Girl v. Woman – by Nava

This is not a piece about the raging gender debate or a political rant about how pissed-off I am about Hillary Clinton being denied the Democratic presidential nomination. At this particular moment in time, I am interested in Girl v. Woman from a purely fragrant standpoint, and it goes no further than that.

What is it that differentiates a “girlie” or “girlish” smell from a “womanly” smell? And further to that, when is it appropriate to smell like a girl, or to smell like a woman? I´ve read countless entries in the perfume blogosphere and on the message boards about what constitutes “girlie”, “girlish” and “womanly.” I will not even touch the “old lady” moniker since prevailing opinions are that “old lady” is an unflattering description of a scent comprised of face powder, roses and, well, age. I think I have an abundance of life left ahead of me sufficient to tackle that one at a much later date.

Of course, marketing and advertising has much to do with these labels. A woman is expected to adapt to her advancing years by changing her style of clothing, cutting her hair to a certain length, and adjusting her makeup and skincare routines in order to correspond with her age bracket. The same can be said of fragrance, as is illustrated by the print ads we see in all the magazines. It is obvious that scents like Yves Saint Laurent Elle, Miss Dior Cherie and the entire Ralph Lauren “Ralph” line target the late teen/early twenties age range, and more “mature” offerings like Vera Wang´s signature scent, and Estee Lauder´s Beautiful, are marketed to appeal to a woman who has arrived at the “marrying” age. The rest seem to fall into chronological ambiguity, thanks to advances in digital photo-retouching, rendering pitchwomen Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman and Elizabeth Hurley stunningly ageless. We can certainly smell like them if we choose to, but realistically, the vast majority of us cannot PhotoShop away the marching of time across our faces and bodies.

So, where does that leave me – a woman of 41? I´ve certainly made a few appropriate concessions in the wardrobe, makeup and skincare areas, and consider myself fairly well preserved for my age. I wear sunscreen year-round; utilize a vast array of anti-aging skin care products, and haven´t smoked a cigarette since high school. Right now, I refuse to consider indulging in any cosmetic procedure, be it Botox or collagen, or any of the other poisons some women choose to get injected with in the name of vanity. I am too big of a wimp to even contemplate any future surgical procedures; I have never been under general anesthesia for anything and I hope to keep it that way.

As for the fragrance issue, I prefer not to attach the “girl” or “woman” labels to anything I wear. Yes, I enjoy scents that are considered “girlie” and those that are “womanly”. I base this not on what the blogs or message boards say, but on my own opinions. Some days, I am in the mood for a scent that is fresh and slightly fruity – but not fruity in the syrupy sweet way a lot of the celebrity scents are. I like Marc Jacobs Daisy, even though I am 20 years past the targeted demographic. It gets the job done on a pleasant spring day, and does not offend when the temperature shoots up to sweltering. Plus, the bottle is so darn cute; who can resist those vinyl daisies? Lately, I´ve been drawn to Bond No. 9 Coney Island, maybe because of the graphic of a futuristic Astroland from March´s Dior Addict post from Monday. Although, I don´t remember that area smelling anything like margaritas and clean ocean air. It was always redolent of dead fish, garbage and Nathan´s hot dogs. Fifi Chachnil is another favorite I like to wear on occasion, but please don´t cue up Aretha Franklin on my account. I love the tobacco smokiness combined with rose and a nice bite of citrus in the background. A lot of fragrance aficionados consider Fifi a very womanly scent, but I don´t buy into the categorization. Lostmarc´h Lann-Ael is one that I keep around for those days when smelling like sugary breakfast cereal is what I need to make it through a stressful day. I´ve been getting into more iris-based scents lately, and really dig Guerlain´s Iris Ganache and Prada´s Infusion d´Iris. What categories do these scents fall into? Honestly, I have no clue, nor do I care. I wear them when the mood strikes, rather than when I want to evoke feelings of girlishness or womanliness. For me, it´s the scent, not the label. If we paid more attention to how we feel, instead of letting the marketing powers-that-be pigeonhole us into specific categories, we´d all be much happier.

 Some days, the girl trumps the woman and vice versa. Nothin´ wrong with that!

  • Dain says:

    The thing is… why should age matter at all for a woman? The very fact that it’s a topic of discussion speaks volumes about how much we still judge women on superficialities alone, how much more important it is. She was running for president, why should it matter? That’s what makes me really sad.

    • Nava says:


      I didn’t intend for this to get political, but the guy on the other ticket isn’t exactly a spring chicken. His advanced years have been called into question as well.

      I firmly believe that age should not matter, but if we do not engage in the dialogue, even at this level, we do a disservice to ourselves by not addressing an important topic that goes way beyond the “superficialities”. 🙂

      • Dain says:

        Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that there’s no value in your discussing Mrs. Clinton’s age. I apologize if it came across that way. :”> I meant the media attention over her looks and deportment–like a beauty pageant, thinly disguised as politics, no? I think your article was in the spirit of arguing against that as a phenomenon, I was just trying to express agreement.

        • Nava says:

          I think it is unfortunate that the media always seems to focus on things like looks and fashion choices. That goes for any woman in the public eye. The accomplishments always seem to pale in comparison to wardrobe and makeup. I wish I had an answer to how this can be stopped, but I see it getting even worse, especially in the political arena when the Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain comparisons become part of the daily dialogue. No apology was necessary. :”>

  • rosarita says:

    Nava, great post on a topic that is always fascinating to read comments on. I wore Arpege in grade school and Norell and Chanel 19 in high school, so I don’t really get the point of age and gender distinctions in perfumery. I turn 49 this summer and I love getting older. I feel more confident and freer to speak my mind, and I don’t have a plan for aging gracefully beyond living one day at a time and smelling wonderful while doing it.

  • Disteza says:

    Coming from the 20’s crowd, I’m of the opinion that a womanly fragrance requires a certain amount of sophistication, or skank. Either one can push a fragrance beyond what is attractive or acceptable for most younger women (by which I mean someone 20 or younger). I know that, as little as 3 years ago, I turned my nose up at most florals, mostly because I didn’t think they fit with my idea of me (i.e., too femme). Now, I can’t get enough of some of them, mostly the weirder ones (although I almost came to tears trying to decide between Iris Ganache and Rose Barbare). Obviuosly, most mothers would like their daughters to wear more innocent-smelling perfumes, but I’ve always thought that the sweety gourmands were not appropriate for young girls (mostly because they encourage members of the opposite sex to get too close!)

    • Nava says:

      So, which one did you pick?? I’ve got on Iris Ganache today and I absolutely adore it.

      I went in the opposite direction – from florals to gourmands, woodsy and spicy scents. I mentioned above about wearing Pavlova in high school when I was still in tomboy mode. People change, tastes change… And isn’t it pumpkin pie and the smell of bacon that supposedly drives men wild?

      • Disteza says:

        I went with Rose Barbare; decided I already had too many of the gourmand-leaning scents and only one rose. I don’t know about pumpkin pie driving men wild–my husband really likes amber. My spicy food perfumes he’s allright with, but no sparks. I don’t think I could pull off the bacon, so I can’t say on that one!

  • tmp00 says:

    Well, I passed 40 a while ago and 50 is waiting around the corner with a sock full of quarters, so I can relate. In some ways gay men have the same deal. We seem to have two options after 40: grow a beard and become a daddy or buy a caftan. I really don’t care for either one so I will continue to be what I am, an aging preppie who flies his freak-flag olfactorally.

  • Moi says:

    A few years ago, a colleague described turning 50 as the age at which men no longer stop to look at you in airports. To feel physically and mentally at the top of your game yet because you may have lost a slight edge looks-wise, you suddenly become invisible. Fork that. I’ll fight it kicking and screaming and every step of the way.

    That being said, regarding the girly/womanly demarcation in scents. To me, it’s like male/female. Doesn’t matter. What matters is if it smells good on my skin and if it’s interesting. I’m getting more and more into abstracy, architectural scents that don’t fit into any category except maybe unusual: CB Cradle of Light, Dzing, Bulgari Black, etc.

  • Elle says:

    Wonderful, thought provoking post. And emigration inspiring! I am somehow going to have to convince DH we need to move to Paris…for so many reasons, but this age issue is a very compelling one. I think I’ve bypassed the age appropriate scent issue by being a life long eccentric and a hopeless perfume sl*t – have always worn such a huge variety and number of scents that the idea of an associated age w/ a scent never really has never been something I’ve given much thought to.

  • Girl-Woman says:

    I wear what is probably considered a girlie fragrance. It is my signature scent. I do need to think — scent outside of the box. I will be looking for a womanly scent, too. Thanks.

  • dinazad says:

    I don’t really care what a fragrance is classified as, as long as I enjoy and love it. However, some fragrances do evoke youth (generally a far happier and sparklier youth than one tends to have). Miss Rocaille with its sparkly, happy, raspberry fizziness comes to mind as a fragrance of youth idealised. On the other hand, Biagiotti’s Roma has always struck me as a fragrance for a woman. It has the kind of beauty which has been in sad and frightening places and has come out on the other side – scarred perhaps, but the more beautiful for the experience, and so much more aware of the beauty of the moment. What makes a girl and a woman is not really youth or age once we’re not children anymore (although experience does count). Most of us are both to some extent – and I personally find it rather sad when we get stuck in either one or the other role and forget about the other. So by all means we should wear fragrances according to the feeling of the moment!

    • Nava says:


      Well said. And I love your description of Biagiotti’s Roma. I don’t recall ever smelling that one. Must find some…

  • March says:

    Nava — I am not sure what girly vs. womanly is in scent either, but I can appreciate both. I suppose in general I think of them as more vs. less challenging? And you’ve prompted an interesting discussion on here about the way older women are perceived and treated abroad!

    • Nava says:


      I’m just as appreciative as you are. It’s fun to push buttons and have everyone weigh in on the topic. We’ve really got our thinking caps on this morning, don’t we? :d

  • Tarn says:

    Well, I can’t define what is ‘girlie’ and what ‘womanly’, but I know it when I smell it!
    Recent sniffee SL ‘Fleurs Citronee’ seemed to me to be girlie, and ‘Ormonde Woman’ was, well, womanly. I suppose I’d put light florals and over-pineappled or apricoted scents down as girlie. And maybe some vanillas. But as with everything, exceptions abound.
    I certainly won’t let labels stop me wearing a perfume if I’m in the mood for it.

    I’m 50-plus and I find that good SA’s pay me more attention now than when I was younger. They know that older often equals more spending power! 🙂 Though I’m no longer an easy touch for the latest ‘in’ cosmetic or scent.

    I do find that I’m becoming invisible in society, though. France may appreciate older women as being still women, but the UK, not so much. When that ahppens, I look to Helen Mirren as my example – I may not have her beauty or talent, but I can emulate her ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude to aging!:x

  • Louise says:

    I was always a tomboy, never very girly, so I don’t think I’ve ever had a young girl fragrance in my wardrobe. I went straight to Opium as a teen, and haven’t looked back 🙂

    Now, at 50-ish, I find I am appreciating fragrances that I might have shied away from a few years ago-chypres, even a few aldehydes-you know, grown-up scents. But that may be just due to my exploration of vintage and “different” (for me) types of fragrances, as I keep on learning and questing.

    My “youngest” fragrances are a few vanillics (Vanille Noire du Mexique is a favorite)-which I guess are popular with younger women.

    Thanks for a lovely post, Nava! I am so enjoying having you here 😡

    • Nava says:

      Thanks Louise.

      I was a full-on tomboy myself, even into high school. Then, I was wearing Pavlova. Talk about sending out mixed signals. 😕

      As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate all different types of scents. Vanilla is also a favorite of mine – but not so much the really sweet ones anymore. Guerlain’s Spiriteuese Double Vanille is a real winner for me.

  • MattS says:

    You know, I have I always wondered what makes a scent young or old or middle-aged. How is age-appropriateness determined for a scent? Unless it smells like candy for the youngsters, I’ve never really understood how such attributes are decided upon. Kinda like what makes a scent male or female…who decides these things? Everything is marketing, I suppose…I say we all wear whatever the hell we want, whenever we want. Interesting post, I’m gonna go spritz something completely inappropriate. Have a great weekend.

    • Nava says:

      It is indeed a conundrum, Matt. I’m totally with you; wear what you like when you like. I think I’ll be sporting something a bit inappropriate today, too. 🙂

  • Gail S says:

    Hmmmmm, as yet another member of the over-40 crowd, I’ll chime in with my 2 cents worth :d I guess that many would classify the currently popular fruity-florals as girly and the more difficult to find everything else as womanly. For me, it’s more about how it wears over the hours. Because I have to admit, I enjoy a bit of fruit now and then. Like a previous poster said, I like some complexity in my fragrance. Also, something that develops and maybe changes over time. Many of the current offerings which are aimed at the “girlies” among us fall apart after about 10 minutes, leaving behind a vague, scented hint of something or another. Maybe I would define womanly as those scents which take a little bit of patience to appreciate and understand. Sort of like us women 😡

  • carmencanada says:

    Forty plus women are most emphatically NOT ignored on this side of the Atlantic, at least not in France… At least not me or anyone I know. What happens is, when we don’t want to be pestered/intimidated into trying and buying, we’re not, because of that authority (hem, hem) that comes with age and experience. So SAs don’t see an easy touch here.
    As for girly scents, I don’t believe they ever appealed to me past the age of 14, when I graduated to Rive Gauche, then Chloé (big floral with teeth on), Jean-Louis Scherrer and then Van Cleef and Arpels pour Homme (leather chypre with fangs). In fact, I shy away from anything too girly in wardrobe too (ballet flats are as far as I’ll go). It’s at least partially a French thing. Since womanly women are valued here, there’s no reason to try and look like a girl…

    • Louise says:

      Thanks, CarmenC for the reminder how different it feels in Europe to be a bit older woman, and still well appreciated. I must admit to loving the feel of the “look” and flirt that I receive when I visit-which have faded out largely in the US for me-except by those of discerning taste 8-|

      • March says:

        You too! So it’s not just my imagination.

        Also: I remember in restaurants, my same-age sister-in-law and I were given table preference over, say, a group of pretty 20-something American girls. Maybe they simply figured we’d tip better, but over here I’d have to be wearing $50 bills taped to my boobs to garner more attention than a group of 20-something girls. And the staff in shops in Paris definitely gave us more attention.

    • March says:

      D, have we discussed this? One of the things that shocked/pleased me on my trips both to Paris and Italy. I was, in my 40s, clearly a person of interest to men. Some of that interest was charming and some was skeevy, but on the whole it was enjoyable! 😉 Here the fade is slow but by 40 it’s pretty much over. :-w

      • Louise says:

        Hey March, sweetie, it does amaze me that two fully ripe not unattractive women with not bad looks (such as us?)can sniff each other intensely in public and get no appreciative glances…:d/

      • carmencanada says:

        Don’t know if we’ve discussed it, but it’s something that comes up regularly: my friends for university in Montreal complain that they’ve just dropped off the radar. Here in France, it’s not that men drool but they do treat you like a woman. And every once in a while, a young guy tries to pick you up. Whatever one thinks, the cheese-eating surrender monkeys do have a more mature outlook on sex (marginally: they’re still men). And they really enjoy a good conversation on the topic, which enhances social… intercourse, no end.

        • Nava says:

          ROFL at “cheese eating surrender monkeys”!! And, I’m a huge fan of “social…intercourse”! :))

        • March says:

          You made me laugh so hard!!! But the BEST part was, when I clicked on the blog and in the right-hand column I saw “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” I *panicked* thinking, oh no, someone’s hurling insults in a blog smackdown, eek!

          I had a couple of political conversations (one in Paris, one in Siena) with young, intense university males that, at some point, I could not help but wonder: are these cute boys trying to pick me up? Whatever. I think for your average 20-year-old male in the US I am so invisible it might as well be a superpower. /:)

          • Nava says:

            As far as I’m concerned, the 20 year-old males here in the US have no idea what they’re missing. 😉

          • carmencanada says:

            The intellect is the way to your briefs in France. So they might’ve been…

          • March says:

            Heh. How do you say, “sweetie, I am old enough to be your mother” in French? Although maybe that’s not a deal-breaker from their standpoint? 😕

          • carmencanada says:

            Not necessarily, no. This is an age-old tradition illustrated by many French novels — a couple of which were written from the older woman’s point of view by Colette, who knew a thing or two about the situation as she ran off with her husband’s eldest son when she was in her late forties and he still a teen. Of course, now that girls put out, older women are not sought out for initiation, but they’re still valued for their sophistication and the fact that they’re not going to expect commitment. Speaking from experience, here.

          • Musette says:

            And God Bless Us, Every One!^:)^ though I’m not at ALL interested in El O’s son(s), thank Floyd!

            …but, unrelated to anyone I know, 10-15 yrs younger than me (and I’m in my 50s, which means they would still be firmly in adulthood)….in great shape with a interest in continuing to cultivate a sense of pleasure, sophistication and wonder, preferably living on the Cote d’Azur?


          • Nava says:

            God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson!

            I so hate the term “cougar” that gets bandied about so much today.

          • Louise says:

            It quite surprised me a few years ago when my young (hoodlum, but oh, well) French fellow told me that his mother indicated that it was high time he had a relationship with an older woman. She had me over to dinner :d/

    • Nava says:

      OK, that settles it. I’m moving to Paris and pitching a tent in the Palais Royale in front of the Salons du Shiseido!

  • annie says:

    Ahhhh….your blogs are wonderful….pushing 50+++,I have come ‘into my own’,and love it!Honestly.My skin care ritual has been good for years,and I’m reapimg the vague rewards…there WILL BE NO CUTTING (ACK),on my face,thank you.We took my diva princess grand-daughter(5)perfume shopping (she is frag-additced & I cannot fathom why.hee hee…what fun),and she chose MJ Daisy,so it is HERS…I myself,am like you,in that whatever pleases,at the time,I spray.Sometimes L’Artisan’s MM Extreme,or Vinci-Rakos Earth,Ormonde Jayne makes me feel all womanly,always,and now summer finds me wanting to shock people with very deep dark BPAL(NO VANILLAS,PLEASE)scents…..I’ve earned the entitalment…..looking forward to your next post…carry on perfumista/:)

    • annie says:

      Forgot to add:….Iris…this summer…is it the heat????…Prada Iris Milano….jus’ give me a vat of it…snarkle…snarf…drool8-|

      • MattS says:

        I’m with you. Apparently, it is the heat, ’cause I’ve been craving iris like a madman this week.

    • Nava says:

      Thank you, Annie! I love knowing that I like the same scent as your 5 year-old granddaughter! 🙂

  • Calypso says:

    Wow, Quinn’s experience at Nordie’s is enough to make me want to cut up MY Nordie’s card. That’s terrible! Fortunately, as another woman moving on in the 50’s, I have had very good experiences and have also had quite a few make-over offers and probably even MORE SA’s trying to sell me things–you know, special Lancome creams for age-spots or anti-aging hand creams or neck uplifts, serums, etc. The people at Guerlain at Neiman’s have been especially nice and they range in age from, I’d say, about 26 to older than me.
    Now to the post–I enjoyed the post a lot and it made me think. It seems to me that “girlie” scents are more one-dimensional and simple. (Like girls are, heh heh.) I would associate vanilla scents with girls or girlie offerings almost more than fruity scents. Complicated scents, ones with a lot of elements and that take time to develop, seem more adult or womanly to me. It would be interesting though to sort through perfume ads, videos, and marketing to see whether they ever push “complicatedness” as a desirable feature. Somehow I suspect not. They might push something like “moody” or “changeable” in the positive sense of free-spiritedness, but that’s not what I mean–maybe I should say “complex” and not “complicated.” But then, I suppose the medium of advertising itself prevents just about anything from being promoted because it’s complex. Too bad.

    • Nava says:


      I think I was striving to make everyone think about scent from a marketing perspective; I’ve been kind of obsessed with that thought lately. Do we want to smell how Madison Avenue wants us to smell, or will we make that decision based on who we are and what we like? My goal was to push everyone’s buttons and make them think about that!

  • You are still very young. I am no longer pushing 50, but dragging it. And the chain is getting unfashionably long. Quick, while you are still 41, do things in public.

    By the time you are 45, you become invisible in society. While this is fun is you want to dash down Main Street with a flower in your tush, it is more stressful if you want to buy something at a cosmetic counter.

    No one will EVER offer another make-over, because, you see, once gravity begins to win, you are no longer considered a consumer, and that means you can be ignored. And furthermore, makeup doesn’t transform you successfully to accepted standards. So you are doubly ignored. I once waited at a Nordstrom’s counter for help, and the SA would not talk to me, even when I pulled out my Nordstrom card and cut it into tiny pieces and left the unimportant parts on the counter.

    And that is another reason to wear any perfume you please. I’m not big on fruity-florals, but I wear Pear, Ivy and Basil with impunity. Pear and Bail together, even. Wear what you love, you’ll look brave and creative.

    • Debbied says:

      Well, the good thing about having lived this long is that you know that every posing SA has a supervisor. Hopefully, one has also developed the verbal skills and body language to deliver a stinging appraisal of services. Did you really do that with your card? (Do you carry scissors? :d )

      • I do carry scissors, but only when I plan on running with them!
        (It was a special trip to prove to my husband that he would get helped before I did at the women’s fragrance counter. Even when he pointed me out and said I had been there first, the SA leaned on her elbows flashing an incredible décolletage and indicated she would, ummm, service my husband first. That’s when I cut up the card.)

        • Debbied says:

          You have got to be kidding. I thought things like that happened only in bad tv shows.

          No one deserves that kind of disrespect, particularly a perfumista at a fragrance counter. Wow.

    • Nava says:


      I was getting ignored at makeup counters when I was in my 20s. I think the way were are viewed in public is wholly interpretive and everyone will have experiences that are unique unto them. I was in Bloomingdales in NYC a couple of weeks ago and received a salutation from every salesperson I walked past. Mind you, it was a Saturday afternoon and there should have been hoards of people in the store, but there weren’t. The SAs were standing there with their tongues dragging on the floor in sheer boredom.

      Be as brave and creative yourself, as you suggested I be; And never be afraid to cut up another credit card! 🙂

    • chayaruchama says:

      Oh, honey !
      Let me at ’em…
      I’ll smack ’em for ya.

      Invisibility does exist in the US- I always say, that if it weren’t for sweet Hispanic-Caribbean- Afican-American males…
      OR nonagenarians-
      Not only would I NOT get a seat when fully preganant in summer heat-
      But I would cease to exist as a sexual object, period.

      I’m with you.
      I wear what I like.
      Daisy is just lovely . So what, if Macy’s sells it- bully for them.

      I began life as a sophisticate, and a scent snob.
      Not any more, baby.

      BTW- today, I smell like a giant frickin’ orange blossom.
      Boo hoo.