Perfume Things that Puzzle Patty

These are just a couple of things that have been on my mind for years that I ponder over and over, but have never really quite wrapped my head around an explanation.  I’m hoping you  can help me or just add some of your own Perfume Puzzlements.

Why do people ask you to recommend a perfume that smells like Perfume X that they currently wear that’s still available in the stores?  If you like that perfume,  just wear it why waste time trying to find one like it to wear?  Or does that mean something other than what I think it does?

Old Lady Perfume, what does that mean?  I used to think people used it just as a reference to powdery perfumes that you associate with perfumes women used to wear, notes that used to be in vogue, but it appears that it now encompasses aldehydic perfumes like the older Chanels and other formerly fashionable perfume trends.  Will it always be a generation away, that label? Does that mean that Opium will one day be an Old Lady Perfume along with Paris Hilton’s Dreck and D&G Light Blue?

Why is it that when you spill or break something, it is either an expensive/ rare perfume or it is so noxious that, once on any part of your body or clothes, will stick to you and the room you spilled it in like a Stage 4 Stalker?

If you are given perfume as a gift by someone who doesn’t know your, um, eclectic perfume tastes and habits, it will always be the bottle of perfume you have despised for a decade or more.  Perfume is something I could never gift unless I knew the person wore the scent or loved it and definitely wanted it.  It would feel too much like gifting a thong without knowing that person’s personal panty preferences.  I do allow that I’m probably a little too sensitive in this area.

And is a new potential relationship absolutely over the second your date offers an opinion on perfume that starts with “women should smell natural…”?

Let’s help each other either clear up these little puzzles, or at least commiserate over them.  Add your own!

  • BBJ says:

    I think that what smells like an old lady, and what’s popular, is definitely a rotating generational thing, and much of it depends on scent memory.

    I’ve found that I cannot wear Clinique’s Elixir Aromatics because, although I didn’t know this until I sniffed it, at least half of the elderly German ladies in my synagogue when I was a child wore this, and it brings up mad images of neat tweed suits and glittery brooches, and has a soundtrack of ‘Kol Nidre’. Shalimar, similar.

  • dissed says:

    From my experience, Old Lady Perfume is any scent that most any woman (excluding perfume people) has smelled on most any “older” woman. If it isn’t pushed in current fashion rags, it’s Old Lady.

    More Old Lady Perfume for me.

    If the potential object of my affection thinks women should smell natural, he’s not paying attention. If he thinks I smell good “naturally?” Okay, whatever, be anosmic. That could work to my advantage.

  • nozknoz says:

    Ha, ha – great idea to look into the mysteries of perfume, Patty!

    I thought it was animalic notes that created the old lady effect, e.g., sixties animalic chypres and earlier scents with real civet, etc.

    There are other mysteries, too. Why is it whenever I decide to buy something unsniffed because I love EVERYTHING ELSE by that perfumer (or brand or that note), plus someone I’m usually in sync with gives it a great review, then it’s the ONE exception that I loathe or can’t smell?

    Another one: why are the rare excellent mainstream releases the ones that disappear first or are immediately reformulated?

    And why do reformulations never make things better? It seems like just by chance (and because it can’t be only good perfumes that get reformulated) one or two might be improvement!

    And, of course, why is it that sometimes when you hunt down an authentic vintage bottle of an old fav on ebay, it doesn’t smell like it used to? Has it gone bad? Is it the aging nose, or it’s greater sophistication? Is it the zeitgeist or one’s own stage in life?

  • Kym says:

    1) Maybe they mean to say, “If I like X, what else would I like?” I recently wen into a department store and they asked (as they always do), “what are you wearing now?” and then pointed me to something that smells pretty much the same. I realize I’m the odd person who likes to expand their perfume wardrobe, not repeat it, but many people have a more narrow view of what tickles their fancy and want to be lead to something a little different, but in the same family.

    2) I’m no spring chicken, and I know the term can be insulting, but some perfumes really deserve this classification. I can’t say why, I can’t say what, I can only say there have been times that I’ve sprayed something and thought, “Smells like my grandmother.” Doesn’t mean it’s vintage, after all vintage clothes can be very stylish. It means old-fashioned, as some vintage clothes are indeed not stylish at all.

    3) Inverse to your nervousness in your approach. As in, “jez, I better not spill this,” you will.

    4) I’ve been gifted perfumes so awful that I wonder if the gifter actually knew what they smelled like before buying them. I also wondered if the gifter actually knows me…hello? mom?

  • dDub says:

    I think “old lady” perfumes are classic chypres and aldehydic fragrances. My sister said this about Rochas Femme and Cabochard the other day.

    The men I have dated that think a woman should smell natural have all gone wild when I wear a touch of Absolut pour le Soir, can’t get their noses out of my cleavage/hair, and say things like “you smell wonderful in a different way each time I see you” so these are not lost cases by any means. :)

  • annemariec says:

    For me the relationship would be over the instant the other person said ‘Women should …’. That’s it. Game over.

    Nice post, thanks.

    • Julie says:

      Exactly! It’s one thing to have preferences and be attracted to certain things (nothing wrong with smelling natural – I like the natural smells of warm skin and sweat!), but another to think someone should wear perfume or not, or dress a certain way or do their hair or wear makeup or anything to please you.

  • Nina Z. says:

    I decided to offer my bottle of Prada by Prada to a 30 year old friend of mine who is going through hard times (and likes girly things). She opened it, smelled it, and said, “Ooh, old lady perfume!” I must have looked shocked because she added, “in a good way” and then she quickly snatched up the bottle.

  • Valentine says:

    Oh, I really like these.

    1. I have to agree with others and say that this isn’t all that puzzling for me. In fact, it might be something I’d do. They’re saying they want suggestions for other perfumes they might like, based on their first preference. It’s a way of branching out and trying new things, perhaps finding a new HG or tossing out that whole silly notion of a single perfume and starting to experiment from a particular point.

    2. For the most part, I think the non-perfumista world uses this as a derogatory term for any perfume they don’t like. I’ve noticed that “It’s too strong,” despite the sillage or longevity, is also common when people aren’t quite sure WHY they dislike a fragrance. I think it usually refers to big, obnoxious, high-sillage, eighties-esque perfumes.

    3. Your suffering amuses the overlords.

    4. Many people don’t see perfume as something intimate and special. I think most smelly gifts are the result of pushy salespeople and assuming that a popular scent is a likeable scent.

    5. No, but it might launch a one-sided discussion on whether “natural” refers to musks, different types of musks, or whether it refers to the scent of soap and clean clothes, my insistence that at this point I naturally sweat vanilla from my pores, etc, to the point where he bangs his head on the table out of sheer boredom.

    • lemonprint says:

      Hah! I love your #5.

      I assume the answer to #1 is “They aren’t very brave.” They know one perfume they like, they’ve smelled two or three others that they DIDN’T like, so they want recommendations near what they like because they fear smelling more things they don’t like. Really? Is that the worst possible outcome? I feel bad for these people because if they ARE looking for something new, it generally means they’re kind of bored with what they know (or, as said above, anosmic), but they aren’t brave enough to really look for new things, so they aren’t going to get very far in their explorations.

      But then, I’ll happily eat squid.

  • Alice C says:

    Great questions! As for the first, maybe they are tired of the familiar perfume, but don’t want to venture too far. Maybe the old familiar is too expensive and they want something similar, but not as costly. Maybe the old perfume has a bad association for them (ex-hubby bought it for them) and they can’t get past it.

    My twenty-something daughter thinks anything not a light, fruity floral is ‘old lady’, especially if there’s any powdery feel. I’m pretty much over it.

    Murphy’s law at work here; it’s always the worst thing you could have broken!

    I’ve got another perfume gift query: For the many years I wore a single perfume, my MIL frequently gave me other perfumes, lotions and powders as gifts…What was that about? /:) I would never give perfume unless it is asked for or I know they wear that scent.

  • AnnieA says:

    Buying perfume for another person is very personal, and rather bossy, to say the least. It’s like buying someone else clothes, which I don’t think people generally do. THAT would be bossy: “Here, try these pants — maybe your bottom will look smaller…”

    Years ago I went on a date with a classmate who noticed that I was wearing eyeliner, and that he’d prefered my all-natural, 8 am look. Definitely got a batsqueak of control from it, as Debbie mentioned, and no, there weren’t too many more dates after that…

  • odonata9 says:

    Old Lady Perfume, what does that mean?
    I think that it is what we associate with what older ladies we knew wore when we were youngish, so I think it will continue changing for each generation (as long as it is distintively different). I am guilty of thinking of powdery and aldehydic stuff as “old ladyish”. And I know our “classic rock” station now plays 80 and 90s stuff, and not just 60s and 70s, so our ideas of old/retro will always be changing as time passes.

    Of course, the only sample vial I’ve broken was a Bond No. 9! At least it was Fire Island and not one of the louder ones. Our bathroom smelled beachy for a week!

    Dealbreaker? I commented on this one yesterday as my husband gets migraines and would prefer I didn’t wear perfume, at least around him. His migraines have been getting worse – he wasn’t as bad when we first started dating (about 5 years ago) and didn’t really comment on it for awhile so I didn’t know and also, I hadn’t really started getting into perfume yet at that point, so I wasn’t wearing it daily and it was probably something pretty subtle. If we met now, who knows what would have happened?

    • Marla says:

      The dealbreaker for my DH is vanilla, which pretty much disqualifies about 80% of the perfumes out there today…but no complaints, he loves Mandragore Pourpre and Mitsy!

  • Musette says:

    More than once I’ve had someone say I smelled ‘like a rich older lady’. YAY! No denying I’m old(er) /:) – wouldn’t mind being rich.
    Scents were: Mitsouko (of course: that’s rich MEAN old lady)
    Chanel 22 & 5

    I do gift perfume on rare occasion but it comes with jail-frees: they don’t have to be nice about it (if you don’t like, regift/sell/whatever) and…I definitely try to match the interests of my giftee – my BF loves citrus so I enjoy finding interesting citruses. Others I intro to niche/indie lines – nothing mainstream, figuring they can do that themselves.

    OTOH, nobody but you guys would have the stones to give me perfume 8-x …unless I have raved about something or somebody’s in Outer Mongolia and comes upon an interesting scent made from yak dung only found in that remote village…or something like that.

    I pity da foo who tries to tell me to ‘go natural’ >:/ What Tom Said about beating some manners into folks.

    xo >-)

    ps. it definitely is A Law: if you spill it it either costs a fortune/is vintage/rare….or the drop becomes a Hazmat site.

    • Marla says:

      Rich, MEAN old lady, Mitsy is the only perfume that actually still gets me rolling around like a cat in a catnip field! And I always get strange looks when I wear it, so sad….

  • Nicole says:

    Old lady perfume refers to the *memory* of a scent you smelled in your mom’s or aunt’s or grandmom’s dressing space before you were even aware that the smell was from a perfume. And, yes and sorry, but right now for a lot of us that’s aldehydes.

    • Sara A. says:

      As one of the “young’uns” that what spells old lady for me are perfumes that go to that musty dusty place, violet and orris, and powder. Also anything that I can smell while about 10 feet away. If I have to shout to talk to you, then I shouldn’t smell you. However I do have perfumes that have been described as “old lady” but never while I’m wearing them. I’m quite new at this so I don’t have much of a collection, but I have Youth Dew, Azuree, and Shalimar none of which smells particularly old to me or on me. Well… I only put on Shalimar when I want some respect.

      As for aldehydes smelling old… it depends on what they’re sparkling over. If it’s over some musty dusty violet orris, then it smells old. But nobody is going to say that Eau de Merveilles smells like nursing home.

    • BBJ says:

      When I first smelled Chanel 22, I had a sudden, vivid, visual memory involving pink carpeting in a darkened bedroom. From my relative height to the furniture, I think I must have been about four or five. Not a good or bad memory, just me standing there, and the scent. I assume it must have been a relative’s home.

      I love the perfume, but it took me a while to get the associations away from the ‘pink carpeting’ memory.

  • maggiecat says:

    Great questions Patty! Most people have given uptrying to get me scented products as gifts (unless I ask for something specifically) but I do remember some gifts that were quickly recylced before I made this clear. As for dating someone who doesn’t like perfume…Prior to may 1st, 2007, I would have said that I would definitely NOT date any such person. However, I’m glad I made an exception on that day..ended up marrying the guy, actually, and he’s the great love of my life. And he’s become quite patient with my hobby and has even worn a few scents himself. And I avoid wearing or using anything he absolutely hates, and we make all the usual compromises two adults make whent they decide to join forces.

  • Tom says:

    1) I think they’re looking for something new but don’t want to branch out too far and rather than saying what they hate they’re saying what they like?

    2) Anyone who tells you to your face that your perfume deserves a lady-like slap. There I said it. If your Momma didn’t give you good home training then there’s some sweet-smelling old ladies that will pound some manners into you.

    3) Murphy’s Law.

    4) See #3. I only give perfume to people that I know will like it. Like my godchild and her Asja.

    5) I like the idea of dating someone that isn’t into perfumes. That way he won’t be filching from any of my bell jars. Of course if he hated the smell of MKK on me most likely there won’t be a second date.

    Bald is also good; no poaching on the Lazartigue either.

  • Ladida says:

    I have a friend who thinks that gorgeous iris in the Chanel’s is “old lady”. I am so glad I don’t have that association.

    My husband is a born sensualist, which is one of the things that attracted me to him in the first place. Maybe Mr. Smell Natural is simply ignorant and needs to be taught. If he is unwilling to learn, then he can hit the bricks.

  • Patty says:

    I think the “old lady” reaction to perfumes is a psychological one. The fragrance is the same as, or reminds the commenter of, the signature fragrance of a relative – mother, aunt, or grandmother. Therefore, they automatically think old, or at least older, lady. I’m laughing at the thought of Paris Hilton dreck being thought old lady! Or any of the other candied-fruit-cupcake-cotton-candy stuff.

    • Elaine says:

      Exactly. Powdery lavender perfumes are “old lady” to me because my grandmother would come and stay with us for the summer and spend the entire time sitting on the couch (which meant we couldn’t watch TV) and smelling of some powdery lavender fragrance. I blame her for my dislike of all things powdery.

  • pam says:

    The Old Lady tag had bothered me for some time. Then I got over it when I realized that the favorite scents of the commenters were usually of the “celebrity” genre. Or Eau de Eau.

    Another thing I notice in some of the blogs is someone wants a scent that smells like X, but with more Y and less Z. And add some AB and C. Any ideas? When bloggers weigh in with suggestions, the person always responds with “tried it, it’s too ___”. Heck, let em find their own fragrance. They really don’t know what they want.

    I have only broken two things so far: Most recently was Kiehls Musk Oil. Good thing I like it. I’ve mopped the bathroom floor more than once.

    I try not to spray too much fragrance at one time. But my hubby has a poor sense of smell, so I can get by with wearing pretty much whatever I want to. And he doesn’t seem to have noticed the smell of musk oil in the bathroom.

    I haven’t dated in MANY years, so I can’t say what I would do with a guy who says he doesn’t like scent. But aren’t those the same guys who want a woman who “looks natural” too? Anti a lot of makeup. And they want long hair, even if it makes you look sad.

  • Debbie R. says:

    I think the recommendation thing is that the person wants a little variety, but hoping that if it shares at least something with the loved fragrance, maybe the recommended one will actually work for them.

    “Old Lady” fragrance = dated fragrance. White Diamonds is the only one that seems like that to me. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it changed with each generation. And I think the other poster who mentioned that it’s anything not a fruity floral, etc., is correct.

    As for “women should smell natural”…..get lost. If they’re going to start telling you how you should smell, that is a red flag of controlling behavior. “And men should be polite.”

  • DinaC says:

    As for the “a perfume that smells like X” request, I think that maybe when a person loves a scent a lot, they want more of the same, but not exactly. It’s a way of saying, “I want more in this same category, but even better.”

    I TOTALLY agree on the not giving random perfume gifts to a perfumista. A couple of years back, my bro and s-i-l gave me the 80’s coffret from Hell for Christmas! It had one of the Curve flankers, Red Door, Sung, Giorgio, etc. I felt badly because they were so proud to have clued in to my hobby and gotten me something associated with it, so I didn’t ask them where they purchased it. I went to no less than eight different places trying to return that horrid thing, and nobody would claim it as theirs!! I finally gave it away to charity.

    My DH has a weak sense of smell, so he rarely comments on my scents. If I ask him how he likes one, he’ll almost invariably say, “That’s nice.” What irks me more than the people who think we should all smell natural, is the ones who complain about perfume and then slather on scented lotions that could asphyxiate an elephant.

    • odonata9 says:

      Or deodorants or body sprays or even fabric softeners! I lent a sweater to a friend and when I got it back, the smell was overwhelming and lingered for several days!

    • BBJ says:

      My poor husband has a very good sense of smell, and thinks most perfumes are ‘acrid’.

      He loves Keiko Mecheri’s Ume, for some reason. Gourmands in general make him happy. But in general he endures the perfume thing.

  • Olfacta says:


    1) Maybe they’re just trying to strike up a conversation?
    2) Anything that doesn’t smell like fake fruit and cotton candy. I say let the Old Lady flag fly.
    3) Murphy’s law. The other day I forgot to take a decant of Adieu Sagesse out of my pocket before I threw my shorts in the washer.
    4) Good intentions gone wrong; sell it.
    5) Assume that a.) he has no idea what he’s talking about, or: b.) his last girlfriend wore Beyonce. Then break him in gently by starting with skin scents, and work upward. Chances are he’ll never know the difference.

  • Mrs.Honey says:

    Even before I had a collection, I was VERY particular about my perfume and just despised any perfume anyone gave me. The reason I was particular is that I disliked almost everything that I had tried. The reason I have a collection is that through the boards and blogs, I have found many other things to try, and one in ten or twenty work for me.

    In my experience, the powder is what makes others say “old lady.” I wear lightly usually, but applied a bit too much Habanita one time and my youth client told me just that. Of course, if the kid in question had elders that wore a particular perfume, they may think of that as “old lady.”

    I totally understand why someone who wears one thing that is available might want a recommendation: After a while, they can’t smell their own perfume. This has never happened to me personally, but several people went partially anosmic (sp?) during the one week challenge last year.

  • Marla says:

    The gift of a thong, oh my! You gave me my first laugh of the day, Patty! I like to give little silk bags filled with samples of all kinds of perfume, those are always fun for people even if they don’t wear perfume much. As far as old lady perfume goes, I can say from my years in Europe that the older women always smelled better, and wore more interesting perfumes than the young ones, who generally smelled like fake citrus/flowers and ethyl maltol!

  • tania says:

    Hmm…. good questions.

    1) I’ve always assumed they meant that they wanted the same type of perfume as X, but said it wrong. But if they really want smell-alikes, you are right, why bother?

    2)As far as I can tell, Old Lady Perfume is what younger women (and some men) call anything that isn’t a fruity floral, an innocuous citrus, a ‘cupcake’ scent, or an aquatic. In other words, anything with definite character. So I take it as a compliment if somebody says my perfume is ‘Old Lady’!

    3)That’s like asking why does the phone ring when you are in the bath. It’s just a law of the universe, or something.
    Having said that, I’ve never broken or spilled a scent. (Really). But I guess I’m challenging The Gods by saying it. No doubt I will soon drop my bottle of SM or vintage Mitsy…*crosses fingers*

    4)Another law of the universe, I think. I’ve had to regift or give away some bad choices in my time. So I’ve made it clear to people that they shouldn’t bother buying me scent because either I’ll already have it, or I hate it (I assume they won’t want to buy me something expensive or hard to get). And I only buy a perfume for somebody if I know they like it already.

    5) Hell yeah! That’s right up there with smoking and obnoxious beliefs as a potential-relationship killer for me. Even if it were Jensen Ackles or Nathan Fillion.
    Ok, maybe in those cases I’d go for three dates before dropping them…. ;-)

  • Suzy Q says:

    Gee, Patty, why not also ask what is the sound of one hand clapping! I’m very curious to read the comments, enigmas of the perfume universe.

    I reconnected with a long lost boyfriend over the Internet. Early on he volunteered that he doesn’t like “perfumed anything”. Uh-oh. I didn’t write him off immediately but in the long run we were indeed doomed.