I couldn't believe she said this to me.
It fell on me like a bomb and at the same time it was hardly a surprise. I had asked her to sniff the back of my hand, where her coworker had sprayed some perfume for me to try. She had sniffed it and said with a grimace on her face:
"Eeww, this smells like an old lady."
"You think so? It has a vintage smell, but I like it." I said after recovering from the original shock of her honesty.
Sales reps always tell you they like whatever you get them to smell. Not this one.
"Men should wear perfume women like. Otherwise, what's the point.", she concluded, turned around on her heel and walked away.
This is the critical question: what is the point of wearing perfume? Answers vary depending on who you ask, but if you dig in and categorize them, you'll find out there are more similarities than differences.
People wear perfume for three main reasons:
- to smell clean,
- to be accepted, and
- to get laid.
I think all of these reasons are wrong. They focus on pleasing others instead of pleasing ourselves - an exercise, which is all downside and no upside to start with. Regardless, let's look at each one of them and figure out why they don't make sense.
1. Wearing Perfume to Smell Clean
Really? How about you shower instead. Seriously, no amount of perfume would ever substitute a good shower with hot water and soap. Don't listen to Beau Brummell's "perfume is the peasant's shower". He never wore a fragrance, so he's disqualified from commenting.
Still, a primary reason people, especially men, wear cologne is that they smell clean. This is the reason we have such a prolixity in clean-smelling scents. Take the latest addition by Dior - Sauvage or the one by Burberry - Mr. Burberry. Both smell like you just got out of the shower.
If you think women are exempt, you are wrong - Pleasures by Estee Lauder (one of their best sellers) smells so much like soap, it makes me sneeze. Estee Lauder also has White Linens, which smells like - take a wild guess - fresh laundry.
The obsession with smelling clean, however, is not anything new. A research paper I read suggests that the soap-smelling mania started in earnest in the 1950's and had its origins in the middle centuries. One could write a book on the topic, but I'll keep it short and tight.
At least since the Bubonic plague in Europe, people associated foul smells with disease and decay. The smell of death and decay was so bad that the physicians and morticians had to wear beaks stuffed with herbs and spices to fight the smell.
The belief that bad odour equals poor health and death carried through the centuries and came to North America with the Puritan immigrants from an Anglo-Saxon origin. They believed that smelling clean is pleasing to God.
Even though at the time perfume was used in Europe, mostly by the aristocracy, the Puritans believed that wearing a scent is a sign of vanity and displeasing to Go. Smelling clean, on the other hand, was seen as a way to honour God and, therefore, was a key element of the Puritan values.
This belief about cleanliness, or, at least, smelling clean, permeated the new American society. Slowly but surely, the smell of soap became a widely-recognized sign that someone is decent and comes from a "good family".
As I write this, I realize how ridiculous it is to equate smelling clean with having good social status. This fallacy, however, is no different than people nowadays believing that someone wearing a suit is somehow more trustworthy.
Regardless of how silly the belief may be, the key point is that smelling clean became a requirement to participate in the social life of many American cities.
2. Wearing Perfume to be Accepted
Things are not much different nowadays. In an implicit way, we wear fresh and clean fragrances to cover up erroneous bad odours and not be shunned.
One of the most embarrassing moments that can happen to a human being in modern society is to smell bad. You don't need a Ph.D. in Sociology to figure this out. You just need to watch a couple of deodorant commercials, which represent the subjects suffering unimaginable embarrassment as they sweat in public.
You may argue that you don't need to put on perfume to smell clean. You just need to shower regularly. This is a valid point, but it misses one key fact from real life. We are paranoid that even though we shower twice a day, we still may sweat, and we may smell bad. Therefore, we spritz ourselves all over with the latest body mist by Victoria's Secret.
I want to emphasize here that, as a society, we have advanced enough to know be subtle when it comes to excluding people who smell bad. Nowadays, odour discrimination is rarely explicit because calling someone outright stinky may lead to other social faux pas, e.g. being perceived as a racist or elitist. This is why, most of us, plug our noses, smile politely and pray that the plague of bad smell never happens to us.
The social norm of smelling clean explains the proliferation of aquatic and white musk based fragrances. Still, however, some of the most popular fragrances on the market smell nothing like clean. Take Spicebomb by Viktor & Rolf, for example. It is exactly what the name says - a spice bomb. There is nothing clean about this scent.
This leads me to my next point. Whenever we don't wear a scent to smell clean and be accepted, we do it to get laid.
3. Wearing Perfume to Get Laid
If you follow the fragrance community on YouTube, some of the most popular videos have names like Top 10 Panty Dropper Fragrances, or The Ultimate Panty Dropper Perfume List.
My Mickers' video Top 10 Panty Dropper Colognes 2014 has over 60,000 views as of writing this. Another one from him called The ULTIMATE Panty Dropper Cologne has over 54,000 views. DracDoc has a three-part series called Top Fragrance Pantry Droppers Judged! in which he and his wife rank perfumes based on their power to seduce.
What these numbers mean is that people are genuinely interested in finding a fragrance that would help them attract partners or, more crudely put, get laid. This is why modern fragrances are marketed either as clean work scents or as seductive and sensual perfumes.
Case in point is the commercial for Valentino Uomo. It depicts a young lad with an artistic nonchalance and aristocratic background jumping over fences in Rome to sneak around with a girl he meets at a midnight soiree. The message is clear: you want to be like him and get laid in Rome? Wear Valentino Uomo.
Before you rush out and get the fragrance, though, I want to let you in on a secret. It's not true. I did have a bottle of Valentino Uomo, and I wore it in Rome, but the girls didn't even bat an eye at my disheveled look. It must have been the lack of aristocratic background.
Wearing perfume to attract sexually people counts on our natural, even animalistic instincts. Many fragrances use sweet notes, pheromones and various musks with animalistic undertones. These smells all act on a subconscious level to make us more attractive and help us seduce.
Ever wondered how you could put into practice between dark chocolate and women's arousal? Wear a gourmand fragrance. Men and women are going to associate you and your scent with the pleasure of eating something sweet and who know where this could get you.
Things can get a little kinky and weird if you opt for some of the less orthodox scents. Some of them use pheromones and fecal matter to evoke sensuality or plain old dirty raunchiness.
You may be saying "eeewww" as you read this, but the truth is that the smell of sweat and body odours turns us on. In my personal experience, the results rarely meet the claims the perfume marketers make, but it doesn't hurt to try.
Overall, I find the idea of wearing a fragrance so that you can get laid very silly and a bit desperate. We, as species, have evolved past the point of selecting our mating partners based purely on smell.
If you survey successful couples what were the top things they found attractive about each other, no one will say it was his or her cologne. Imagine this revelation: "Joseph was quite dull and boring but, oh my, did he smell good with that One Million."
If none of these three reasons is the right one to wear perfume, which is the right one then? It's quite simple. The only good reason to wear perfume is because you like it.
Striving to be accepted in society and have romantic relationships are very human and logical goals. Perfume, however, is the last thing that will help you achieve them.
So, you may as well wear the fragrance you love and be the best you can be in life - this would move you forward a lot more than wearing CK One for the rest of your life.