How are Colognes and Perfumes determined?

I don’t mean how do they make it, I mean how do they determine which scents are colognes (for men) and which scents are perfumes (for women)?  I thought of 2 main possibilities.

One is that scents work biologically.  Acting like pheromones to arouse interest in the opposite sex, or to make oneself more attractive in general, whatever.  So the best perfumes and colognes will be the ones that have the best biological effect.  So some scents, those that best mimic female pheromones, would be perfumes, and similarly for colognes.

But if there is no intrinsic biological effect, then it’s possible the scents are more associated with existing scents, like flowers or bonfire or leather (Sort of random choices, but I like these smells).  But then the choice between which gender gets which smell is more societally determined.  For instance, a woman would smell like flowers because flowers are feminine.  But flowers being “feminine”, like many other gender associations, is a social construct.  And social constructs are used by companies to keep people buying things to allay their insecurities.  So the underlying meaning is that the perfume/cologne companies are choosing for us what we’re supposed to smell like, in the same way that clothing companies are choosing for us what we’re supposed to wear.

It’s probably a bit of each (no false dichotomies here!), but I like the natural beauty of the former, while the control from above in the latter creeps me right out.


Posted on March 31, 2011, in Science, Thinking Out Loud and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I have often wondered the same thing myself. I have found that most mens colognes have more of a woods based scent and the ladies have more flower notes. Though on a more personal level, I have found many mens colognes that I think should be over in the womens section. This leads me to believe that the powers that be in Perfumedom do not always know what they are doing. Much like Washington DC…

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