Gender, Pack and the Aquatic Fragrance


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 is it?  Where do you find gender?  Fragrance is easy to ‘place’, but how do you discuss it?  What does it mean?

It’s possible to make truthful generalities about groups of people, but I am cautious about the size of the brushstrokes.  I especially love 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.  Dissecting their desires and their fears is like shooting fish in a barrel because men tend to have a blind spot equal to the size of their ego.  Let’s move forward from the presumption that men tend not to be very self-reflective.

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. (More on this in the next point)

* 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.  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 cologne, 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.  It’s an identifier.  It’s part of a gendered style-package, along with wardrobe and hair.

It’s not surprising that men tend to mate with their fragrance. Many men, once they find the fragrance to wear, will wear it monogamously until something comparable to death or divorce happens.  A choice was made.  Following the choice, it’s simply routine, ritual and ceremony.  When a woman wears fragrance for a very long time, it’s chalked up to a strong sense of personal style.  For women, a signature perfume is a means of expressing personal esthetic, a way to stand out for beauty, a non-verbal way of interacting with others.  It’s a means of expression:  I’m mysterious, I’m aloof, I’m considerate.  It’s interactive and evolving.  For a man, it’s deeper and much simpler.

The wearing of one fragrance, like the man who has 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.  This style monogamy, whether perfume, attire or more grooming, helps to maintain one of the blind spots. The fewer things in man’s day or life that make him consider that maintaining his appearance and performance of gender in the world requires effort, the better. When a man is very comfortably settled into his props of gender, he can more easily convince himself that his gender 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.

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