Perfume--Our Grandparents and Before

Pippin06

always learning--often laughing
Feb 8, 2017
Sometimes I wonder when it became common for women--and men--to start collecting perfumes. It's hard to imagine our grandparents or great parents collecting--or at least wearing multiple perfumes. I believe yesterday's man would wear one cologne--or several after shaves at most.

When do you think perfume collecting--or having a perfume wardrobe--became so popular? When do you think mem joined the party?

Besides the internet--and forums like Basenotes, what do think the reasons are?
 

FiveoaksBouquet

Known to SAs
Basenotes Plus
Jul 16, 2004
Before the internet I used to read a lot of French beauty books and magazine articles that covered perfume. Although there were surely always individuals who loved to explore many perfumes (raises hand) in the 1960s and ‘70s, the available literature was still focused on finding your signature perfume, the one that was just right for you. In the 1980s the articles began to change as the concept of a “fragrance wardrobe” was floated and began to gain momentum. It was a marketing idea that changed the industry.
 

The Cologne Cabinet

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Jul 22, 2014
In the 1980s the articles began to change as the concept of a “fragrance wardrobe” was floated and began to gain momentum. It was a marketing idea that changed the industry.
+ 1
I began collecting in the early 90’s, right after graduating high school. My rotation in those days - Drakkar Noir, Eternity, Polo Green, Polo Crest, Safari, Aramis Tuscany, Brut, Old Spice and even, yes, Cool Water!
 

Bonnette

Missing Oakmoss
Basenotes Plus
Jul 25, 2015
My grandmother never wore anything but vanilla extract. My mother wore only Stradivari throughout her life. Lush advertisements in women's magazines and related media had a pronounced effect on my generation (growing up in the 50s), and I started collecting whatever was available to a 12-year-old with babysitting money - drugstores carried Guerlain, Fabergé, Arden, Weil and others in those days, at very affordable prices. My aunt supplemented my collection with Avon goodies. There have been collectors of fine perfumes throughout history, but marketing really drove the boom in the last half of the 20th Century.
 

grayspoole

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Feb 4, 2014
I think perfumes were a luxury that my immigrant, working class grandparents and parents did not allow into their lives much. I also think that the older generation of my Italian-American family associated strong perfumes with "loose" behavior. I remember my father (who wore after shave only) muttering darkly about a dandy-ish older relative who wore cologne. Older ladies did smell of talcum powder and probably Avon scents.

My perfume collection is therefore a perplexity to most of my family. I realize that I was always keenly interested in scent but I had to arrive at my midlife (10 years ago) before I began to fully indulge my proclivities.
 

ambergeese

Basenotes Member
Sep 7, 2022
I think perfumes were a luxury that my immigrant, working class grandparents and parents did not allow into their lives much.
I was going to say something very similar for myself. I've never talked to them about it, but I doubt my rural Ukrainian grandparents have touched a drop of fragrance in their lives (though now that I think of it, that's such an interesting question to ask -- after all, myriad things you wouldn't expect show up in tiny rural markets, and things like henna for hair have been well-known there for decades, so perhaps some attars or oils from the Middle East might have trickled in along the way). My mom started her small collection of mostly free designer samples in the early 2000s; I haven't asked but can't imagine my parents had any before emigrating, either.

Historically, the answer does seem to be a marketing shift around the 80s, at least in the US, but this is such an interesting personal and cultural history question as well.
 

LiveJazz

Funky fresh
Basenotes Plus
Mar 16, 2006
I'm not sure it actually is all that common to have a fragrance wardrobe of more than 1-2 fragrances, even now. I'd be interested to see how many bottles the typical fragrance owner has. Perhaps there are more true wardrobes than there used to be as consumerism and wealth has generally expanded since our grandparents' era, but I'd bet it's still a tiny portion of all fragrance owners. I don't know anyone else IRL/non-Basenotes who owns more than 1 fragrance. My wife owns more than 1, but that's thanks to my influence.

It probably feels like a lot of niche interests (including this one) are more common than they are, thanks to the internet. In the past, any fragrance collectors probably wouldn't have had access to a community of like-minded people and the social affirmation that comes with that.

Side note: this is an interesting side effect of the internet in general, I think. Easy to find an agreeable sub-section of the internet and feel like whatever thought/idea/interest is way more common than it is. For better and sometimes for worse.
 

LeChypreSexy

Super Member
Oct 13, 2022
Sometimes I wonder when it became common for women--and men--to start collecting perfumes. It's hard to imagine our grandparents or great parents collecting--or at least wearing multiple perfumes. I believe yesterday's man would wear one cologne--or several after shaves at most.

When do you think perfume collecting--or having a perfume wardrobe--became so popular? When do you think mem joined the party?

Besides the internet--and forums like Basenotes, what do think the reasons are?
I grew up in the 1970s and 80s. Mom always had around 5 or 6 perfumes on her perfume tray. Dad generally was working through about 3 bottles at a time. Income level maybe had something to do with having multiples instead of just one? I don't really know. I don't think "collecting" fragrances was a thing because there was no need to. The popularity of 100% synthetic perfumes has changed fragrances dramatically over the last 25 or so years. Back then even drugstore fragrances were still made the "classic" way (around half natural and half synthetic).
 

Cook.bot

Flâneuse
Basenotes Plus
Jan 6, 2012
I think that for middle- and working-class women of my mother's generation (born 1920s-1930s), Avon may have had a lot to do with validating the idea of a fragrance wardrobe. My family (of non-immigrant Americans) was quite poor, but there was always one relative or another who was an Avon representative, so my mother and her sisters would have little scent collections -- two or three for daytime wear, and a couple of more "exotic" nighttime fragrances, plus a variety of bath products. Avon's marketing approach really encouraged scent variety over signature scents.

But I think LiveJazz is right, and that it's still pretty uncommon for non-aficionados to have more than one or two scents on their dressers at any given time, no matter their gender.
 

cacio

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Nov 5, 2010
I would assume that wealthy women would have a few perfumes even back then-after all the likes of Guerlain, Caron and Chanel started serving this market at the beginning of the century. But for most of the population, this wasn't simply feasible.

My guess is what was mentioned by others as well. After WWII, with increasing incomes, more and more people started being able to afford perfume, and more than one. As noted, Avon must have been a big push. For somewhat wealthier demographics, brands like Estee Lauder started pushing perfume as an affordable and useful luxury. In Europe, it was probably more the big fashion brands expanding their reach.

For men, this must have started later-I think it's the 70s when men accepted the idea of wearing perfume rather than aftershave.

cacio
 

Zenwannabee

Super Member
Sep 15, 2009
I agree that seriously collecting fragrances didn’t become a thing until the ‘70s-‘80s and that for men likely even later. The Internet obviously exponentially expanded this. But In my house growing up it was really only aftershaves and drugstore colognes, and even now in certain circles it raises eyebrows if you’re a man who collects colognes. (Outside of my family and this forum, I really don’t discuss my hobby with anyone).

That aside, although I love the plurality of fragrances that I’ve tried and that I own, as a child of the ‘60s I still feel that I’m on the Grail quest for that one signature fragrance and that I’ll find it beyond the next bend. Actually, I likely found it in Brut and Old Spice years ago, but I still go on looking… 🙂
 

StylinLA

Basenotes Dependent
Aug 9, 2009
I think there were very few men who were collectors until the mid to late 80s and that bigger collections didn't start until the internet exploded in late 90s. Early collectors probably felt a little odd. But when we were able to discover more frags and others like us online, it opened up collecting a bit.

All of my experience with family in my youth (60s/70s) were that both men and women had one or two scents only. I see some notes above about people who had a few different Avon scents and that makes sense.

There were probably more choices than I remember in 1970s, but I only recall a few. Polo being a big step forward for men in my memory.

Even though part of me knew I was a "frag head" in the 80s and early 90s, I usually only had one or two bottles at a time. It was around 1996 I started to build a small wardrobe. Finding wet shaver sites and Basenotes in 2009 was like opening Pandora's Box.
 

AndyL

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Feb 2, 2022
I'm not sure it actually is all that common to have a fragrance wardrobe of more than 1-2 fragrances, even now. I'd be interested to see how many bottles the typical fragrance owner has.
LJ, this statement struck me. Not to long ago I complimented an acquaintance. We see each other a handful times throughout the year. But, this was the first time I noticed a fragrance on him. So... the compliment went something like this.... "Smelling good there my friend, do you mind me asking what you are wearing?" He said, "Thank you, I don't know... I have so many... like 2 or 3. My girlfriend buys them for me and its hard to keep track of them all. Think this one is getting low though."

That may be more typical.
 

LeChypreSexy

Super Member
Oct 13, 2022
LJ, this statement struck me. Not to long ago I complimented an acquaintance. We see each other a handful times throughout the year. But, this was the first time I noticed a fragrance on him. So... the compliment went something like this.... "Smelling good there my friend, do you mind me asking what you are wearing?" He said, "Thank you, I don't know... I have so many... like 2 or 3. My girlfriend buys them for me and its hard to keep track of them all. Think this one is getting low though."

That may be more typical.
Yup, you nailed it. I sell fragrances at a department store and most men's colognes (90% maybe) are bought by women for their boyfriends, husbands or sons!
 

woodnotes55

Basenotes Dependent
Oct 27, 2016
Agree with LiveJazz post that lots of people don't have many fragrances now. But the other part of this.... it depends how old someone is as that impacts how old the grandparents are. Some of the younger members it would be a different case but for the older ones, or ones with above usual gaps between generations, in those days people just didn't buy as much "stuff" overall. And when they did buy something they tended not to buy more until whatever it is was gone, broken, or used up. Maybe didn't for people in the higher income brackets. But overall it was a very different environment. Just the size of houses as one example, less room for things the further back you go...
 

Ken_Russell

Basenotes Institution
Jan 21, 2006
Interestingly, neither of my grandparents (and likely no ancestors further in the past) wore fragrances-therefore somehow fitting the standard image/opinion that fragrances might have been an extreme and scarce luxury before the Internet and/or democratized by mass market retail.
Nevertheless one of the reasons that brought me here on BN in the first place involved the fragrance experiences as well as role models did have before the Internet AND also thanks to a circle of extended family on both parent's side and their acquaintances.
 

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