Perfumes: Masculine versus Feminine

Chemicals which constitutes perfumes have no gender. And the base chemicals of all Perfumes are more or less the same. 

Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus. So is it imperative that their perfumes come from different planets as well? On the face value of it, perfumes & fragrances are supposed to be genderless – they are only chemicals after all, and applicable for both men and women alike. But, we tend to assign a specific gender to the perfumes. Some notes like citrus are neutral in scope, while strong, leathery, woody, musky, aromatic, scents are usually considered masculine, and their feminine counterparts consist of the delicate, fresh, sweet and floral, fruity spectrum.

How Did Perfumes Get A Gender?

Historically, the gender-scent nexus came about in the West in the 19th century, based on predominant gender-societal roles of that time.

Men took to popularizing woody, earthy scents in line with their strong, white-collar, outdoorsy duties. While floral fragrances and the aromas of sweet edible ingredients, like vanilla and fruit, gained traction in keeping with the middle-class household and gardening preoccupations, more so as the development of synthetic fragrance-compounds made lighter and more delicate perfumes available outside elite-society circles.

Neural pathways, created during memory-associations, linked specific scent-groups to their masculine and feminine acquaintances. Think of different fragrance-types that your parents might have used leading you to form your own subconscious ideas about it. And similarly, your parents derived the same notion from their grandparents.

When fragrances began to be widely available, marketing stepped in to label them as ‘For Men’ and ‘For Women’ in a bid to move boxes by promulgating the myth. And that’s how most of us identify perfumes and set on its usage.

Ingredient wise, a perfumer, mixes gender-independent, primal scents/ base-chord with two more layers – head-chord and heart-chord to create a perfume by trying to replicate a mood/ state of being like an obsession, romantic sunset etc. , a scent-profile like a mountain mist, a certain existing scent-object like cinnamon, coffee, bougainvillaea etc. Interestingly, the ingredients that they are going to use to make this sense will be more or less the same for other ones as well. So the gender does not come from the elements themselves but how it is prepared and marketed.

A Subjective Choice

A Stockholm University study demonstrated that except for most spicy and floral scents, gender-assignment is ambiguous. Nowadays, especially with the world opening up, one doesn’t have to submit to the stereotypical past necessarily. Every skin chemical is different, and it impacts on the fragrance as well. More and more, women, whose skin is more acidic than men, are taking to dabbling musks lessening its effects. Men, experimenting with floral notes with evening casuals appear sophisticated than effeminate.

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