Thursday, May 3, 2012

Perfume in the Office: Uncharted Territory

"Moore, an evaluator with the Fragrance Foundation, says perfume is not the expression of power it was for women in the Eighties but has instead become part of the daily grooming routine ''and that's not about to change''. ''Wearing fragrance is quite acceptable now but there still have to be certain codes for work,'' she says. ''Fragrance is an incredibly personal thing - the olfactory memory is primal and how you smell fragrance is unique to you. Everyone has preferences and sensitivities.'' One women's Beautiful is another's Poison. Which is where the problems emerge at the office."

The environment of the office is a minefielf of potential faux pas of every conceivable magnitude. When fragrance, one of the most subjective and highly personal things a human being can use, mingles, the situation can be explosive. But is it better than body odour? In a turn of phrase that recalls Mad Men imagery, Natasha Huges writes: "There was a time when the office was a lot smellier - when real men didn't wear deodorant, people smoked at their desks, air-con was non-existent and dry-cleaning a luxury."

That time wasn't too far back. But that should probably not be carte blanche for overdousing with potent fragrances in the workplace; the only subtle point is there are no rules, so we make them as we go along.

Read the whole article on the Casey Weekly.

And you, do you have examples of toxic perfume (or BO) in your workplace? Please share them in the comments. 

cartoon via


  1. My former employer used to make snide remarks about someone in our office (a man) who often smelled of body odor. I didn't mind the b.o. man half as much as my employer. He was a chain-smoker who wore so much Old Spice that it would come at you in gusts when he spoke. Eww. Fortunately, I do not have to deal with either of these people any longer! I wonder if, now that our office is smoke-free, people have become more sensitive to other smells. I try to be considerate and careful when I wear perfume at work but people don't always speak up about something so personal...

  2. Anonymous01:19

    there are only a few scents i truly can't stand - cashmere mist, sensuous, and some of the bath & body lotions - so i usually don't mind when i smell someone else's perfume. i only wish more of them were more interesting and unique!

    i also tend to be the one experimenting with scent at the office - but they all know i collect and love it, so they don't seem to mind, and sometimes they are actually intrigued by what i'm wearing. and of course, it's always nice to be credited with being the one who "smells so good."


  3. Miss Heliotrope03:25

    I nearly had to talk to a junior about BO once, but fortunately he washed & stayed clean smelling before I worked up the courage...

    The main problem with other people's perfume is the strength of smell - if it is close to the person, fine, but if you can track them through the building by scent -

    & smokers, especially heavy ones, are the worst smell, and it is not being overly pc to object.t

  4. I work at the office where, as my nose reports, only one other girl uses perfume, everyone else doesn't really wear one. My latest discovery is Voyage d'Hermes, and I must note, it is perfect for environments like office; however, it's miles away from an office fragrance, which I absoultely love.
    My co-worker's scent is Issey Miyake's l'eau d'issey, which I love smelling in a bottle, but not on skin. It doesn't seem to blend well with her chemistry. As long as we don't sit right next to each other during meetings and/or lunch, I don't mind it.

  5. Anonymous07:06

    I hate those unobtrusive office fragrances. Strong sophisticated perfumes can work for the office, two spritzes of Chanel No.22 should do.

    E., what do you think about Roger Vivier's Miss Viv' handbag?


  6. MariaA08:44

    Ah you touched a very sensitive spot.. I wear perfume to work every day and have done since school days when I got my first real perfume (Fidgi). From that day on not a day passes without perfume. At work you need to be a bit carefull not to overdose yourself and suffocate your coworkers especially if you work close with each other. My bad luck is that I have a coworker who is an absolute stinker. I don't think she EVER bathes and whatever suggestions have been made she just ignores them. There is a general problem with her and our boss just doesn't get it she is his "rat" and thinks he has something to gain from all that. OK enough with the digging!! Let me just point out that our office also smells cigarete as the banning of smoking in workplaces just doesn't mean a thing

  7. Merlin11:15

    It is a possibility that some people who smell of B.O. have medical conditions that are difficult to control. I have read some heart-breaking accounts by such people of their successive attempts at dealing with this, and with fielding criticism from their colleagues. Worth keeping in mind also.

  8. I've definitely experienced people in the office I work who are way too liberal with their use of fragrances, and also seem to have no sense of what kinds of colognes/perfumes are appropriate for "daytime" use versus evening/"nightlife".. Although that could just be because I'm such a nerd about these things ; )

  9. QC,

    you're right on the money! I think lots of things have changed since people stopped smoking indoors. The whole culture around smell has drastically changed (and I'm saying this living in a country with fanatical smokers, though I don't indulge in smoking myself)

    It's always worst when a person has a displeasing personality themselves and yet make disparaging comments upon others. Body odour can be changed I guess, bad manners are incurable. ;-)

  10. J,

    I'm not surprised you're "the one who smells good!" It's always quite a ride to take people upon discovering the pleasures of actually engaging their noses in something other than environmental, white noise smells. The fact that you have a welcoming workplace is a blessing.

    You can't tolerate Cashmere Mist and Sensuous, eh? I'm rather suprised in that as I pegged them as rather inoffensive (though I guess CM can seem sharp in its chokeful of powder if one sprays on too much), you know. Goes to show, there's always someone who might not like something we assume as universally acceptable.

  11. MH,

    good thing for you, as commenting on someone's BO is always a delicate business (they just might have a condition that causes it, rather than just lack of hygiene).

    Heavy smoking is disrtoring everything; I have formed a theory this is why so many vintage fragrances are so thick and potent. It cut through the smoke!

  12. V,

    I admire your fortitude towards the Ed'I wearing colleague. :-P
    It's very sharp, never understood its reputation for being "light", you can smell it across the pavement.

    Most people are wary of offending these days. On the one hand it's a good thing (as there's nothing worse than working with someone whose habits revolt you), but on the other hand too much individuality goes down the drain. What happened to mapping identity? Is it only reserved for sexual preferences, tattoos and goatees these days? Putting on a fragrance with character, discreetly and mindfully, is akin to asserting who one is. I find that lovely to embrace.
    Voyage d'Hermes is delightful; there's an easy elegance there like in all JCE creations, though as you correctly say miles away from an "office scent". :-) Enjoy!

  13. E,

    that's probably the problem with people who love perfume working in close-knit offices: they put on too much on sometimes. A subtler use of something character-full is better than marinating in meaningless juice, I guess. (And do people object to No.22 as a rule? I'd think not; it could pass as just soap at a pinch)

    As to Miss Viv handbag, well...I think it's a very conservative (though stylish) 60s style which is too predictable to fork out so mucho $$ for. A sort of "Jackie O can't be wrong" mentality and all that. :-P
    One can find many vintage specimens for less and be just as cool.
    Carla Bruni carried it as madame Sarkozy, but I'm curious to see whether she will branch out now that she doesn't have these stylistic strings attached! ;-)

  14. Merlin,

    you're definitely right!
    It's why it's so inelegant to bring on BO issues to the forth in the first place. One never knows whether it's through no fault of one's own. A serious social faux pas just waiting to be commited.

  15. Maria,

    it's good for you to be able to both enjoy your fragrances and to tolerate as best as possible the office "rat". There's one ins every milieu, isn't there? The fact that she's also smelly, well, chalk it up to bad karma, I guess, this in case and leave it at that.

    Ah....the familiar undisciplined behaviour of smokers in these southern regions! Never has such a tiny gesture meant so much defiance for a whole -imposed from outside- system. (*nodding my head with both understanding them and sympathizing with you*)

  16. MCH,

    that's not a bad thing, being a nerd. BTW, I was seeing a cartoon drawing of classifications of nerd, geek etc. and it was hilarious, will use it at first opportunity.

    Yeah, there is a word: discretion. It means good manners, good upbringing, not eschewing your personality but not intruding either. It takes time to learn.


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