Monday, May 17, 2010

One from the attic: Old Lady

The contest for the Liz Zorn samples ends tonight, Monday, May 17 at midnight US Eastern Daylight Time. Leave a comment to enter! I will choose the winner randomly and announce it tomorrow.

(Please note: the original Dec. 2008 comments aren't eligible for the new contest, so if you commented then, please comment again to enter.)

In the meantime, here's another old post from the archives, originally published in December 2008.

Are you an old lady?

I might be one, but judging from my fragrance preferences, I’ve been old since I was twelve. Of course, I didn’t know about the ultimate pejorative perfume phrase then. I just thought that the classics smelled like a world that didn’t fit me, yet, but I couldn’t wait to grow into.

Then I began reading the forums and the blogs.

“Smells like the inside of an old lady’s purse.” “Mothballs.” “Grandma’s bathroom.” “Fusty.” “Dusty.” “Musty.”


Here’s what. Older women scare people. Not all of those people are men.

I have to admit that, when I was young and dewy, forthright older women scared me. They laughed too loud, and their throaty laughter hinted at a whole lot of stuff I didn’t know (yet). They had deep voices, often from years of smoking. Occasionally, they regarded me with quizzical glances. Sometimes, I sensed a resentment of my youth; always, an amusement at my innocence.

These old ladies were my aunts, great-aunts, my mother’s friends, teachers or professors, older women I worked with. Some of them tried hard to disguise their aging with too much everything; makeup, manicures, helmet-hair, the works; some of them had even had work done. Others regarded that sort of thing with derision. All of them represented a very different concept of femininity from the glammed-out, platform-shod, tanned and shiny-haired ready-for-anything ideal of my time.

The epitome of the scary old lady is Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.” Hiding in a rotting mansion, her face a stretched and made-up mask, paying a younger man for his time and his services. She’s terrifying. Imagine the bravery it must have taken for Swanson to play a grotesque version of an aging star much like, well, herself in those days. That’s the kind of chutzpah I’m talking about. The kind you don’t have until you’re forty, and then only if you’re lucky.

Here are some of the scents I’ve heard called “old lady”: Miss Dior. Chanel No. 5. Youth-Dew. Dioressence. Aromatics Elixir. Paloma Picasso. Mitsouko. Ma Griffe. Madame Rochas. Cabochard. That’s only a few. There’s a long, long list.

Most are Chypres. It would seem that the classic Chypre is the likeliest candidate for old-ladyhood in perfume. Is it the oakmoss? Could be. Powder? Maybe. Big mixed florals? Probably. So why does Mitsouko come out on top of all the perfumistas’ lists, year after year? It can be difficult and challenging…hmmm, wait a second. Maybe that’s the point?

As for the young ladies, what choices have our times given them? An endless parade of celeb-scents: Britney, Paris, Jennifer, Hilary, Sarah Jessica, Jessica Simpson. I guess that makes sense too. A couple of these, I’ve heard, aren’t too bad. I have trouble getting past the imaging, though. I hear they’re all pretty and easy; fruity, floral, synthetic.

If I was a young lady, I’d be insulted. But perhaps I’m not placing this within the proper context.

Let’s see what else these times have to offer. Hmmmm. Polyester baby-doll dresses. Tiny little sweaters worn with low-rise jeans so the bare belly hangs over them (this alone makes me glad I’m not young.) Brazilian wax jobs. Anorexia. Athletic pants with the name of the “designer” emblazoned across the behind, like a brand. Texting instead of talking. Facebook. Awful concoctions like the “chocolate martini.” Tattoos. The word “hottie.” Binge drinking. Hooking up. Endless reality shows. Celeb-worship magazines.

Nice, huh?

Do you know a young lady? Do her a favor. Give her an “old lady” perfume. Tell her what “classic” means.

She’ll probably go “eeewww” now, and thank you one day.

Photo of Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Blvd." from a fan site.


Anonymous said...

I'm 29. and my generation of women have some issues. I do love the "old lady" perfumes, they speak of a differnt and sometimes better time to be a woman. When it was celebrated to be womanly, not to remain a little girl.

Anonymous said...


bookishredhead said...

I too have apparently been an old lady since I was 11. But, I've always known that about myself. Don't forget to toss in Tabac Blonde. I love it, but I get "old lady smell" comments when I ask people what they think of it.

Michelle Krell Kydd said...

Brava OlfactaRama!!! Back in "classic scent days" the woman wearing the perfume was the star and fragrance was the catalyst. Empowerment is much sexier than mimicry...

waftbyCarol said...

You made me laugh and cry and everything in between...thank God for complex old lady fumes...sliced , diced and edited molecules just don't thrill me .
Well said !!

Anonymous said...

What a nice read, this post. I enjoyed it.

Ines said...

So true. And I'm still not an old lady although I am learning how to get there. :)

waftbyCarol said...

I enjoyed this post just as much the second time around !
We're not getting older , we're macerating ....

Anonymous said...

I too am an "old lady". I was actually told that by a SA years ago, right before I turned 30. I wanted to smell Shalimar & Ysatis and she seemed so surprised. She said it was usually "older" women who were interested in them. I even remember in college wearing my Mom's Chanel #5 & Bluegrass. Although back in the 80's we still had some really decent new perfume introductions. I had a boyfriend buy me a beautiful bottle of Flora Danica. Oh the days when young women still smelled of well made perfume instead of plastic candy. My step-daughter loves all of the Victoria Secret fragrances. For Christmas she got a gift set with little mini bottles and I swear they ALL smelled the same. I had to leave the room & sneak a big sniff of Miss Dior in order to recover my sense of smell. :-)

queen_cupcake said...

Very nice article; WTF indeed!! I'm an old lady in spirit and in body. I get so out of patience with certain attitudes toward us older women. All I can do is "say it loud, I'm old and I'm proud!" After all, what is my alternative? :o) Please enter me in the draw--thanks.

Bloody Frida said...

oh my post disappeared - I think I wrote that Gloria was only 50 when she did that film, and isn't it interesting that woman of 50 years old now don't seem that "old"

I definitely am an old lady and I'm proud of it!

Nina said...

I feel like your comparison is a bit unfair. I myself did wear Cabochard and Ma Griffe when I was young, but those were fancy, expensive French perfumes. Most of the other young women I knew wore super sweet mainstream scents like Love's Baby Soft.

And these days it is possible to find really interesting modern scents, just as its possible to find insipid mainstream ones. My twenty six year old daughter is more of a west coast hipster, with tattoos, big funky glasses, cute little dresses, and flats. She likes to wear men's fragrances! So she's resisting the mainstream just as I did, in my way.

Rappleyea said...

You wrote: "I might be one, but judging from my fragrance preferences, I’ve been old since I was twelve."

I literally laughed out loud at that one as I too was an old lady at twelve in my perfume tastes! I started out with Je Reviens in extrait at that age! Mitsouko, Vol de Nuit, My Sin, Femme, Bal a Versailles - love 'em all! And pre-computers, there was no one or nothing to tell me not to wear those perfumes!

Classic post - thanks for bringing it back!

Dagny said...

My mother smelled my favorite Jasmine Imperatrice Eugenie and said Ew old lady smell ;( I feel you

Audrey said...

Beautiful post. I'm turning 39 in a few weeks and found that I can finally wear the 'old lady' perfumes....and they appeal to me now. I think what makes an 'old lady' perfume attractive to older women is that they can appreciate quality and elegance, and no longer care what other people think.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm an "old lady" and proud of it! Check out the look on Gloria Swanson's face - it's like she's thinking, "Who are you calling an old lady, sucka?" She may scare off little boys who like little girls that smell like cupcakes and lollipops, but real men would be intrigued by the challenge she presents.

flittersniffer said...

You have nailed the Zeitgeist in that handful of perfectly chosen examples from today's culture!

"Hottie" makes me think of Hooters, where the waitresses are of course all hotties or they wouldn't get hired.

I am not a big fan of classic chypres or celeb scents at the other end of the scale, but find a ton of stuff to love that falls somewhere in between, as perhaps befits someone of middle age?
: - )

Anonymous said...

It's worth noting that during filming, studio execs were concerned Gloria Swanson didn't look "old" enough to make the age difference with Holden dramatic (she was only 50), due to Swanson's healthy lifestyle. Makeup artists were assigned the task of making Holden up to look younger.

Perfumaniac said...

This post cracked me up. I just don't know where to start. First of all, I think sometimes older women do frighten the youngsters, precisely because of what you said — they can be challenging and difficult, and since they're no longer the conventional beauty (please note: I did not say they are no longer beautiful...) lots of people just don't know what to make of them. I supposed we (cuz I'm gettin' up there) are supposed to just go away? Or hide? Hell to the no, as the kids would say.

OK, having gotten that out of the way, the belly hanging over the jeans thing, btw, is called Muffin Top. It's usually accompanied by Whale Tail, which is the thong bikini sticking out of the low-rise jeans. Ugh.

As for "old lady" perfume, I've just gotten to the point that when someone says that, it just means to me that the perfume doesn't smell like fruits and citrus.

Like you, I have always been an older lady and loved older ladies. They're just more rad! (I'm an older lady who talks like she's 15.)

Anyway, to me the scariest and yet most fabulous old ladies are the Grey Garden chicks. My lord, this is what happens when you don't give a flying @#$% anymore!

Thanks for this fantastic post. I really did laugh out loud...

Bloody Frida said...

oh I adore the Edies!!! (funny the word verification for this post is "dimento" HAHAA)

Perfumaniac said...

Frida, Dimento, indeed! I love it. That's the danger — being fabulous and being a demented old lady seem to go hand in hand:

Nina said...

I spilled a little oakmoss on my table a few months ago and spent days trying to remove the scent because it made the house smell rank. Like old panties, dead animals,and an assortment of wretched smelly things.
I think part of the Old Lady problem is the chypre-ness and part is the association with old women. Many older women I knew smelled faintly of sweat and urine because we lived in a hot climate, there wasnt much AC and people used deodorant and powder not antiperspirant.

Plus, for me the scents remind me of my grandmothers old things in an old house in old closets and the musty smell of decay from the papers, clothing and so on.

However, I like most old lady scents other than Chanel #5 and Youth Dew, which doesnt smell like old lady tome, it just smells absolutely disgusting. (Carnation and clove, Im guessing)

I wear old lady perfumes, most people I know are so young they don't smell old to them (unless its something like Mitsouko or too much Habanita)The generally perceive the scents as "elegant" or "classy", which are better ways of saying "older woman" IMO

Flora said...

I love it - and I adore Chypres! Great tribute to the classics, and we are all going to be "classics" ourselves one day, some of us sooner than others!

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