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I find the discussion of gender and perfume fascinating but frustrating. However well-considered an understanding or a finding might be, it’s hard to consider in terms of evidence. Gender is as basic as language, but where do you find gender? Fragrance is easy to ‘place’ vis a vis gender, but how do you discuss it with any degree of nuance?
It’s possible to make truthful generalities about groups of people but I am cautious about the size of the brushstrokes. I’m confident generalizing about men since I am one and therefore am afforded some leash. Also, when looking at male affiliation and group dynamics men are an easy read. Because men tend to have a blind spot equal to the size of their ego, dissecting their fears is like shooting fish in a barrel. Ask a man why he wears fragrance and the answer you get is likely to be either wrong or uninformative. The often stated reasons are:
* They like it. True, but uninformative.
* They wear it to please others. Again, probably true, but uninformative.
* To attract / impress sexual objects. False in two respects. 1) The rationale of ‘impressing the chick’ is a fallacy of male ego. The fragrance doesn’t necessarily impress the ‘object’. It simply identifies the wearer easily. The chick may not like the fragrance, but through it, she IDs the dick and then acts accordingly. 2) The man ostensibly wears the perfume to interact with the sexual object, but in fact, he wears it in order to signal his appropriate execution of masculinity to the other men around him. Proof of this lies in the answer to this question: Which of the two following scenarios would be more offensive for said man: A) Two women in a row rebuffing his come-on, or, B) Two men in a row thinking he’s queer? The answer is B. Affiliation with the image of heterosexuality is more important at this juncture than actual hetero-sex.
The unstated reasons why men wear fragrance and how they select the ones that they wear have everything to do with the push/pull of group affiliation and the proper performance of gender. Fragrance is an identifier. It’s part of a gendered style-package, along with wardrobe and hair. For a woman, a ‘signature’ fragrance is viewed as a means of expressing a personal esthetic, a non-verbal way of interacting with others. It’s interactive and evolving. For a man, it’s both deeper and much simpler. It’s not surprising that men tend to ‘mate’ with their fragrance. Many men, once they find the fragrance to wear, will wear it exclusively until something comparable to death or divorce happens. A choice was made. Following the choice, it’s simply routine and ritual.
Wearing one fragrance, like having the same haircut from age 18 to age 70 (often despite balding), tells me that men require a very small set of variables to ensure stability of identity. Change is dangerous and the fewer things in man’s day that make him consider that maintaining his appearance requires effort, the better. When a man is comfortably settled into his ‘props’ of gender, he can more easily convince himself that his masculinity is intrinsic, natural. As God intended.
So, the aquatic fragrance. I suspect that there is not actually much difference between men in the late 19th century wearing floral perfumes, men in the early to mid-20th-century wearing fougères and men in the late 20th century wearing Cool Water and the like. Men individually can’t be expected to take on the burden of choosing a new fragrance. It’s much easier for changes to occur when the entire cohorts embraces a fragrance genre, something that dovetails nicely with the heterosexual male notion of generation and breeding. Grandpa might seem old-fashioned to you, wearing Azzaro pour Homme. But don’t forget, to the kid next-door, you’re the creepy old guy who’s probably worn Cool Water since the late 80s.