greatly was known for her tenacity and leadership. Of course, I remember those things, but I also recall her passion for perfume and hugs, such that each remarkable encounter was attended with a distinct olfactory trail.
Attitudes about fragrance are changing. Many avoid perfume, seeing it as an unwanted, unnecessary chemical to put on the body. Others are opposed because some beauty and fragrance brands conduct animal testing or use ingredients that may harm the environment. Nowadays it is not unusual to see “fragrance-free zones” in public spaces as a way to accommodate people with scent sensitivities.
My experience last night made me curious to know how others feel about fragrances. A quick email and text to a few friends and family members resulted in rapid, unequivocal responses. Of the small polling sample, only about half of the women wear perfume on a regular basis; an even smaller number of men wear any fragrance, opting for soap as their only preferred scent. Most of the women questioned prefer their men scentless.
Take this response from my friend DE: “Personally I don’t like to smell [cologne] on men ever. I think some older men think it attracts women—I think it only attracts flies.” Her husband’s comment about women’s perfume was charming: “On women, it’s okay if it’s light and you are close enough for a kiss before you smell it.”
Crediting her own gender with more sensitivity to what might be “too much,” my perfume-wearing girlfriend BV said, “I feel that women in general are more tuned in to not wearing overpowering scent.” And, “I do like a light whiff of perfume on women.” You won’t be surprised to learn that BV’s husband appreciates the smell of a woman with perfume, adding, “It makes for a more sophisticated impression.”
My friend MJ expressed her sentiments well: “Perfumes and scents take me back to a person or place, happy or sad, but always bring forth a memory.” Perhaps my favorite response was from GC: “I did have a boyfriend that once told me my perfume reminded him of his mother . . . Chanel No. 5. That was the end of that bottle!”
Growing up, I can remember my mother’s love for perfume. Her favorite was Giorgio, but she flirted with other scents over the years. My loyalty is singular—I am a Chanel No. 19 eau de parfum devotee, used sparingly. Touted as the last fragrance launched and worn by Coco Chanel, the perfume is described as “a daring, distinctive, uncompromising composition, in the image of Mademoiselle.” That gets me every time.
I’m here if you need me. Until then, y’all behave.
Illustration by Karen Schipper