Are You Too Young or Old for a Fragrance?




I am asked "Am I too young/old for this perfume/cologne?" all the time. This is where fragrance shifts from being just a good smell into a deceptively complex psychological statement.

In this video chat, I discuss what affects our (and others') response to the scents we choose to wear. Long story short: wearing fragrance is a chance to express different sides of our multifaceted selves. Why limit yourself to one, peer-approved version of you? Playing it safe is risk-free, but surprise and joy-free, too. Perfume is an invitation to a dream, and dreams provide the cushiony upholstery on the wooden frame of our reality.

Fumies, I'd love to hear your stories about growing into "inappropriate" or "wrong" fragrances.

45 comments:

  1. I always think that all orientals smell like old lady! Im not sure why in particular I associate it that way! Thanks for the advice.

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    1. Perfume is subject to trends just like everything else. Broadly speaking, it's been a very berry/cupcake world for while, with a side helping of fruity aquatics for the gents. At the moment, anything outside those areas will smell not quite...du jour.

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    2. @Anonymous - clearly where you were the sexiest 18 year old girl at college wasn't wearing Opium. (When Opium was Opium).

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  2. After I was brainwashed by Basenotes, I hypnotically order anything from Lucky Scent that suits my fancy;) Going into boutiques like Aedes in NYC would have never happened pre-basenotes. Now, you the high priestess of perfuming possibilities are defending our cause. I *heart* fragrances!
    signed,
    A non-fasion plate fume head 50 year old hetero-dude.

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  3. I remember smelling something at sephora, and liking it. the clerk said in disgust, "It doesn't even smell like FRUIT (have used caps to express proper lashings of scorn). I do think that some things smell classic, like Shalimar and Miss Dior. You can also inser the words 'of high quality, from another era'. So never too young ( I still wear Givenchy's Tartine fragrances, which are alcohol free but complex) or too old (shalimar!). Wear it, and enjoy life!
    Sincerely,
    Carole

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    1. Limiting something as frivolous yet life-enhancing as perfume is so self-defeating, isn't it?

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  4. Hi Katie, yet another reason fragrance is high art. Just like you said people need a reference in order to be able to make a choice. They need to experience many scents to put things into some kind of context. BACK ON TOPIC - Sorry ... I'm not concerned with age or gender in regards to fragrance at all - I would be pleasantly surprised to smell something like Azzaro pour Homme on a fourteen year old girl just because it might give the fragrance some much needed youth and energy! It might also put a smile on face to smell something like Lolita Lempicka on an eighty year old man. It's amazing that fragrance has been given gender specificity in the first place! If it smells good it smells good!

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  5. In 20 years time fruitysweetycupcakyberry will smell old lady - I hope. And all the youngsters will vy for Bandit, Gold or Ysatis the Original. Sigh...

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    1. Let's talk again in 20 years and see what has happened!

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  6. thanks for this katie, i was just pondering this whole 'is this too old for me' question the other day!

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  7. Maybe you are too young for certain fragrances if you think you to need to ask someone else's permission to wear them............

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    1. It's natural to feel a tad self-conscious when venturing into uncharted perfume territory. The permission-seeking thing really comes into play with the arbitrary gender assignments of many fragrances.

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  8. Katie, I have to tell you that my mother loved tea rose, she used to wear it as long as I remember & most of the older ladies in my family love their rose perfumes, my grand mother is one of them So imagine my reaction when I saw tea rose in your collection video??!! looking to the bright side my mother have a great taste in perfumes that YOU like the perfume she loves ;) Hessa

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    1. Oh, I love those bright, fresh tea rose perfumes. I was just re-smelling Yosh Sottile the other day. A frisky, sunny rose and lily of the valley number.

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  9. I always say "Wear what you love, not what 'they' say you should love". So here I sit in my Mitsouko felling very "now". Thanks Katie!

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  10. Lanier - another Mitsouko lover here! I doff my hat to your impeccable taste :P

    I'm so happy you posted this, Katie. As a young lady who's happiest in woodsy, spicy, smokey smells that make you think of autumn, or the inner sanctums of the Bodleian (minus the fear), I do get a lot of comments that my perfume "smells of old lady". Says who?!

    Then again, maybe one day people will relegate the sugary vanilla-puff pie confections that people my age are supposed to be into to the dark realms currently occupied by Impulse body spray and the like, and start thinking "y'know what, leathery notes. They're kinda cool." A girl can dream....

    Wear what makes you feel like a goddess, I say - be that the giggling sugar-plum-fairy variety, or if you fancy setting your Kali loose on the populace. Life's too short to let other people dictate your tastes to you.

    -Leah

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    1. Leah,
      Mitsouko is amazing isn't it. I have always been drawn to the classics. My first perfume was Chanel for Men, now long gone but a wonderful rich fragrance. These days I find myself neck deep into incense, spices and the Orientals. I much prefer the exotic pagan smells of the temple to Jupiter than those one finds behind the cotton candy machine at the carnival. You know, the one next to the port-a-pottys.

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  11. This was beautifully said. :-) You expressed so articulately what I, and many others, feel about wearing fragrance. Thanks.

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  12. I was in a terribly grouchy mood today until I watched your video, Katie. Thanks!

    I was a very silly teenager/twenty something, so I'm happy to become an old lady. Pass the Shalimar.

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    1. Glad to slouch you out of your grouch.

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  13. Also, I think that "Love, Chloe," was a clever way to mix old/new. The waxy lipstick and powder smell gave it a sense of the past that adds (at the risk of sounding a little dramatic) poignancy but it stays light, not overwhelming. Not TOO powdery.

    And yes, waxy makeup is slightly poignant for me. It reminds me of stuff like going through my grandmother's makeup or getting ready for Halloween as a kid.

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    1. Love, Chloe is a good example of demo-straddling.

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  14. Bright Angel Katie - HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!~ You look radiate for the new 2013 year. This video was very beautifully articulated. I have to admit that I, too have felt sometimes that a fragrance is not age appropriate for me. I have no idea why, but I loved when you said years ago that fragrance does not have genitalia. However, when you look at men and women's purchases they seem to gravitate towards their sexual classification. This is why fragrance is a BILLION dollar industry in this world and studied at the University level and clinical laboratories. This topic is so complex it makes my head numb. On one level, you have to just go for it. If you like something and have the courage to wear it then do it. However, be ready for the comments from men and women when you do wear it and some comments can be brutal. Then, on the other hand, let us say you want to buy a fragrance for an older woman that you really respect. Do I buy something sexy, slinky, suggestive or alluring. No, I could not do that. I would not want this woman to think that I would like her to smell like a French harlot. Do you see, how tricky this gets. Dan, you and I have had this discussion a while back and there are scents that are distinctively male and female. I think so any way. In addition, yes, I think there is an age appropriate factor when you wear something. Younger folks can get away with a lot of stuff. Middle age not so forgiving and by the time you are 40 and over, you should have a societal grasp of what is appropriate for your age and personage. I think.... See, this is difficult. OUCH, this video really made me have to think.

    Just sayin…………

    HAVE A BLESSED NEW YEAR, KATIE!!!~

    Love ya madly,

    Byron……

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    1. Byron, rather than having your fragrance selections limited by getting older, I think it's the opposite. Just like the way the range of music I love and listen to just keeps getting bigger and bigger with each decade I survive. There is so much to choose from, and perfumes have such precious associations and resonances. But I do think as you get older, you know yourself better, so perhaps you are more focused in what you elect to wear.

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    2. Bright Angel Katie - What a gorgeous response and I totally concur. Thank you. Brrrrilliant!!!~

      Byron.........

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  15. Katie, your skin is so lustrous in your videos, could you make a review on your favourite face foundation, PLEASE? :))

    Milica

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    1. You are nice to say so, Milica. I don't think I'll do a video, but you can pop over to my other blog, Mixties http://www.mixties.com/ where I often discuss my beauty enthusiasms.

      Face-wise, my secret is all in skin prep rather than glopping on foundation. (I use all different ones, and only around my nose/mouth. Currently I'm using Dr. Jart BB cream 25 SPF.) So I will use a serum or face oil, and/or some kind of moisturizer that packs a punch before applying foundation only where I need it. I do a sneaky face massage as I apply moisturizer. I think the main key to looking fresh and glowy is a peachy cream blush. Lots of moisturizer (with SPF) and cream blush is my road to lustrousness.

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    2. Thank you Katie! :))

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  16. You are the BEST EVER!!!!!!!

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  17. Does anyone sense that, regardless of personal taste, certain notes/combination of notes, ultimately resulting in a formula classified as fragrance group, are more in tune with body chemistry, which of course is affected (not solely) by age? Hence the reason we may feel more "appropriate" wearing certain groupings rather than others. Or is it simply a refinement of tastes, based on years of experimentation and discovery?

    ~E.

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    1. I think the sense of appropriateness mostly comes down to what is "expected", and what is expected is what is targeted to the age group, e.g. Youth Dew for 80-somethings, Tresor for 50-60s, Jo Malone for 40s, Light Blue for 20s, Juicy Couture for teens. Once experimentation comes into play, all bets are off!

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    2. little bird: OUTSTANDING point!!!~ Yes, I agree with you, too!!!!~

      Byron.........

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  18. Well, this old lady loves Miss Dior Cherie (the original, my dear; the one before all the folderol and sleight-of-hand with the current Dior names). That strawberry top gets me every time and the fragrance smells young to me, but doesn't say my zipcode is in Cougartown. It makes me feel sunny.

    Milica has a great idea! Skin care and foundation recs would be lovely!

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    1. There's so much flexibility with perfume choices, because by the time our sillage tickles another's nose, they've already clocked our look, our body language, perhaps the sound of our voice, our general M.O. It's the last piece of the puzzle, and most people are inclined to accept that's just how we happen to smell.

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  19. I'm reminded of when you (Katie) mentioned in a video once that as a kid you were just going to smell like a French hooker from the 40s, and that was that, and if people couldn't handle it, that was their problem. I love children and I wish I could have babysat you at that age. I would have been very indulgent and let you paw through my perfume collection and sent you home smelling, indeed, like a French hooker.

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    1. That sounds like a good babysitting session! I could use one now.

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  20. i find that as i get older i love comfort scents....... warm amber.... sophisticated vanila...
    softer spice..... anything that wraps around me in a cozy sense...........
    nothing that SHOUTS i am wearing perfume but something that says..
    louise was here.

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  21. Hi Katie!

    Just discovered the joys of perfume this last year - and your blog yesterday. Its really wonderful -an immediate favourite!

    Especially loving this post -such a fascinating topic. I know i have 'granny associations' I can't break with a lot of the classics - Mitsouko, L'Heure Blue etc - even No 5 are just too powdery for me to enjoy them. I also believe my tastes are dictated to in a large way because of familiarity. Any scents i'm well acquainted with are far less exciting to me -and so floral, fruity or cupcake perfumes are a total turn off. So i enjoy the smell of roses in a miserable UK garden, but not in a perfume. But orchids, representing the exotic, are still lovely.
    However, I agree with Louise, that as i get older I'm enjoying scents i wouldn't have been ready for a decade, or even a few years ago. Would i have enjoyed 'Musc Ravageur' in my 20s? I tried to introduce it (along with my other scents) to a younger friend recently, who was clearly disturbed by them - dismissing them as 'masculine' scents. I'm sure i would have had a similar reaction at the same age! Doesn't the taste pallet change as you age? Is our experience of scent somehow connected to this?
    I've even had a variation of this discussion relating to the visual recently. In my 20s (the 90s) interior decor seemed to be all about beach floorboards, minimalising and a lot of chrome. I remember finding anything gold tacky from the moment i remember having first formed an opinion. In the last decade my tastes have changed and i want dark floorboards, dark walls, and lots and lots of gold.
    Both in perfume and my visual appreciation I wonder if I am slavishly following fashions, or have I refined my tastes because life-experience enabled experimentation? I wonder if there is another factor, which defines tastes- complexity. In the same way most children enjoy predominantly sweeter foods when younger, before their taste buds develop, could it be that we initially experience a 'challenging' perfume as strange/repulsive because its effectively a sensory overload?

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    1. Welcome aboard, Selina! Just as you elaborated upon, it's a light bulb moment when you realize that our reaction/attraction to different perfumes is driven not only our ever more sophisticated palate as we mature and are exposed to new things (and old things), but also by trends that we might not even be aware of.

      Our tastes get jaded by over-exposure, and that's when we seek out the challenging and exotic. It applies to music, fashion, food, film. But then there's the comfort factor of a favorite old perfume, song, pair or jeans.

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  22. Excellent topic, Katie!

    When reviewing a fragrance, it is difficult (maybe impossible)to tune out the cultural associations and present a fair and thoughtful assessment. I once referred to a fragrance (that I detested) as "appropriate for the high-school locker room". Shame, shame. Recently, I started liking Chanel No. 5, a fragrance that I previously felt was harsh, miles away from contemporary sensibilities, and at the same time, inevitable (heh). But now, I can't get enough of No. 5, especially when it develops on the skin and exposes luscious sandalwood. The aldehydes strike a dissonant chord that feels bad-ass and even a little punk-rock/avant-garde. In fact, No. 5 motivates me to wear something edgy or give my eyeliner an extra smudge. Isn't it a great feeling when a fragrance that you once detested becomes one of your favorites?

    --Guin

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    1. Guin, I'm currently experiencing an awakening to No. 5's magnetism, too! It's down to smelling the pure parfum on a couple of women I know, and recognizing for the first time the sexy ylang-ylang pulsating out of the composition. Just as you say, the magic happens when it develops on the skin.

      "Chanel No. 5: gives your eyeliner an extra smudge." I like it!

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  23. I'm 16 and I'm having some difficulties with perfumes, because I am very discreet in almost everything and I want a striking perfume. I absolutely love super sweet fragrances with floral notes. So please give me some suggestions and recommendations. I will appreciate your help.

    Greetings from Portugal!

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