Friday, May 21, 2010

The Perfume Wars: Old Lady vs Older Woman

Among perfume lovers' circles there are no other two words more despised than "old lady" perfume. Is it because often the people who love ~but also have the economic means to indulge in their passion~ are of more mature years? Is it because it connotates the worst ageism possible, an invisible one? Is it because in the en masse swiping out of "old lady" perfumes one is thus disregarding all the classics and the vintage treasures which evolving trends made obsolete? Possibly it's a combination of all of the above. And why are men left out, as usual? Are there no "old men" fragrances? And if they exist, why isn't the world paying any attention? Considering the subtextual content of language in reference to scents isn't an easy task, probably exactly because olfaction is a function that addresses the brain's limbic system rather than the rational centre of speech. Therefore a correlation between feeling produced by smell and language used to express it is hard to establish.

Some people defend the term "old lady" by saying it's vague, so it could be construed positively. And originally it was. For instance, a beloved grandmother who has a loyalty to a specific fragrance of her youth might be an old lady to emulate. I can think of at least two. After all fragrance vogues come and go: When My Sin by Lanvin launched in 1925 it was the bee's knees (it still is, if we need to be objective), a subversive scent for an emancipated woman. Miss Dior (1947) was aimed at the debutantes of the first years after WWII, hence the "miss" denomination. Now the young ones wear Miss Dior Cherie, a sweet fragrance that bears no olfactory relation to the predecessor and turn up their noses at the original. L'Eau d'Issey (1992) marked a whole generation now in their early forties; in the eyes of a modern teenager, it's terribly passé. The cyclical course of fashions accounts for the unavoidable reversion of norms and perceptions, in regards to scents as with everything else.
It could be a lack of vocabulary and imagination only: The derogatory term is easy to say and to blurb forth, without trying to come up with a phrase that describes our feelings in more precise terms that could convey nuanced meaning. Obviously the mystique of fragrance is terra incognita for many, but I am wondering whether this is an excuse for terminology laziness.

On the other hand, so very often the term "old lady smell" is used in reference not simply to obsolete or old-fashioned aromata, but rather displeasing or even repelling ones: Smells of incontinence, of "dead" hormones (very seldom detractors consider "old lady" perfumes as sexy or attractive), of lacking hygiene due to physical disabilities, smells of medicine and disease...The feeling is almost one of foreboding, a bad omen that has the evil ability to stick around and influence everyone around. "Chela Gonzalez and her friend Nora are looking forward to sixth grade in their El Paso school. They have finally been placed in the A-class, the “smart class,” which is for students who only speak English. Then Chela’s father has a stroke on the first day of school, her grandmother comes to help out, and “the air became thick with the smell of old lady perfume, of dying flowers and alcohol…. It was the smell of bad things.” Thus is constructed the central plot in Claudia Guadalupe Martinez’s debut novel for young adults "The Smell of Old Lady Perfume". No baking cookies, cuddling and fragrant kisses goodnight for this grandma and grandaughter.
A blogger further writes remarking the scent of a woman he passes by: "Perhaps this isn't a smell that old people spray themselves with. Maybe when you get past the menopause, you instantly start emitting it. Old women try to mask it with stronger fragrances, but the old lady smell keeps coming out. As they get older, the smell fades, and is replaced by the smell of old mothballs." There is even a Banning Old Lady Perfume on Facebook! And the pursuit of youth at all costs knows no (commercial) boundaries: there's a magic smell for everything!
Surely it must be a hard-wired mechanism in humans that averts us from anything that reminds us of our own mortality seeing a woman of advanced years as discarded material, an old hag. Before you pppfft it as sheer rubbish though read this: "A researcher at Shiseido Laboratories has traced the problem to a fatty acid known as palmitoleic acid. He has also learned that the body of a person up to about the age of 30 does not secrete a noticeable amount of this substance, but that once a person--whether male or female--hits 40, the volume rises sharply. The volume of palmitoleic acid released by the human body is 10 times as great among people in their seventies as in their forties."
Still, aging is a privilege; the alternative isn't as good. We might as well be a little more accepting and lenient and grow up already!

Spirited discussions ensue whenever the subject is brought up nevertheless: One perplexed 25-year old says she was told by her boyfriend "his favourite perfume is White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor" and asks for opinions on whether it's too mature for her. Before anyone playfully suggests she ditches the boyfriend, she is told instead to "try it on skin first", "its old lady, try smelling Paris hilton, Gwen Stefani, Baby phat, J-Lo, these are just a few in my collection that smell oh so good", that "it’s a little mature but it smells alright. I wouldn’t wear it until I’m like 45+", "I didn’t know they had perfume for young folks and old folks" and yes, finally that "it is marketed to an older more mature woman". Ah...the magic word: "marketed"!

But let's see the world of difference a small substitution does to the term: What if instead of "old lady" we had "older woman"? The image of a prim, conservative little commuter, grey hair in a bun and structured purse in her lap, sensible shoes and no thoughts of enjoying anything naughty is looming whenever the derogatory term is used. Is it the "little" lady in there that is so distasteful to the detractors? One of them even mentions it out of the blue as smelling like "Eau de little old lady" when talking about retro perfumes , so there must be some truth in my theory! In contrast, consider being youngish and being told you smell "like an older woman", especially if this comes from a man. Instantly the characterisation is not negative; far from it. It's "older", not old. It's "woman", a more sensuously rich term than "lady". It's all French (or Italian) films and summers spent as an exchange student someplace where a knowing woman had taught you the secrets and exasperations of adult life Mrs. Robinson-style. Who wouldn't want to be as alluring as Jacqueline Bisset? Still, the ringing-of-some-humiliation term of "cougar" has been concocted against older women going after younger men, so I'm seriously considering whether "old lady" isn't a feminist issue to begin with. It probably is.

A suitable alternative term for "old lady" perfume nevertheless hasn't been universally accepted yet. Would "retro fragrances" be a positive term to replace the "old lady" one when referring to classics & old-fashioned scents? Would "old-fashioned" do when we're talking about something that is not necessarily within our comprehension or taste? Would "displeasing" be an umbrella subjective term for the scents we don't like, forgetting the ageist tentacles which are spreading and engulfing us whenever we use the term "old lady" in a negative light?
We're taking submissions for vocabulary expansion right here as we speak: Offer your own!

pics via and


  1. Retro or vintage scents, perhaps, if they truly are vintage vs. newer remakes.

    I'm not sure we all have to wear the teen-current fragrances to be current, but I suspect it wouldn't hurt to re-examine what we like to wear and if it is pleasing to others around us -- and even if there isn't something we might like better. Maybe use a lighter hand, if it is something we no longer can smell but others can.

  2. Anonymous16:57

    Tricky topic, and one that deserves an airing; thank you for this thought-provoking blog.

    Comparing and contrasting different scents is the only way to determine what each individual finds agreeable on his or her skin. Just because a scent doesn't work out, doesn't mean that *it* is at fault (unless it has gone off!); so "displeasing" or "disagreeable" or even "unwelcome" would work better than simply calling the scent names. Learning to identify the reason for the mis-match between scent and putative user obliges the user to think hard: something about the scent appealed to the putative user before they tried it, otherwise they wouldn't have sought it out or picked it up. What precisely didn't work out for them?

    The scents that attract that ugly label are usually complex and exotic confections, and it takes time to learn to appreciate complexity, so some of the young bloggers may develop more sensitivity and appreciation as they age (it is to be hoped).

    Thinking about it some more and comparing fields of interest, do people who enjoy wine disparage complex mature vintages in favour of fresh grape juice? No: sometimes they want fine wine and sometimes they want juice. Similarly, artists don't wholly dismiss past achievements, only applauding new single-colour or single-theme artworks. All other areas look to and plunder the past for inspiration without denigrating it, so why is scent subject to casual linguistic thoughtlessness and laziness?

    "Retro" works. "Old-fashioned" is still quite dismissive. "Classic" and "Original" and "Vintage" work, especially with reference to scents that have since been reformulated or have even been selected for 'flankers'. "Glamorous" and "Sophisticated" are useful but still depend upon the nose and taste of the tester!

    I think that the classic scents put me in mind of Hollywood dames in film noir - beautiful and compromised gals wearing uncompromising Perfume (with a capital P). Old lady, my eye!

    Keep up the good work educating us with this fab blogspot.

    cheerio, Anna from Edinburgh.

  3. Yes - the "old man" comments are out there and in full me, I've heard them! The first time I wore Montale's Oriental Dream to school, my students did NOT have a problem telling me I "smelled like their Grandfather". Of course I was mortified, but it didn't stop me from wearing it....maybe I'm bringing a little nostalgia into their lives(?)

    I do think that a majority of the people (especially younger consumers) ONLY know what is being advertised in Magazines, TV Commercials and Celebrities, and this greatly influences their ideas about what is "new, current and hot". The few times I have gone on trips and had a student house sit, they are usually blown away by my 150+ collection and ALWAYS say "I've never even heard of most of these! Where did you find them?" I always encourage them to "explore, spray, and experience" as much as they want - as long as they tell me what their favorites were. Without the media screaming at them as to what they should wear to feel "sexy, young and enticing", you'd be amazed at what they pick as their favorites......DK Chaos, Agent Provocateur, Montale Black Aoud(!), Malle's Fleur de Cassie and Le Parfum de Therese, to name a few!!!!

    Bottom line - for me the segregation of fragrance into ageist categories has EVERYTHING to do with the media and much less to do with people's actual olfactory preferences.

    1. Great points. Analogous to their ignorance of music - anything orchestral is called "classical" and disdained. Only musical illiteracy could account for the widespread preference for hip hop. Same thing with fragrances, just lack of exposure.

    2. Not sure if hip hop is only the result of musical illiteracy (though one could see a predominance of lyric over music in it, therefore a shift of focus) as it could also mean that the audience identifies with the lyrics first and likes the beat second. But it definitely touches on the lack of exposure, same with more unusual fragrances; they seem like they're something butt-clenching inducing if one is unfamiliar with them.

  4. Anonymous17:38

    Dear E,

    I love these posts of yours.

    I am not really sure if I could present a single moniker to replace "old lady". I truly think it is laziness; it would be so much more helpful if people would use more creativity when describing perfumes they like or don't like. There are so many older perfumes out there and they span the spectrum from floral to chypre, with stops along the way at orientals, leathers, aldehydics, so it is very difficult to know what we are reacting negatively to if we just paint all of them with the "old lady" brush.

    I just consider myself lucky that the old ladies in my life (all gone now) were never frail, small and tottering (even if physically they were). When I hear "old lady" I see my great grandmother and my two grandmothers and all I think of is incredible strength and lives lived to the fullest. I'll take whatever perfume they were wearing.


  5. Anonymous17:57

    So many things to say! Olfactorama just had a similar entry on her blog, celebrating the 'old lady'. I'm about to turn 39, 'old lady' perfumes are starting to appeal to me.....I sometimes wonder if it's due to the fact that as we get older our senses of taste and smell dim, so perhaps some older women go for perfumes that are fairly strongly scented, and sometimes tend to overapply in the process. I like to think that it's because as you get older, you're buying the things that YOU like rather than purchasing things that are a fad. At this point in my life, I can't wear most things like Dior Cherie, because it's wayyyyyyy too sweet for me and I don't want to smell like a 20 year old. I've earned my faint wrinkles and my graying hair, I have children, I've worked my butt off, and I'm proud to be the age that I am. I want people to know, through scent, that I choose to smell a certain way because I like that scent. If you don't like it, that's OK. If you're going to rip into me because if it, it only says something about you, not me.
    I also think that economics DO come into play. I'm lucky enough that I can buy a bottle of perfume pretty much whenever I want, but I want to buy things that are quality and classic, and speak of elegance and a certain style, adn many of those fragrances tend to be pricey. Every so often I'll try something that's geared to the younger women, and I seriously feel nauseous. Many of them remind me of fragrances from my childhood and frankly, they are a complete turn off. So maybe instead of 'old lady' fragrances we can refer to the younger ones as 'immature' fragrances, but that would be wrong, right? :)
    Anyway, fantastic post. Thank you.

    1. It could be that we wear perfume to please ourselves, not to appear "hot."

    2. Milkbone, I definitely subscribe to the "wear perfume to please ourselves" school of thought; for any age!! :-)

  6. What I think is interesting about this very thought-provoking discussion is just how much it shows how perception is everything. Just as you yourself pointed out - 'Is White Diamonds too mature?'

    i think back to my own long-gone days of wanton youth and what I myself wore. Those were the days when there were very few celebrity scents, very little specifically marketed toward the younger generation, and what there was was on some level or other considered a bit - downmarket. A perfume such as Revlon's 'Charlie' comes to mind.

    So at age 18, I sported a blue Mohawk, an Indian silver nose/earring combo and wore...Narcisse Noire, Miss Dior, Jicky, Magie Noire, no. 19, Cabochard and Chamade, which are the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

    Today, I suppose those would be considered the height of senility, although to be fair, I really think I could only do them justice now.

    The ubiquitous fruitchouli marketing nightmare of the Noughties has a lot to answer for. I wish I knew who came up with the idea that fruit+musk+bubblegum equals 'young, hip and happening'. Just so I'd know who to blame. Or shoot! ;-)

    On the other daughter, a FlowerBomb fanatic (can't stand the stuff myself), gave me a hug this afternoon and asked me what I was wearing, she thought it was so glorious.

    It was - Bellodgia. Created in 1927. With a definite vintage vibe, you might say.

    "You think I smell old?" I asked her.

    "No. You smell like a total goddess!"

    Not so bad, for - an older woman. (47)

    jacqueline Bisset - watch out! ;-)

  7. Anonymous21:28

    that fatty acid you mention is the premise for "ageless perfume" which supposedly counteracts it. problem is, the perfume itself is so insipid and simple, no one with any strength or gumption or personality would want to wear it.

    let's face it, "old lady" perfumes have/had personality and power. in this politically correct age, this is offensive to many (but not all).

    the past couple of generations have been raised to think that light and fresh from the shower are appropriate scents. they use scent to cover and neutralize natural body odors, rather than complement them.

    i give huge kudos to perfumers like francis kurkdjian who incorporate notes reminiscent of the living human body in their perfumes. their scents don't just sit there on your skin like some plastic flower and fruit arrangement. they meld with you and become part of your aura. (i complimented francis on this quality when i met him a few weeks ago, and asked if he did this intentionally, and he said yes, so i'm not just making it up.)

    but so many current perfumes don't do this - they smell completely separate from the body - so when consumers encounter a scent, like a classic chypre, that does this, it is startling, even shocking, to them.

    so far, in the course of smelling hundreds of perfumes, there have been only a couple of that i associate with "old lady" smells. youth dew is the one that comes to mind first. but i don't think it's because of the perfume itself, which i like.

    i think it's because somewhere i smelled it on a woman whose body didn't smell clean and who wore too much of the scent. for some reason i have a mental image of her being in a church.

    there is another one, from the early 1960s i believe, that takes me back to that time. at some point in my childhood i was around an older woman who wore it. in my brain, this scent is associated with an older woman. but she was a real woman encountered at some point in my life.

    my point is, my "old lady perfume" references are contextual. they are attached to a certain place, time and person.

    i wonder: if people actually stopped to consider what "old lady perfume" means to them, would they remember a certain time, place and person that triggered the response?

    to just apply the term willy-nilly is, as you point out, lazy labeling.

    btw, some of the most enthusiastic compliments i get on perfume are for vintage classics and modern chypres. but i know what smells good on my body, so maybe that's why they work for me.

    some women don't know what smells good on them - i know, because i have smelled them - so maybe they're the ones creating the problem!

    (take miss dior cherie, for example. one young woman (late 20s) i know wears it and it's horrible on her (smells sour and unclean) - so some day in the not-too-distant future, miss dior cherie will be "old lady" to those who've been exposed to it on her!

    btw, white diamonds smells cheap and horrible on me, but i once smelled it on a woman who smelled so incredible i had to ask what she had on.

    so when a perfume works, it's magic. when it doesn't maybe it's "old lady perfume."

    great topic! i've been thinking about switching from writing about perfume to writing about ageing, so i love to see this sort of discussion.


  8. Ummm....YEAH.

    You are right to tease out marketing as part of the issue. But scent as marker of an hairstyles...or fashion...might be hard to avoid that. A complex nut, because there are our *personal* associations (such as my grandmother/high school English teacher/parole officer/fusty violin teacher wore that fragrance, or that packaging screams 1940/1970/2007), as well as those marketing tricks. In fact, I don't know if we can escape the fact that we live PMA: Post Marketing Era.

    Plus, do we wear scent to emulate or mark individuality? (Or like to believe we mark our individuality, but do so by throwing in our lot with conscious or unconscious crowd markers?)

    On a different note, I already mentally separate "old lady scent" (think nursing homes, stale clothes, etc.) from "grandma scent" (which is a bit messy, containing both things my grandmothers actually wore, and certain kinds of aldehydes, as well as a nebulous group of scents from a different time). Those labels I took from already existing vocabulary, and probably aren't the most correct for political and other reasons. Hopefully, transparency is a start?

    Still thinking...which is funny, because I had already had a nugget of this thought running around my head before I came here. Ancillary to some thoughts about preference and privilege in floral notes...

  9. I think "classic" is a pretty good term for it, as in classic films, classic(al) music...interesting word, purely in the lexicon sense, isn't it? Class, as in sociological grouping; "classy" (shudder) and so on. One of the commenters above had an interesting point. We didn't have our own perfumes when growing up, particularly. My mother was just as likely to wear Mugnet des Bois as I was, although I remember print ads in "Seventeen" clearly targeted to my age group. I wore Emeraude and Intimate in those days, both (very) old scents, but no one called them old-lady. So, again, it's all about marketing...sugary synthetics aimed at a particular demographic, and dividing the target market into smaller and smaller sections.

  10. "Retro" works for me; I like classic as well. What about nostalgic or period perfumes? I always giggle when I hear teens describe no. 5 as an "old lady" scent. Marilyn wore it, and if she had lived, Marilyn would indeed be an "old lady" now, but what an old lady she would have been! If anyone ever tells me I smell like an old lady, I think I'll just wink and say "Thank you".

  11. Wordbird00:02

    Can I add "Old School" to the vocabulary here? By which I mean a perfume that has some history and heft to it and smells "perfumey" (oriental, chypre, green or whatever). Though I do like 'Retro', 'Vintage' and 'Classical' as well.

    I do think the 'old lady' thing is just one of the barriers you have to go through to smell everything equally. I had a barrier about 'butch' that made me resistant to trying men's fragrances, but I got over that (it was the patchouli) and now lust after a bottle of Yatagan. I struggled with the names on the celebuscents, but steeled myself, did a very fun round of testing in stores and now own a little Kate Moss and a Kylie. Finally, I have broken through the oakmoss barrier to fall in love at last with the chypres that eluded me for so long and smelled like (whisper it) my Grandmother.

    Some clever soul pointed out on Basenotes that nowadays, in reality Old Ladies who stick to perfumes from their heyday will be wearing 70s/80s big hitters like Poison, so what does the term actually mean? My adored Ma is 78 and has worn No. 5 for years, though she has in recent years snagged some bottles off me: Tocade, Ivoire and Shalimar. Hmm. Please can I smell like her? :)

  12. Anonymous02:33

    In one of the links, in the essay, there was an article on the Harvey Prince fragrance that supposidly makes women 'read' as about 10 years younger (or thereabouts) to others. Interesting how the woman who tried it found it overwhelming but her hubby reacted well to it. I found it overwhelming too, and sent it back to QVC for a full refund.

    Ageless is pricy for an EDT (about $100.00) and use to sell on but now it's on

    I find that most 'new' celeb fragrances (with the exception of Halle Berry's first venture and Queen Latifah's first venture) are sickening to me. The new, 'young' juice is often too sweet and/or contains annoying aldehydes mixed with leather notes under the sickening sweet topnotes.[fragrances from Paris Hilton, Kimora Lee Simmons, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey to name a few]

    And, I cannot bear the smell of fake water or fake air. I know those 'read' as young, but they're very heavy to my nose.

    I realize much has to do with what fragrances we became use to growing up. And at 56, I find myself wearing more and more oils from various online shops (usually musks), instead of EDP sprays. I want something that smells sensual, beautiful and comfortable to me.

  13. Great post, and so many interesting comments. I'll be back to comb through them all. My own opinion is that "retro" really denotes something new that is designed to mimic or pay homage to something old, so it's doesn't seem quite the right word for the perfumes our grandmothers wore. I think the truly classic perfumes deserve a dignified word to suggest their importance to modern perfumery. How about "ancestral?"

    As for the "old lady" epithet it is such a universal put down of anything that isn't fruity or sheer that it doesn't really mean anything. I do think there's such a thing as age-appropriate perfume, however. I find it jarring to smell Chanel n.5 on a young woman, and equally jarring to smell Miss Dior Cherie on an old woman--but there's nothing wrong with making a fashion or fragrance choice that other people find a little jarring. It keeps things interesting :-)

  14. Ladies and gents,

    I have sadly neglected responding to your wonderful commentary. Let me take off a minute shortly and reply in full, as you deserve.

  15. K,

    I like both retro and vintage as terms: they have a nostalgic quality about them and a positive vibe.
    It's often hard to "see" (or smell) ourselves through the others' eyes!

  16. Anna,

    thanks for all the interesting thoughts!

    I am of your point of view that often associations play a more important role than anything else. It's difficult to see how it ties, but it's enlightening nonetheless.

    "Old-fashioned" might have a negative ring to it in English. As in veering to obsolete. I was thinking it's probably a nicer term than plain out "old" (as in fossilised), but maybe I am wrong. :P

    And definitely there is some correlation between wine lovers and their appreciation for a complex bouquet (or "nose" as it's also referenced" when smelling a nice glass of something so the term vintage is very fitting. But I love your "sophisticated" or "glamorous" suggestions, especially when associated with silver screen sirens. The trouble begins when you're trying to peg something like White Shoulders or Blue Grass: Perfectly lovely, but glamorous they're not. What then? (This is a difficult one, I know! Suggestions welcome)

  17. M,

    good to know that it's not gender specific! Equality in dismissive epithets for suffocating fumes of people we/they don't play Internet Games with!! :D

  18. M,

    comment cut off before I finished. Duh...

    Your experiences with the students is comparable with mine (not as elaborate all the time, though I'd wish it). I had a recent convertion of someone to an old Hermes: not exactly what one would think of as "youthful" or "easy" but it worked.
    It's GREAT to know that really young people when non affected by marketing and only SMELL can form opinions of their own and make quality choices!

  19. Natalia,

    thanks honey! Glad you found it enjoyable! And thanks for the interesting recounting of your own experience.
    Cherished memories and a good example to follow... :-)

  20. Anon,

    thanks very much for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts with us. P is a darling too and I should go read.
    Your point about older, assumed as more mature people being less impressed by marketing and more tuned in to what they really think certainly rings a vibe. Too often the 25-45 age group is very much at the center of the cyclon of advertising and they tend to sway people into spending no matter how good something is. They do realise the error later I guess (people are not that stupid after all), but by then they have laid down the cash and then another thing is getting advertised etc etc.

    Personally I don't think older people spray more sometimes (obviously not all of them do that!) because they can't smell well. Some of them can smell magnificently. I think ~though I could be off base~ that they have familiarised themselves with a couple of favourites which they don't smell as potently as much because of the familiarisation.

    "Immature" might be correct in several frag market cases (don't get me started!), but it would still involve a certain put down. There probably can't be an umbrella term for them, but the recent trend for overt sweetness is "death by sugar". :P

  21. Tarleisio,

    the commentary is dramatically engaging, I have to give it to my readers, they often come up with great points which put me into thinking. So your efforts are much appreciated and I cherish this dialogue.

    Something tells me your rebellious teenage angst wanted to look and feel more mature than your years, hence the sophisticated (wow) choices! I can but applaud. Not sure if the Mohawk was what designers had thought of, but really, a jarring image sometimes makes an unusual scent even more memorable.
    Bellodgia FWIW is among my favourite florals, it's so darn rich!! Carnation scents have an old-fashioned vibe sometimes, but I don't care. Neither should you! (you're on the right path and love your mother!)

    In regards to blaming for the fruitchoulis, I believe Ann Gotlieb who also supervised the Axe craziness is a prime suspect to point fingers at. She's a great market genius obviously (as attested by her stint with CK and other designers too), but I guess she didn't expect the repurcussions. :/

  22. Minette,

    totally cool comment!

    Yup, the ageless fragrance totally based its marketing on this recent finding. I hear it's unmemorable, so maybe blending in is the secret of youth? LOL!!

    I'm a firm advocate of associations so we're on the same wavelength on what you say. but it's very difficult to cut off associations that are lived in (the same often goes for taste, think back at the first time you tasted, oh I don't know, spinach or arugula or camembert etc) And it's even harder to admit to them!

    Writing about aging is much more important than writing about perfume, I suppose, as it's something that does or will affect us all! I wish you good luck with it, maybe you can combine the work?

  23. S,

    as I always say the only reliable test is the blind test: take a fragrance and put it in a test tube and present it to people without telling names, brands or showing them images. Then you'll know what they think! But how often does that happen. Riiiight.

    In regards to your excellent question about fragrance wearing for emulating or individuality, I think the pendulum swings at both directions. Often when one is younger or is in a specific environment, they tend to pick a popular choice because it makes them feel like they belong. Feeling one belongs is not a bad feeling and it shouldn't be disregarded. It's a human need.
    On the other hand, if there is any hint of rebeliousness, marking out one's territory is essential and what other more visceral medium is there than smell? Also as we grow up we tend to find out how "empty" fads are and what "fools" we have been (in relation to be influenced by marketing significantly over our better judgement) and start mapping out our own paths. At least I think we do.

    I'm not too much for PC so your terms are acceptable on the grounds you define them: transparent descriptions of pleasant and unpleasant associations. Love me some granma scents!
    Would love your thoughts on floral notes and preference. :)

  24. P,

    classic is an accepted and fitting term which I like a lot. I find it's truer in the means of "of eternal quality and harmony", that's the vision I have of it (typical for an academic historian I guess).
    It's very true that there was no specific segregation of scents into young and old back in time. Not to mention that young girls (and young boys) wanted to emulate their parents and elders, witness their clothing, their hair-styles etc. I think the chasm happened in the late 60s (not that I was living through it, but based on what I've read). And was Anais Anais the first scent presented for girls rather than women? I think so. Charlie was for the working girls in their 20s and early 30s as far as I recall the marketing.

    BTW, Intimate...what you're reminding me of.

  25. JA,

    "nostalgic fragrances" is lovely, as is "period scents". The first one instantly puts me into a romantic frame of mind and yes, veering into beautiful.
    Marilyn could have worn anything and she would have owned it. Old lady? She never would be. She had a child-like need for affection it seems, like an eternal puppy. Endearing!

  26. Wordbird,

    "old school fragrances" is a terrific coinage of term! Thanks!!

    There's empowerment in shattering barriers, so I applaud your journey in frag-dom!

    As to the fads of today being considered old tomorrow, mais oui! I already have colleagues eternally stuck in L'Eau d'Issey and Tresor and it dramatically "ages" them in the noses of the very young ones. Fashions are cyclical. Always have been.

    Your granma sounds like a woman who is determined and possesses a discerning eye. Good for her!

  27. Brownie,

    yeah, I can't even begin to dissect the AF scent ad copy without clawing my meowy little ones out. :P

    Celebuscents: Never was there such a flood of them geared towards the youth culture. Shame as they ruin their criterion from such a tender age. But in regards to your exceptions, I have a theory: You have to be black or Hispanic to have some comparatively decent juice out> examples include Halle and Latifah and also J.Lo's couple of scents and Naomi Campell's first. Only SJP doesn't fit that mould theory of mine with her Lovely. (darn, there goes the theory!)

    Personally I find "fake marine" scents amazingly piercing and nothing like the ocean really. The ocean is a very complex smell (salt, iodine, driftwood, sand, some rot) and can't be captured in two or three screechy notes.
    I'm probably being dismissive of some chemists' hard work, people who toiled in the labs for years to patent Calone and the rest, but sorry guys, can't stomach those notes. :/

    Hurray for musk oils! (love the musks myself)

  28. M,

    yeah, thanks for joining! And yes, the commentary is alive and kicking and providing very insightful thoughts which go way beyond what I was presenting in my own article. This is one of the gratifying moments of keeping a blog, seeing dialogue grow and hopefully ideas coming out of it.

    You do find some things jarring on "inappropriate" ages? I always have at the back of my mind LT's comment on No.5 that it should be worn either as an "easing into" perfume-dom or if one only wears that as a single choice. It stuck because I was given No.5 at 14 with a similar introduction ("see what the myth is all about").
    As to MDC, well...I find it jarring on the young too. :P

  29. Nina02:09

    Chanel #5 is an old lady perfume to me because it smells like the older women from church when I was a kid.Giorgio doesn't smell old to me, but it smells both disgusting and comforting because it reminds me of my mother. (Disgusting because I don't like the scent at all,but comforting because it smells like my mothers bed)

    I like MOST other "old lady perfumes" because they remind me of my grandmothers. And yes, I do also associate those scents with mothballs,dusty old paper and clothing and suitcases in old closets in old houses. The powdery floral scents and the mustiness of old things are linked in my mind.

    I had my 30ish brother and his 20ish wife smell some fragrances and their take on most of the older vintage ones were that they smelled "rich" or "classy". Neither thought they smelled "old", probably because the age difference means they don't associate that with my grandmother in her heydey.

    Baby powder and baby wipes, btw, smell nasty to me. I associate that smell with dirty diapers and scented sanitary products for women. Pineapple smells "young and sticky" to me because I associate it with small kids eating fruit cocktail.

  30. Hi!
    New reader here!
    I love your blog and this post is no exception...
    In regard to the term "old lady": for me this is a very specific smell. 1147 Eau de Cologne. Why? I live in Cologne and when I was agrowing up every woman over 60 seemed to smell like this..
    To me this isn´t necessarily a bad scent, on the contrary, I find it comforting, but would not wear it myslef because it isn´t "me".
    But whenever I smell cool lavender (or cool white musks for that matter) my mind goes: "old lady" and creates the image of the woman my grandmother used to be some 15, 20 years ago: vital, active, taking care of her garden and cooling down with a dab of 1147.

  31. Nina,

    I have to say it: Brava! You have cracked a lot of hard nuts in your analysis and you provided some excellent commentary.
    Indeed I found myself nodding my head with many of your observations. I hadn't thought of diapers and baby wipes scents that way, although I can see how the association with dirty diapers and baby wipes could be formed. And yes, age gaps can account for so different associations with what is considered "old lady" or not! It's bound to be a cyclical thing, since fashions change.

    Thanks for your wonderful insights!

  32. Eva,

    thanks for stopping by and for commenting; and for your nice words, I'm touched! :-)

    4711 is such a classic standby (especially in Germany but also in the Mediterranean) that I can very well see how someone might associate it with older people just because they did drench themselves with it. I know several older relatives who had huge vats in their bathrooms for summer wearing.

    How very intriguing about cool lavender and cool white musks in the same breath! I hadn't thought about them that way and I can totally see it now.

    Hope to see you often on our pages. :-)

  33. Anonymous11:16

    I use the term "Old Lady Perfume" sparingly, and then it usually means a fragrance with too many conflicting notes, a fragrance that doesn't "flow". It blossoms in stops and starts and hiccups and it's so powdery, it's positively dusty. Anything from La Prairie fits this description.

    "Retro" or "old-fashioned" do not mean "old lady". A fragrance can be gorgeously old-fashioned but young and fresh in spirit.

    Old-Lady is something else, like musty unwashed clothes a where fragrance mixed with dust, face powder, make-up, rouge, layer after layer, until it smells unclean.

    If you can find another word for it, great.

    Nile Goddess

  34. When I hear the phrase "Old Lady" perfume, I assume they mean cheap, old fashioned scents that you could buy in a local chemist (e.g. Tweed, Blue Grass). I don't mind if a fragrance is "vintage"; in fact, I am more likely to go for a rarer classic, as I cannot stand smelling like anyone else. If someone I don't like wears a particular perfume (whatever their age), that perfume becomes offensive to me! I always associate rose scents with lovely cuddly grannies- for that reason I adore Penhaligon's Elizabethan Rose.

  35. Being of a certain age myself, I am quickly offended by such crass dismissal. If you can't express yourself eloquently, you go to superficial short cut insults. Instead of saying "The fragrance reacted to my body chemistry badly" you write a review like "smells like vomit, yuk!" Instead of remarking that a scent is dated, you use the "old lady" bomb. Any such references lead me to the immediate assumption that you are a moron. I am 56, I am no longer a sweet young thing. I am not mature however, never have been and not likely to become so at this point. I have never especially identified with my own age group, when I was young I preferred older friends and now I like to also have some that are much younger. What is an old lady to me is different than it is to someone else, and I am painfully aware that I could put in the god awful grouping. But my mother is still around and there is no denying that her group are definitely old ladies. I remember my mother particularly having a fondness for Youth Dew, and while it would bring up memories for me - I have no desire to wear it. I won't demean it with such a moniker however. I haven't smelled it in years, I assume it still smells quite good. Would it be out of context on a 25 y.o.? I honestly don't know. I worked with a number of elderly people a few years ago and I don't remember most of them having noticeable scents. A few over blasted the fragrance, but I think you find that in any group.

    Scent preferences come and go, some remain classic even if they are dated. I am obsessed with vintage scents, and I want to smell like Carole Lombard or Jean Harlow. Or even before that. I suspect these vintage gems have run the generational gamut way past being old lady scents, because what seems to be in that category are the well known fragrances of the 70s and 80s.

    I will say what I told a friend once, don't count your youth as an attribute. It is too fleeting. If you are wonderful because you are young, what will you be in a few years? If you are truly wonderful, you will remain so no matter what age you become. Consider the qualities that can increase rather than those that unavoidably diminish.

    Some day what is fresh and popular now will be cast aside with that O.L. insult. The name Brittney will be as dated as Betty is now. It is inevitable, I suppose. Each generation wants to separate itself and make their own statement and that is positive. I just hope they can express that in terms that aren't an insult to everyone else.

  36. There is "old man" cologne--the smell of cologne bottles from the 60's in my grandparent's bathroom closet where all the elements have evaporated except for vetiver and oakmoss.

  37. Joye,

    ha, that's interesting (and hilarious!)

  38. Just stumbled on this topic a bit late. I always cringe at the term “old-lady perfume,” not because I see any problem with an individual’s association of a certain perfume to a given age group (younger or older). What bothers me is that in everyday speech “old lady” is *only* used condescendingly (oh! What a sweet little old lady!), or disparagingly: one would never refer to a colleague as an “old lady” (unless to ridicule her, etc.). As you pointed out, “older woman” is quite a different story--and probably far from people mean when they refer to old-lady perfume.

    If it is about a perfume that is not the latest trend, as others have pointed out, there’s a spectrum of more precise words to use, depending on the intention : old fashioned (not so interesting); retro (cool); classic ( highly respected); etc.

    As for an alternative to “old-lady perfume.” Hmmm. “Displeasingly old-fashioned/ Displeasingly out of style”? But I suspect people mean something else like "stuffy" or "too rich and complicated" or something with deep memory ties that is harder to encapsulate: "reminds-me-of-my-great-aunt-and-so-cannot-be-seductive-to-me."

    Sorry to blather on. The topic fascinates me!

    1. I would proffer that a lot of what is considered "old lady" scent is not complex, but quite the opposite. Lots of simple, blunt components dispersed in a lot of alcohol so you "pay attention" and then fading quickly. So hard to characterize. Some of it does have to do with what was "in fashion" in a particular era. I remember when I was young, there was a populist period of citrus, then musk, some patchouli...There was a company called Sweet Earth cosmetics and fragrance - mostly in solid form - to this day I would recognize the "mimosa" in solid form. Jean Nate is another example of something that was once ubiquitous and very popular, based on the constituent fragrances that were in vogue at the time.

  39. Cheryl,

    nothing wrong with being late in any thread, I hope to be able to reply to everyone actually no matter the timing.

    Well, as you say, it's a term that is either condescending or disparaging, hence the trouble and sensitivity with it. If we used "old fashioned" (which does denote what most benign people mean) then we'd be far more comfortable. I'm sure "stuffy" does go into the equation too, as "fresh" (even when brandished for things which do not smell fresh per se!) is considered a positive term, uniformly in my experience when perfume consulting.
    Basically "fresh" is whatever is not "stuffy" (LOL) and by those terms we're not describing the actual literal meaning of the words but different "styles" and "trends" of perfumes over the decades (what was fresh 30 years ago is stuffy now and what is fresh now will become stuffy 30 years from now and so on...). It makes for one hell of confusion, especially among general folks who don't have the necessary vocabulary to analyse what they smell and what they feel (NB: I consider everyone's smell perception and feeling as 100% valid, I just think that some are more verbal-inclined or trained than others).

    But again as you point out perhaps there is something deeper than just "out of fashion" involved, which is why the term hasn't caught on. Most people buying perfume are still hooked by the whole seduction kit & caboodle and believe that perfume should be something to attract sexual partners (or at least be pleasant to potential sexual partners, even if there is no intention of actually making them partners in the act) so the association with something an auntie or grandmother wore all her life is too strong to break out from.
    I think you're definitely on to something with that remark you made! It makes total sense and explains the denial with which "positive" perfume (i.e. sex thang) is NOT associated with old people (i.e. for whom the generally held immature point of view is that their having sex at all is eww).

    It all boils down to sex again, doesn't it, which might also explain why the enmity towards women in particular! (classical target)

  40. In line with what joye said about "old man" perfume, "old lady" perfume to me is something heavy in white flowers and/or amber and/or powder which has gone bad. That heavy perfume smell, weirdly soured and characterless. That's what "old ladies" as opposed to "older women" wear -- discoloured scent from an ancient bottle given them for their birthday twenty-five or thirty years ago, left to sit out on a vanity ever since.

    My particular skin is such that I will also "sour" perfumes with vulnerable ingredients (which include -- hah! many musks, florals and aldehydes!) almost immediately. So for me, these go into my mental "old lady" perfume box, where they might and probably do smell lovely on someone else. I hope I'll have the sense to stop wearing any scent when age makes me incapable of knowing when or if it's gone "off".

  41. CompassRose,

    this is a fascinating observation!!

    I suppose there's some "gone off" element about the woman herself, if she can't distinguish that her perfume has gone off. Now THIS could be a potent sign to the "smeller" that the off perfume (which they could not necessarily know is off, if they don't know what it is) signifies deterioration in general, not just of the product, but acts as a reminder of life's demise, of decline and death. THAT can be pretty potent to shake off!

    Spot on!

    1. CompassRose has an excellent point, and to me that's exactly what 'old lady' perfume is. It's not really the lady that's old, it's the perfume itself that has aged to something it was not originally meant to be. Unfortunately, it's really only 'old ladies' who wear that type of perfume. It could be for a couple of reasons, though.
      1- she's kept using the perfume (albeit not real often) over the years, so cannot tell that it's 'off' because it's a gradual thing. Kind of like it's hard to see your own kids grow. They change, but it's so slow we don't 'see' it happening.
      2- people of that age are less quick to throw something out. They have more of the "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" mentality. Not really the best thing when it comes to 'old' perfume, but that's just the way they are.

  42. Anonymous04:28

    I like "classic", if we must have a label. One of the blogs you linked to condescendingly referred to women who appreciate things like sandalwood as "old ladies" and "unsophisticated". LOL I wonder if this teen-aged sophisticate has a vault filled with Mysore sandalwood, oakmoss, rose attar, ambergris, etc.

    I somehow doubt that anybody ever told Nefertiti or Cleopatra that musk and jasmine made them smell like little old ladies. So send some of that sandalwood in my unsophisticated direction! If only I could find legal musk, life would be perfect. I too love Bellodgia like several earlier posters - and my hormones are just fine, thank you very much.


  43. Older Lady14:00

    As a73year old woman I feel qualified to give my opinion on how I would like to be referred to.
    I like older lady. Older woman is a bit like 'the other woman'. Lady seems more elegant and refined.
    Cleanliness is not a prerogative of the young, I have smelt some very unpleasant young people as well!
    I have arrived at this blog because as my social life is shrinking to visiting friends in their homes and visiting local restaurants, I don't want a heavy heady perfume, however classic and expensive. I want to wear a perfume that makes me feel good but does not offend anyone else. So I have been exploring and testing what is available in this maze of consumerism.
    I am coming to the conclusion that body creams and EDTs are the way to go. Essential oil blends are also a possibility as the man made scents don't sit well on my skin.
    I am fully entertained by your well written articles. Thank you.

  44. Isabella,

    LOL, there's a point in everything you write there.
    I supose Nefertiti and Cleopatra had the benefit of a culture that didn't have insist on congregating aromas re: age, but rather social strata. That allows for the luxury of intense smells more readily.

    I think it all boils down to good manners, an intelligent appreciation of your audience and last but not least a conviction in your guns.

  45. Older lady,

    spoken with a full energetic mind! Thank you for coming here and gracing us with your authentic experience. And kudos for knowing how to apply (and what) so as to appear pleasant while pleasing yourself as well. Really, I can't offer a better advice.
    I hope you find things to strike your fancy in these pages and I'm noting down that "older lady" isn't a bad term, as spoken by a septuagenarian herself. Good to know! (and see, I didn't think about the connection with "the other woman", so thanks for that clarification)

  46. Anonymous18:24

    To me this whole thing relates to the difference between style and fashion / trends. "Fashion fades, style is eternal."
    As a young person I have every reason to say that regarding such things most of my peers are idiots with no taste on their own and terrified of displaying anything original or unique. They follow trends blindly because they have no style. Trends for me are a poor substitute for style. Most people of my age whenever they smell a classic with a backbone, character and imagination, turn up their noses and call it "old lady" or say "I believe it suits older ladies"... I just hope that the all-identical, characterless stuff which is so trendy today will leave soon because I prefer smelling the timeless ones!
    Oh, and just because I'm young I won't smell of Paris Hilton and shit like that. These are the best years of my life and I want to smell my best ever for God's sake!

  47. Anon,

    I can't but applaud your desire to map out your own itinerary, unrestrained by peer pressure, and your desire to make the best out of your prime. If only everyone was acting against the "sheeple" brainwash...

    Thanks for commenting! :-)

  48. Anonymous12:46

    It is perfume... just a light amount AFTER a shower; not a gallon soaking INSTEAD of a shower.

    Old ladies must have their olfactories shut down soon after the ovaries just to be in the same room with themselves after hosing themselves down with a vat of that Eau de Stench. Its worse than those guys who marinate in drums of vintage Hai Karate aftershave (doubles as a bug repellant and.
    paint stripper).

    Open note to anyone using 'just a little more perfume'... Ease up on that stuff! You are far more attractive with a light, tantalyzing scent than a coma-inducing chemical assault. The universe's nasal passages will thank you.

  49. What may be better than mix Amouage Dia and Amouage Gold ?---This mix is for LADY ,not for GIRL

  50. What may be better than mix of Amouage Dia and Amouage Gold ?--This mix is for Lady ,not for Girl-----I want to be OLD to wear these perfumes !

  51. Anon,

    though I thank you for taking the time to post a comment, I don't really know what to think of this one.

    You say:
    "It is perfume... just a light amount AFTER a shower; not a gallon soaking INSTEAD of a shower."
    There is a misunderstanding here: people who overdose with perfume don't necessarily do it to hide B.O. I know clean people, immaculately clean people who sometimes spray on a bit more; it can be much but the implication in your statement is that anyone who wears something potent is dirty. Not so. Just saying.

    You also say:
    "Old ladies must have their olfactories shut down soon after the ovaries just to be in the same room with themselves after hosing themselves down with a vat of that Eau de Stench. Its worse than those guys who marinate in drums of vintage Hai Karate aftershave (doubles as a bug repellant and.
    paint stripper)."

    Now, there's ageism if we needed an illustration of it!

    First of all, there is an implied put down on women past menopause. Though I'm not one of them, I'd like to see some kindness extended to them. We'll all going to get there, you know (if we're lucky enough). Secondly, though old people have been accused of losing part of their smell perception (ergo being more prone to overdosing), actually a recent scientific study found that that is not so. Smell is one of the last senses to "go" (same with touch). It's not like hearing or seeing.
    Eau de Stench just means you don't like what you smell on older people as an added put on fragrance: this actually sort of clashes with what you said above about B.O. Is it the perfume or the B.O that offends you? As to Hair Karate and men overdosing, it happens, I suppose. People also throw tantrums, insult other people, smoke incessantly with no consideration of others on occasion, push in queues and shout/honk out in the street hurting out ears. We all have to deal with these things, grow up, please.

    Last but not least, you say:
    "Open note to anyone using 'just a little more perfume'... Ease up on that stuff! You are far more attractive with a light, tantalyzing scent than a coma-inducing chemical assault. The universe's nasal passages will thank you."

    I generally agree with that part. If you have any "tantalyzing" suggestions we're all ears.

  52. Tutsie,

    now those are perfumes to make old seem desirable. Seem grown up rather than decommissioned. ;-)

  53. I know you bloged this a long time ago, but I just needet to say that I love White Diamonds too.

    1. Some things persist for a reason :-)

  54. Kristal14:43

    Wow, I am really late to the party, but this is my 2 cents:
    - I have been guilty of using "old lady" many times.
    - each and every time I've done it, it was to point to a perfume that is loaded with oakmoss, civet, leather, tuberose and dirty musks.
    - in my mind, "old lady" is connected not to the actual age of the woman, but with the type of perfumes popular 30 years ago. Femme Rochas, Dolce Gabbana Red Cap, Youth Dew and the likes. They scream old lady because most of the older ladies wear and love them. I hate all these notes, no matter when was the perfume made. I wouldn't care if the perfumes were created 100 or 2 years ago, if they bare any ressemblance with the ones mentioned above, in my mind I see big neon flashes: old lady. Sorry, folks, it has nothing to do with hygene or menopause or anything else, but with some string, old fashioned notes I cannot connect with. As a very young woman I wore Amarige. I got married in it, and at that time I thought it smells like flowers, young, romantic and easy going. I am 40 now and i would never ever touch that stuff again. It feels old now and i would never feel comfortable with it. i know lots of women who keep wearing their hair/make up or clothes just the way the did they 20 or 30 yaers ago and they look peculiar and, well, old. They even look older, like pointing directly to what has changed and aged in them. It is impossible to look at them and not remember instantly the way they looked before. Keeping hair and clothes just about the same over a long time makes all little changes to stick out.
    - people who point to Jacqueline Bisset (or the likes) regarding how spectacular an older aged woman can be forget one simple thing: most of us do NOT look like Jaqueline Bisset. Jaqueline Bisset looks damn good for her age and looked amazing as a younger woman too. It does not apply universally, or the whole "ageing" thing wouldn't exist.
    - it is true we could use vintage/old fashioned perfume as an alternative but political corectenss is young and people have been using various expressions like this for over 10,000... It is called "world's mouth"and no PC regulation will ever change that.
    - young, girly and sugared perfumes are regularly trashed by "vintage" lovers and no young folk crowd has ever put such energy in making older guys stop it. PC should work both ways or no way at all.
    - finally, I have observed there are mainly americans who bother with this. In America people expect everybody not to hurt them, not to tell upfront what they think. Fat people are angry when they are confronted with reality, they prefer to be called "curvy", very short people want to be called "liliputans" and so on and so on with everything. It is a human thing to be hurt but, really, as long as all these cathegories do not represent the majority, it is inevitable the majority will somehow classify verbally the minority. This is why language developped in the first place, to describe the infinite nuances in reality. "Old ladies parfume" wouldn't exist if the majority liked this types of perfumes. Of course, there are still folloewers of this trend but perfumery changed a lot (it doesn't matter if it is for the good or the bad, it just has"). Acceptance would make a lot of people a lot happier.

  55. Hilde,

    thanks for the chiming in, anyway. This is a popular fragrance, so I deduce it's for a reason! Enjoy!

  56. Kristal,

    oh gosh, Amarige is so choke-full of TUBEROSE!!

    Glad to see it set in writing: yup, these are notes connected to old ladies because old ladies use them. The demonization is just an association with an older set to whom people feel the need to distance themselves from. Same as teenagers feel the need to distance themselves from us.

    Of course it's cultural. The cupcake fragrances of today are going to appear "old" tomorro. There's no inherent "classiness" or 'glamor" in any genre, just the associations given to it. The past has always the tendency to appear glossed over, because there's the requisite distance from it, so WWII seems oh-so-very-glamorous an era when in fact it wasn't at all. But the tough realities aren't pinned on Pinterest or mentioned in lifestyle books! So I get the "vintage" phenomenon.

    And I agree that being PC is an American phenomenon. Still, I kinda feel as I mature myself that the object of criticism shouldn't feel damned for the criticism and try to change, if they don't feel like they need to on their own. It's rather the criticizer's manners that should prevent them from being negative in public. So blaming someone as an "old lady" just perpetuates a stereotype. This is the reason people object to, it not that they discredit the fact that above a certain age you're old, or that fat people aren't really fat etc. It's more like "yup, fat/old/short etc. is OK, it's not contagious nor is it a moral defect". So it shouldn't be in the domain of public discussion at all.

    As to JB, she's gorgeous and always has been. If one is that gorgeous they can wear hatever they darn please, have you noticed? Yes, even moss, dirty musks and heavy florals. :-P

    Last Parthian shot: I have a relative that looks almost always the same (with minor changes necessitated by the times). 50 years have passed on off her and you can leaf the family album and say "my god, not a day has seems to have gone by, she looks like she always did!".
    There's something to be said about finding your unique style and then adhering to it, instead of constantly going with the flow.

  57. Alba04:37

    While I was in department store looking through shelves of the perfumes, very elegant looking lady who looked well past 60 with snow white bob hair walked past me, smelling great and VERY OLD at the same time. That got me thinking why she struck me so old fashioned. The scent she was wearing was expensive one that probably was from 1980' or 1970 potently powdery. If a young lady wears that very same scent, maybe she would seem special since these days it is quite common if I smell either fresh/floral or gourmand/floral from age bracket of 15~35yo. After that encounter, I think twice before I reach "the old favorites". They are beautiful, of course, but when you associate scents with the era and then age of wearer, I can't stop thinking that I should keep trying new scents not just sticking to old masterpiece like me being relic....When I become 70 yo someday, I love to smell current.
    Strangely, some scents are timeless at least to my nose. they are very present. For example, I own several leather based scents such as Knize ten and Bel Amis Hermes. For my nose, Knize ten is very elegant and formal and present whereas Bel amis reminds me of by-gone era. It smells nice and formal but dated. I can't shake up the feeling that I would never want to spray No.5 or EL Beautiful without feeling self-consicous. but I have no problem with Aromatic elixir........put it this way, it may be different the case by case.

    1. Case by case is certainly a realistic assessment, because there can be no "blanket" approach.

      I have to say that not all powdery scents are old fashioned. Several current blockbusters are very powdery: Κenzo Flower, Chloe Love, Cashmere Mist....

      As to people smelling like "relics" as you say, I think people tend to love and use what reminds me of their "heyday", whenever that was according to them (can be their 20s, their 30s or their 40s in many cases....). This is an observation I have made talking with people while consulting privately.

  58. Anonymous07:39

    Very, very interesting topic, I am sorry for finding it so late.
    This issue has given me huge surprises and caused me many contradictory thoughts. In Romanian there is a very ugly and dismissing word for "Old Woman" - BABA. And lots of people use it related to perfumes. Very rude.
    Examples of my ownfragrant adventures on both sides of the fence:
    First: I liked to wear Hypnotic Poison in 2003-2005. I was in my mid thirties and my lady coworker 8 years younger ( very youthful, fancy, funny, party-girl-type) told it as being "Old lady. The other lady-coworkers (various ages) told it as being " (too) sweet", " (too) heavy", " (too) big". My mom told it is "vamp", "bull arousing", "terrestrial", "provocative"... The men - any age, no exception- just adored it. I had to deal with a lot of flirts :).

    Second: in my 20-30-s I perceived "L'Air du Temps", Femme de Rochas, Chanel No5,Jacomo Silences, K.L.'s Chloe, Magie Noire, Amarige, Arpege,... as ... "Old Lady" :)... I felt them on relatives or teachers/ friends/ coworkers... I didn't only associate the smell to the age of the wearer, but the smell itself told me something like "back off, bunny, this is NOT your territory!" ... I simply HATED rose smell, rose oil, roses... (A few nasty, grumpy or nagging aunties and neighbors wore it. Bulgarian rose oil was one of the few fragrances could be found and very cheep in my childhood our communist country... ) I enjoyed the green, fresh, light, citrusy, ozonic scents.I had years wearing onlyunisex fragrances or men's colgnes As years passed, I began to like florals... than rounder and softer florals and fruity perfumes... then the bittersweet...then more complex ones (fruity chypres, orientals, spicy/ sweet/ resinous... till the most challenging ones. I have all the above-mentioned fragrances in my colection and in my regular rotation of use. And I have about 10 rose soliflores, besides rose water, arabian rose attars and rose soap...rose petals everywhere in my house dousing in rose smell :)

    Third: a lady friend of mine, in her 30-s complimented me wearing Bellodgia as "Very young smell", I would see it on a girl in her 20-s !!!!

    Our sense of smell is more deeply linked to our deep being than we can admit. And it changes together with us.
    Some of us grow later into real womanhood and feel and are for a very long time some kind of androgionous. Or are structurally infantile and do not deal with the "risque" sides of their lives ( I don't mean necessarily the erotic side) Our sense of smell is deeply related to our relationship to the material and immaterial universe, to materials - vegetal, animal, mineral... to people, To our memories. Influenced by our hormones and mood...


  59. Anonymous07:39

    So, the ageist remarks have , IMO , the following causes:
    1) The mechanism of olfaction and its evolution in time. Very sharp olfactory sense in the youth, decreasing with age.
    2) The lack of smell-experience and training.... Living in an artificial environment with artificial flavors. We like and get friendly with things we can identify and control... at the level we are. We think all the world has to smell like our favorite fruits, desserts and flowers or body products. Including the ones we love, like or use.
    3) Immaturity (due to age or structure or both).. . Nose perceives anything more complex as "too complicated" - in the similar vein with parent's and teacher's nagging "grow up my Son/ My girl! We don't want to grow up. As a teenager, the formula is simple and brutal: growing up = getting old. Grown up (complex, challenging) scent = old scent. Dixit!, We don't admit that word can be sweaty, skanky, sour, bitter, hard, Experimenting new smells in various environments develops our sense of smell, changes perception and approach, leads to maturation (God help us ! :) )
    4) It is about how we accept ourselves (including our corporal and spiritual odor ), and how we take responsibility. At which level of complexity is our thinking, feeling, action? How we deal with the bitter, the harsh, the overpowering, the provocative aspects of life? I strongly believe in the symbolism of scent.... I developed, based on my experiences a whole theory about big white flowers... that can seem funny for many people :)
    5) Scent Memory and Associations. Complex and grand perfumes were felt on ladies of a certain age.... sometimes with bad connotations attached. Thinking on sour, nagging aunties or teachers....
    6) Feeling overpowered by the full-blooming feminity of a woman older than our age we tend to persiflate her look, her body's curves and her smell. Or we want her to be veeery old and uninteresting for men. Simple, animalic rivality
    7) The fear from oldness, rejection and death. Pure psychology.
    8) Fashion. Trends of certain periods, remaining as dated associations.
    9) Media manipulating all this... a lot of bloggers explained, I don't have to repeat.


  60. Anonymous07:40

    In a certain frame, the "Old lady" tagging is a spontaneous, normal reaction - just don't let this statement to be limitative and rude. I reacted to fragrances many many times like this... (for some I feel guilty)... Now, in my late 40 -s I accept, like and even love a huge range of scents... I find interesting and lovely facets in the most challenging compositions. Even the ones that I hated from all my heart 10- 20 years ago... But I feel totally inadequate and disturbing the ozonic, the overload of "white musk" , ambrox and patchouli... and the high-pitched Lily and LOTV fragrances.
    Sorry for my long writing, it is no problem if you don't read it, for me it was an exercise to begin expressing the very complicated way I feel about this Issue, whirling up and down in my head.
    Please, if you are so kind, recommend me some books to broaden my scent/ fragrance culture.


    1. Your comments are absolutely fascinating and of course I have read them.

      I think one good place to start on reading is the The Smell Culture Reader (it's findable on Amazon). Lots of material from anthropoligical, sociological, biological, literature and aesthetics points of view on the sense of smell and scents.


    2. Anonymous19:42

      Thank You very much, I am very happy you appreciated my comments, you are very kind. Sorry for the spelling :)
      I will try to find this book. Till this moment I read only Octavian Coifan's book about perfumes (in romanian, my native language - and his), and more years ago at the very beginning of my fragrance madness John Oakes "Book Of Perfume" and "New Book Of Perfume". And 4 years ago I discovered the Blogs... Yours, Bois de Jasmin, Grain de Musc etc. I try to explain myself what is so fascinating about perfumes...

    3. You're welcome, it's the truth :-)

      The Oakes books are good fun. And not without nuggets of wisdom. Wish I knew how to read Romanian as Octavian is a wonderful resource (and a very kind guy too). But he's not interested in publishing in English (and who can blame him?) The blogs do provide alternative points of view and it's good that everyone has their own viewpoint and "niche". Thus the dialogue in the online community is enriched.

      It's great that you have been fascinated by this world of scents and hope to see you around some more. Lots of different areas and subjects to discuss. For instance: what is the cultural perception of fragrance in your native country? What do people wear most? What do they consider "classy" or "desirable" and what do they consider the opposite? I think sharing with our readers would be fascinating indeed!! Looking forward to it, if you find this idea interesting. (You can also mail me using Contact)

  61. Anonymous23:49

    I hate that "old lady" and "granny" handle. It assumes that people who like a scent others feel is "old lady" have no taste, and further assumes that those of us who are older, have no taste; none of us. Perfume can be "dated", "out of style" or "once in style". It can have a "mature vibe", "not currently found in popular mainstream scents", "more enjoyable to a seasoned nose", "evoking a time gone by"...there are a million ways to describe something you DON'T LIKE, including naming the fragrance notes you specifically dislike. If it is "old lady", then you don't like it, so give some reasons. Personally, I believe people who insist on using this term not only lack empathy, but also lack an adequate vocabulary to describe what they want to say. Ten thumbs down to ageist labeling. It is rude in Romanian, and equally rude in English. Sometimes you've got to be fluent in a language to understand the nuances, and I suspect this is what happened when "old lady" became so casually coined. Totally rude, crude and unkind. Love this blog and site. Thanks for letting me rant! :)

    1. Thanks Anon for commenting and for all those wonderful alternatives!! (wow, such good ones)

      I personally think it's not that much that they consider elders to have "no taste" (or "bad taste") so much as they consider them terminated as sexual beings and they want to avoid the association with that. I read a local forum frequented for the quite young (most late teens and 20somethings) and it's eye opening on lots of subjects. Young people are -surprisingly!!-especially conservative and have a very blinkered approach to many subjects, it transpires. They can be cruel in their wording, totally true, and quite unkind. Then again they're unkind to other things, such as moral failings, fat, sexual orientation sometimes, you name it. Youth considers itself indestructible and all conquering, as if they possess a "pure truth". It's all inexperience of course and a wrapped idealism.

      It seems like the very young deign mature, middle age and beyond people both incapable of sexual attraction and/or physical stimulation and at the same time not destined for either! (as in a matter of natural decline and moral responsibility to be "a certain way"). Therefore any association with something that "old" people wear is automatically considered unsexy and therefore undesirable by association.
      This explains why the genre of scents changes with the changing generations. I think....

  62. Anonymous03:48

    I have definitely heard people describe fragrances as "old man" colognes, but not with the same connotation of unpleasantness. The ones that most readily come to mind are Kouros, Old Spice, and Polo. Usually people seem to be saying that the fragrance in question is for mature men, yet they could very well find it pleasant (often the case with Old Spice, which reminds women of their fathers). -Todd

    1. Thanks Todd. I suppose it reinforces the sexism that runs through the fabric of society on other aspects as well. How dare older women wear this stuff?? I do love Old Spice myself, even though my father never wore it. It's a lovely smell, you know? :-) Thanks for chiming in, much appreciated.

  63. I like "classic." Many of the classics are complex scents that aren't always "easy" to get. True. But many of them are masterpieces of perfumery. Maybe it takes a little more age to appreciate something more complicated? I don't like all of the classics, but I like a lot of them. It would never occur to me that they were bad because they were developed before I was born, or dismiss them as "old lady" because they don't smell like they were designed last year and have a celebrity's name on them. What an odd notion. If anything, my immediate reaction is the opposite: they must be better because they're older, and many contemporary perfumes aren't complex at all and they mostly all smell very similar: like candy or fruit. So I guess I have my prejudices, too.

    1. LA,

      thanks for the very succinct comment. I suppose this is something that has to do with an acquired taste? We don't expect babies and little kids to really appreciate aubergines or stiff dry red wine but they often grow into them slowly as they grow up, right? I think this has something to do with what you say. Young people are conditioned nowadays to lay their disposable pocket money on celebrity scents and fruity-candy stuff so they don't have the necessary distance with perfume as a whole, whereas it was more of a rite of passage for older generations, so they could better appreciate the complex mixes of the classics when it was time. Nowadays everything is on higher speed, and it shows.
      Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment! :-)

  64. Anonymous16:53

    I think better use of the words "sophisticated" and "classic" might help. Not every fragrance is truly classic, nor sophisticated, regardless of how many times those words are bandied about. These words are indicative of the refinement of taste that comes with maturity and the elegance and uniqueness of style that comes with life experience and self knowledge. Perhaps accurate recounting of the constituents would be helpful, as some components are more modern, while others have been in use since the dawn of the art form. -But I suppose if we have to choose a word, vintage might be a good choice.

    1. Vintage is a good one, in the sense that it evokes a retro ambience. As you say classic is debatable. Not everything is a true classic. And some classics are not entirely too sophisticated either. (For example an eau de Cologne is non sophisticated by default; its very purpose is to broadcast joie de vivre).
      I believe that with advanced sensual education these oversimplifications will cease to exist. People might then use the full capacity of language to denote nuance. One can be hopeful, right?
      Thanks for chiming in with your comment!

  65. Hello,

    I've just recently discovered your blog! I enjoyed this entry and the comments, it has made me think more deeply about scent and its language of description, which I have started doing more of lately.

    I fell into obsessive love with L'Heure Bleue at 26. I was totally surprised when I smelled and love it, because I had a feeling that I wasn't "supposed" to like it... I knew it was perceived as old-fashioned, and not for a young woman. But it made me light up to wear it, it was so gorgeous. I got a lot of "old lady" and "powdery" comments when I wore it, but I really didn't care and still wear it and am obsessed with it. (32 now.)

    I think it is the notes in a scent that we associate with certain people in our lives, that makes us connote a scent as "old lady" - or whatever else we think a scent represents.

    I recently tried Tabu by Dana - one of those tiny minis from a coffret offering, vintage, unopened, all notes seemed to be intact. It started off So Gorgeous, and wow, what a long, long, long dry-down it had - ages and ages, and it was still evolving. I loved it for hours, until it finally turned very incredibly cloying, with a huge dose of powder - too sweet, too powdery, a baby-wipe powder bomb. And it smelled exactly like my Grandmother! So crazy! I know that my grandmother, born in 1921, adored Shalimar, but I think that this might have been something she wore regularly, because my memories of her are infused with this type of scent, along with a scent amalgamation of makeup, lipstick, whatever soap she used to shower, purse smell...
    Unfortunately I can't ask her, as she recently passed away.

    I noticed recently that many scents using lily of the valley or a synthetic smell called "China Rain" remind me of my mother - and so I am not interested in wearing them. They don't make me think "old lady," but I do think "mother..." and I don't actually want to smell like my mother, much as I love her.

    I think I'm lucky in that I don't mentally categorize scents as for any one sterotype of person, but simply like to identify WHAT I am smelling.
    I know that I love perfumes with heavy sillage, that I stay away from white florals and all sugary gourmands, though I have recently become a tiny bit more open to chocolate scents. I was SO not into the sugar smells of the late nineties and the 00s. I don't enjoy perfumes designed around leather, and I love powder, if it's not overly sweet. I love civet, but a certain musk smells absolutely awful on my skin and I avoid it like the plague. I also love sharp green smells, birch tar, and incense perfumes! So I think, ultimately, it is more useful to think about the notes in a perfume, and to call a perfume "powdery" or note the "carnation" note, or whatever it is that is triggering a reaction or memory.

    I just tried Ma Griffe from that aforementioned coffret set: It was a weird experience! It is a nice perfume, and I can recognize that, but I realized that I didn't understand it. I had no frame of reference for it, it didn't fit anywhere into my personal scent experience! I think I can come to understand Ma Griffe after a few times, but right now, I don't know what to think!

    So, I think a lot of people labeling perfumes as for young or old people, men or women, trashy or classy, really has a lot more to do with how they have previously experienced either a particular fragrance, or the notes.

    1. Thank you Larkin for your kind comments and your detailed stories on how you came about discovering your preferred scents. It's very interesting and I'm sure lots of readers identify.

      To be honest, I often hear about "powdery" in connection to "old lady scents", but if you notice it's not the powdery element per se that sparks this classification but something else; possibly the complexity and floral richness or the balsamic background in tandem with the powder. If you think about it, huge best-sellers worn by women in the 30s, or even 20s, such as Flower by Kenzo, Donna Karan Cashmere Mist and Love Chloe are extremely powdery! Baby powder (with its more vanillic-musky component) is very VERY popular. It's face powder of another era that is more retro and my theory is that it's the rose-violet-musk combo there (or the moss-rose-musk) which elicits the difference in response.
      Therefore L'Heure Bleue, beautiful as it is, and especially given the anise character it has, feels very much out of another era, hence "old".

      Tabu I find incredibly beautiful and incredibly sexy. I even like the baby wipe notes (and even the baby urine notes in some of the older perfumes); it's the musks and I am a huge lover of musks. I believe grandmas did amass all those collective smells you mention of, plus the products were indeed very musky. And I do feel like people mistakenly take the musky components for the urinous components they mentally (but not necessarily olfactory) combine with rather advanced age people. It's pejorative to say so, but they do think it, it transpires. I think we all need better vocabulary, honestly.

      There's also the added implication of wanting to distance one's self from a segmentation of the population that has been perceived as non-f@ck@ble (pardon the expression please, but I can't think of a more delicate term), especially in a culture that focuses so much on youth and denies sexuality to older people. I think people NOT particularly interested in perfume tend to use that association much much more when referring to "old lady" scents and this is exactly why it's insulting and offends so many women of a more mature age. (Men, too)

      Now, people really interested in perfume, yourself obviously included, judging by your succinct and very heartfelt commentary, do try to pinpoint what they're smelling and they focus on the scent, rather than the wearer. They like to find what makes them tick, how things affect them and why. And this is the step into finding indeed a useful common vocabulary that can be conductive to communication instead of stopping down all communication.

      If you ask me, I'm siding with your final judgment. We tend to generalize a hell of a lot more than we ought to (not just regarding perfume, regarding life and situations and everything, really). And therein lies the problem.

      Thank you very much for making me rethink this issue and respond anew! Hope you enjoy it around here and feel free to comment away.

    2. Hello! What a lovely reply, thank you so much. I wasn't notified of your comment back, otherwise I would have said something. I'll have to pop back by and read what you've been up to. :)

  66. I find the 'old lady' moniker interesting and sort of confounding. See, when I was growing up(in the 70's and 80's,and even into the 90's) there were no 'young' perfumes and 'old' perfumes, at least not that I can remember. Women(and men) of all ages just wore whatever they liked, which usually was something popular, 'in', or current, but it had nothing to do with the age of the person wearing the perfume. I had a friend I met when I started college who wore Opium(always loved that fragrance), this was in the late 80's/early 90's and she was in her early 20's. My mom had Poison(she didn't wear it much), but so did some of the teenage girls I went to high school with. This whole marketing certain fragrances to the young seems like a very recent thing.
    And I do believe there are 'old man' fragrances, basically anything pre 90's, full of musks, woods, and spices. Even if they had green, fresh, or citrusy elements, there was always that backbone(HAH! They had backbone!), of those musks, woods,and spices. Those 'clean','fresh',and 'hygienic' smells led the way for the current nose searing, yet transparent, vaguely, synthetically green or lavender-like, Axe-type fragrances so beloved of young guys nowadays. Was it Luca Turin, or Chandler Burr, said that modern men's fragrances smell like "a combination of detergent and rubbing alcohol". I nearly screamed "YES!" aloud when I read that passage in the library.
    And for the record, I personally don't think the scent of rose is 'old ladyish'. Classic, yes, but mostly it reminds me of being outdoors in gardens in summertime, well; smelling roses!

    1. Very interesting comment Goblinboy and you hit the nail on the head on the recent "youth" segmentation of the market. Back in the 1980s people (teenagers) still wanted to be perceived as older and more sophisticated and grown up; they wore what everyone else wore, I wore Opium at 14 for Pete's sake! There was nothing wrong with smelling like an older person, because, well, older people had all the fun.
      Then the culture changed, basically during the millenium, roughly, when the very young started having virtual sex and things like that (which we didn't have, because there was no net) and the seal of sophistication of grown ups became something of the past. Now you could be a teen and do -well, virtually mostly, but IRL too, sometimes- whatever the older people could do. Ergo youth became a whole new market for everything.
      The celebrity fandom which REALLY got a boost during the millenium did bring on its own flood of youth-oriented focus.

      The sterilization really came up when the AIDS epidemic caught on with the major press during the 90s I think. And the fruity floral trend (and the fruity sweet trend too, basically fruity anything) came about with B&BW when the fruity flavors were pushed down our collective throats during the...millenium again. It was very definitive and I recall it very very well, because I stayed at a Miami hotel during 2001 and I do recall the B&BW soaps and gels in the bathroom and their distinctly fruity scents which were so very different to anything I had ever experienced before; they smelled like canned peaches or like sliced melon with a good dose of Dettol thrown in or something. Not my idea of how a bar of soap should smell like. But it caught on like fire! I came back and in the next couple of years everything was smelling peachy or melon-y or like caramel....

      Funny that you say about the musks, woods and spices for the "old men's" scents. I always used to think that it was actually the citruses and the spices that young people objected to. Lemon especially is considered "old" in my own culture, which is odd, given that we squeeze lemon on everything apart from yoghurt! But it goes back to the use of old eau de Cologne, which was everywhere and everyone's grandpas were using it by the bucketload for refreshing.
      I suppose spices harken back to the 1980s, so that's old too, because spicy orientals were so big then.
      I do miss the backbone that you reference; everything is so very, very weak these days! Even the light compositions are very watered down.

      Roses on the other hand I believe is VERY cultural. We don't really grow roses here like the British do, so rose references either rosewater and loukhoum or else perfume (usually associated with more mature women). Jasmine on the other hand, which is everywhere, first and foremost references the flower and the garden and then everything else. Stands to reason, no?

  67. Anonymous16:50

    Incredible quest there. What occurred after? Take care!

  68. Ella Gamberi03:44

    When I was a little girl growing up in the seventies I used to attend the ballet recitals of a school friend. In the foyer of the theatre would stand knots of mothers gossiping and smelling absolutely divine. I don't know how old they were but in the seventies women even in their thirties and forties seemed much older than they would be nowadays. I just know that those heavenly scents, which actually were very strong, inspired my little brain and when I was old enough to buy scent I gravitated to those heady perfumes which reminded me of the 'old ladies' of my youth. Now in my fifties, I don't know what the whole menopause fuss is about. My sense of smell is actually exactly the same as it used to be. I can still smell things nobody else can because it is so sensitive. I doubt very much the received wisdom which we tend to just absorb because somebody in a white coat said so. Nobody tests anything properly and scientists are always changing their verdicts because they 'discover' some new fact which changes everything.

    In the end, fragrance is entirely personal, as is memory. I never knew those older women at the theatre, but thanks to them I learned to love perfume despite growing up with three older women in the house who never wore scent.

  69. when I was very young (VERY! around 5) in the early 1950s, my aunt had an empty vial on her dressing table of Chypre, Coty. She just kept it around for the residual smell. I could have crawled into that bottle and never come out I loved that smell so much. I've spent the better part of my life off and on trying to find that perfume counterpart.
    Now, I'm old enough to flash off old lady dying fat hormones with every step and still long for true Chypre. Please give the name of one perfume that comes as close as humanly possible to Coty's Chypre and I will joyously wear it into the twilight woods, no matter what type of old I smell, and die a happy old buffalo!

  70. Anonymous04:36

    I am an old lady (74 thank you very much) and I tend to wear natural fragrances with lavender and and citrus notes because that's what works with my chemistry. I could care less about what is trending now. Nothing makes me happier than when my grandchildren hug me and say "Boy Grandma you smell good". To me, it's the same way I felt about my grandmother who always wore Midnight in Paris and my great granny who always smelled of soap and powder. Power to the "little old ladies".


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