Perfume in the Classroom

Perfume in the workplace has been a hot topic lately, as evidenced by the trolling of the poor Candy Perfume Boy’s “Perfume In The Workplace” post by a very angry member of “The Fragrance Free Project” (which I suspect is run out of her basement). We at Scents of Self are nothing if not up on the latest haps, so I’m jumping on this bandwagon with a post of my own about the role of perfume in a college classroom. I hope that it will be helpful to any perfume lovers currently in college (curiously, there don’t seem to be many of us online, although I’m sure that they’re out there), or will at least provide a therapeutic place for all of us to bitch about that one girl who wore Dior Poison in Microeconomics.

The first issue with regard to perfume use in a classroom is space. If you work in an office, you most likely have your own cubicle, or possibly even your own office (oooh, girl, you fancy!) In a college lecture, however, you will be seated less than 2 feet away from someone for anywhere from 50 minutes to three hours. This is a very long time to be in such close contact with a smell that one finds unpleasant.

Much like that one girl who dresses like Lady Gaga for 9 AM physics class, or that group of bros who spend the whole class grunting about how they were totally about to break the Sigma Chi keg stand record last night, a loud, strong perfume can also be a distraction. As a junior at Johns Hopkins University, I have to say that it is already extremely difficult to learn anything from classes. You only have 50 minutes. The professor will mumble, or have illegible handwriting, or have illegible handwriting and refuse to use PowerPoints. Or he will be unnaturally fixated on Kim Kardashian and waste valuable class time talking about her sex tape. Or he will spend 45 of the 50 minutes recounting his glory days at NASA and then rush through the actual material in the last 5. (These are all real experiences that I have had. I’m not bitter.) Unless you are a super genius like my adorable little brother Buzz, who got both the looks and the brains in the family, you simply cannot afford additional distractions in a lecture.

I love him even though he is already taller than me.

Now, I would never advocate for a perfume-free classroom. In fact, I see the right to wear perfume in the classroom as being much like the American right to free speech. You are allowed to say whatever you want, but the law does not make you immune from criticism for what you said. Similarly, you can wear any perfume that you want, but I cannot offer you any protection against negative responses from people who find your perfume offensive.

Here is what I do recommend: small amounts of relatively quiet perfumes. Nothing loud or overwhelming. Again, it’s like freedom of speech. If you do not say anything particularly outrageous or egregious, you are less likely to encounter negative reactions. I am not going to name perfume names here, because I believe that even the most monstrous perfumes can be reasonable in appropriately tiny amounts. You are perfectly within your rights to dress like Lady Gaga and bathe in Aquolina Pink Sugar for your 9 AM physics class. However, I am equally within my rights to find you somewhat obnoxious for doing so.

What is your take on perfume in the classroom?

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38 thoughts on “Perfume in the Classroom

  1. Man, I tried to read the comments Nancy left over there but I think after this past weekend I’d want to shoot myself in the face even more. So … yeah.

    I will say that I have never had anyone complain about me wearing perfume outside of my mother who complained about everything I did from what shade of lipstick I wore to any shirt that wasn’t a turtleneck. I don’t know if this is simply because I wear ‘good’ perfumes or ones that suit my body chemistry or what, but I know that when my co-workers copiously spray Victoria’s Secret body sprays in the office I’m gagging and choking because of how rancid they are. I stick to a spraying most perfumes on my wrists, throat, and the nape of my neck unless they’re really light or have limited staying power. It seems to be a good philosophy. Not dousing yourself head to toe in some $12 raspberry freesia body spray with some boudoir-y name.

    1. You know, I totally get being charmed by a perfume’s name, but I can’t understand actually wearing a perfume solely because it has a great name. No one can tell that you’re wearing “sexy body hotness”; all they know is that you smell like plastic strawberries.

  2. Speaking as someone who went to college in the mid-to-late 80s, I agree – small amounts of something subtle, PLEASE. There was never just one girl wearing too much Poison in my MicroEcon class, there were four. Two in Giorgio. And one in way too much of my nemesis Opium.

    And none of those were cheapie Victoria’s Secret $12 body sprays, they were Serious Perfumes. Of course, at the time VS was only selling its one very lovely floral chypre perfume, Victoria, for more money than I could shell out for it – I remember, because I really wanted some. I’d never have gone to class wearing something that radiated past my extended arm, though. In fact, I don’t think I wore perfume to class back then. I certainly would now, but keep to the quiet scents. No Beyond Love in Managerial Accounting, certainly.

    1. Yeah, people need to practice moderation. When I’ve worn really bold perfumes like Poison I limit myself to one spray and one spray only. A lot of people apply way more perfume than is required. I can only smell the perfumes I wear when I sniff my wrist.

    2. FOUR! Perfume is super uncommon at Hopkins. Even when I go out, or at parties, I very rarely smell it on more than 1 or 2 girls. I think that perfume in public will, sadly, become less and less common as parents begin to see it as hazardous.

  3. As I am long past my classroom days, and intend to avoid going back, I equate the classroom with a theater. I’d never consider wearing a heavy hitter to the theater – no Poison, no Youth Dew, no Diva. People are there to enjoy themselves and focus on the show; they don’t want to be distracted by an overwhelming scent. If I wear fragrance at all, I’ll stick with something lighter (in terms of both character and amount sprayed). I learned the importance of this when I was at a play, seated next to a woman wearing Eternity – NOT one of my favorites! It was like being stabbed in the head with a spike, over and over again.

    1. Oh god. I think that there are some fragrances (and Eternity is definitely one of them) that are marketed as being “light” and “fresh”, but are really not. They have the highest risk of being overdosed on. I’m sorry for your Eternity experience! That show must have felt like (wait for it….) an ETERNITY!!!!!!

      1. Like Clinique Happy? My younger sister was a huge offender of this in junior high. It knows it’s supposed to be ‘light’ and ‘fresh’ and ‘citrusy’ but when she wore it it smelled like Lysol cleaner mixed with a men’s locker room.

        And yes, while at the theatre be polite.

        Riding the Metro some mornings makes me rethink what perfume I’m going to wear. No Bandit or Coco for me. I have finally gotten over my fear of wearing Dzing! on the Metro though. I was worried the musky strangeness of it would leave people thinking I somehow smelled badly.

        1. Dzing! is so far from the worst smell that metro riders have to worry about that it’s not even FUNNY.

          I haven’t actually smelled Clinique Happy in a few years, but I have an unpleasant association with it. It was the signature scent of a girl I knew who was blonde, bubbly, and naturally thin at a time when I was much more insecure. Every time I saw the bottle on her nightstand, I would reproach myself for not being “happy” and instantly likable the way she seemed to be.

  4. I am not in college, but I do work at a university where I see undergraduate students on a daily basis – in fact 80% of my time at work is spent doing walk-in advising for undergrads. Interestingly, I feel like I seldom smell perfume on my advisees. When I have smelled, it tends to be of the fruitchouli variety it seems. I’ve never had anyone who was overperfumed. I have had some BO experiences, though…

    Completely anecdotally, I feel like I more often smell fragrance on guys than girls in my office. In fact I’ve had some very well-scented gentlemen (as in, they made good choices!).

    My conclusion is that perfume isn’t particularly “in” with college girls right now, at least not for daily use. I’d venture that many of the non-perfumed ladies I see in my office apply perfume when they’re going out on a date or going downtown on the weekend…

    1. Perfume really isn’t “in” with the college ladies these days, is it? I also know very few girls who wear perfume, even when going out. And when they do, it’s mostly the body mist variety (Bath and Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, etc).

  5. I do belong to the college classroom, but from the other side. My redeeming qualities are that I do not refuse to use powerpoints along with the other, less linear thinking tools for the global learners out there.

    Also, I am never off topic — not ever — and when I am, it is called a pleasant “personal experience with the professor”. And this personal experience does not take away from any of the required class material.

    I wear all sorts of perfume in classroom — loud and obnoxious ones and the quiet professional ones, the ones I like and the ones I dislike. Sometimes I even sample and can sniff my wrist as I interact with my students.

    Um… I did not forget to mention that I teach exclusively online, did I? 🙂

      1. 😉

        How could I resist wearing a crazy evil hat? 🙂

        But now as a colleague you understand it one hundred percent, right? 🙂
        Even how one can be off topic and still don’t subtract from a student’s learning experience? (we are not allowed to teach without all our curriculum pre-made).

    1. Aha! Nice twist there at the end! I have never taken a class online, I imagine that it must be a very interesting experience for both the teacher and the students.

      1. I like it a lot.
        I prefer to write (one can tell since I follow my blogs and used to blog, but not about perfume) and to be able to communicate with students mostly one on one, through email and built-in feedback, and to create a curriculum ahead of time.

        1. I would definitely prefer to do most of my communication online if possible. Not because I’m antisocial- I love talking to people- but I always manage to accidentally say something weird or annoying. It’s so much easier to just delete an off-topic or rant-y paragraph!

  6. My days of lecture-room education are over. Now it’s just me, my computer, and my supervisor… which is it’s own special kind of hell. I have been pondering sillage a lot lately though as I have moved to a new climate. I want my perfume to be detectable to other people in my “bubble”, but finding that perfect range is difficult, especially in the winter when perfume struggles to diffuse as much. I find in the heat of summer basically one spray will do of almost anything, but managing that perfect sillage right now seems difficult.

    1. Did you move to a warmer or cooler climate than what you were used to, Meg? We get the whole range of seasons in Maryland, which leaves me conflicted in a way- my perfume wardrobe is meant for winter weather, but my clothing wardrobe skews towards the spring and summer.

      1. I moved to a milder climate all around. From an interior region with all the seasons turned up to 10 to a coastal climate with pretty much one long, mild, fairly wet season. I thought the dampness would amp up sillage but it seems to be the opposite. It definitely affected my wardrobe–almost anything but earth tones seem absurd–and pretty much all my heels had to go. Gum boots are the preferred footwear. I still express myself through my perfume wardrobe, but some things just can’t seem to be smelled over the wetness.

  7. It’s been such a long day and I’ve been itching to pipe up on this one. During my undergrad days I RARELY remember many ladies wearing actual “perfumes”; rather lots of body sprays. SO MUCH CUCUMBER MELON! The people doused in fragrance were always the boys. I just wanted to pass them a note saying “if you actually shower after you stop drinking at 5am, you can just dab on the fragrance!” I remember 8am classes (that I avoided like the plague) were the worst! The only non-music 8am’s I ever took were Brit Lit & Psychology. 8am Music History and Instrumental Methods (“How to Be a Band Director 101”) weren’t ever too bad, conducting was interesting. 1) Expecting a bunch of beginning conductors to be coordinated a 8am was just laughable & 2) the 8am over fragranced dudes…oh, no no no!

    During my Masters degree, I rarely left the confines of my studio/advising professors office/rehearsal hall so I smelled a lot of myself J’Adore and Burberry for Women. I’m pretty convinced my proff wore Acqua Di Gio. (Actually I’m very curious to know. He and I are now friends, but that would be a very creepy email for me to send and ask….)

    Conservatory was an interesting experience fragrance wise. (Well, it was an interesting experience, period.) My clarinet teacher would tell me he liked my fragrance one week and the next week I’d wear it and it was the worst fragrance known to man kind. I got sent our of a lesson once when I was wearing Chloe; my teacher citing he hated freesia. Playing in orchestra or pits posed an interesting problem. You’re freaking on top of one another, the lights are hot, inhaling and exhaling, bowing as if the sun rising the next day depending on it. I would allow myself ONE spritz of something light or a little scented lotion on the back of my neck. Most conservatory students were lucky to be bathed and in semi-clean clothes. I don’t think anyone really ever fragrance shopped.

    So, I guess that’s a bit of a specialized perspective. 🙂

    1. Your conservatory experience does indeed sound very interesting! The clarinet teacher sounds a bit temperamental. And is it just me, or was Chloe a tuberose, not freesia??

  8. My last couple years at Portland State, I think I was wearing a verbena scent that was later relegated to a linen spray… But I don’t remember encountering anyone wearing perfume. Maybe because it was Portland, or maybe it was off trend then too, but the only scents I can remember at all were those people who wore patchouli oil (which runs rampant in Oregon!).

    1. I know a patchouli-wearer too! She is a very glamorous vegan and environmental studies major. She also wears Monyette Paris, which I must admit I prefer!

  9. Eternity is so spike-like, I agree, and I speak as someone who – for vague Zeitgeist-y reasons I can barely fathon now – used to own a bottle.

    And Clinique Happy is such a misnomer, isn’t it? I know two women who wear it, and one lives across the street, which is too close really, while the other one wore it to her husband’s funeral. It seemed an odd choice on the day, but if it was her signature scent I guess that was fair enough, plus funerals have been rebranded lately as celebrations of someone’s life, haven’t they, rather than completely sombre occasions?

    I am too far in time from my own days at uni to have anything to contribute to this very entertaining discussion, except to say that I have no scent memories whatsoever of my seven years in higher education. Except that boyfriend a) gave me L’Air du Temps and boyfriend b) Halston. I would have worn these unsolicited perfumes very rarely, and very sparingly. Today I wear scent daily but reckon I probably still apply it lightly. Maybe I should try Natalie’s experiment, but I don’t think I am brave enough!

    Generally as I go about my business, I encounter far more men than women who overdose on scent. And it is usually of the nasty “tonic sport” variety too.

    1. Uhhh. If I saw a woman wearing something called “Happy” to her husband’s funeral, I’d consider investigating her for life insurance scams!

      How do you feel about boyfriends giving their girlfriends perfume as a gift, Vanessa? I think it’s a bit too much pressure. Drew seems too intimidated by my collection to bother trying, so it’s not an issue I’ve had to deal with yet.

      1. I would say that it is a bit too much pressure really. Good for Drew for feeling intimidated – it probably is the right response under the circs. A mutually chosen scent, a selection of samples for the loved one to screen or just some cash after you went and bought the thing yourself seem like better plans to me.

  10. Ah! Guilty as charged. I have worn Poison to class, but I think it was Bioethics, not Micro-economics. In my defense, I used a bottle that had a glass stopper, not a spray, and only used a little….
    I work at my college, so I used to go right from class to work, and sometimes, back again, so I tend to be careful about how much perfume I wear. I’ll wear louder fragrances because I like them, but only a little bit. For example, I own and love Burberry London, but it’s a bit like being slapped in the face with a bouquet of flowers, so I spray it on my wrist from a few inches away, or spritz it on a scarf so it’s not quite so floral assault-and-battery. I have a rebellious streak, though, so I’ll be damned if I let someone else tell me that I can’t wear my perfumes because it might bother someone else. Maybe I’m just selfish?

  11. Wow Ari I am flattered to have been mentioned here in your blog! Just for clarification I don’t troll. I educate and promote fragrance free living as it is a serious public health issue. And just for info I do not have a basement. {smile}

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”.
    ~ Mahatma GandhI~

    Apparently with the sort of folks found here we are still at the laughing and fighting stage. But we will win.

    Nancy
    The Fragrance Free Project

    1. I wish the Mahatma Ghandi quote was true, I suffer everyday at work with my perfumed colleagues, they are aware of my allergy and acute sinusitis but still cover themselves in scent that makes me miserable. Upon mentioning my issue, I was told that I can not dictate how other people conduct their hygiene, I am the one with the problem so I should manage it, ie oral antihistamines, nasal sprays, analgesics for headache etc, it has got to the point where I need to work from home in a scent free environment just to have a quality of life.

  12. I am with Selina .I am selfish…I will wear whatever I want in whatever amount I choose and no one is going to stop me. Fortunately for silly Nancy I live in Australia,so unlikely I’d ever meet her.So continue your one -woman diatribe knowing your message is falling on deaf ears or simply being dismissed as stupidity.Now where is that bottle of Patchouli Isave for such “special occaisions’? May I suggest Ms.Nancy heads back to her bunker.

  13. Yes Selina I would agree with you. You ARE selfish. People all over the world do suffer from the effects of the toxic chemicals in fragrance/perfume/parfum. Even in Australia. Believe me I am not just on a “one woman” diatribe. People all over the world are waking up to the dangers of the chemicals used. Styrene, toluene, benzene, ethers, formaldehyde, napthol, ethylene glycol, phenol, heptane, butane, methyl mercaptan, propyl butarate, alkanes, carboryl, carbon disulfide (and other phthalates), carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, cresol, ketones, lead, inorganic/revised, malathion, mercury, inorganic. parathion, petroleum solvents, refined, trichloroethylene, tungsten, xylene, zinc oxide and hundreds or other equally toxic chemicals that are carcinogens, neurotoxins, narcotics (you are hooked!), respiratory depressants/irritants and on and on.

    It’s time to wake up people. The people who are smart enough to learn this are no longer using chemical fragrances. They use non solvent extracted essential oils if they really feel the need to have a smell. That’s why some of the people here have noticed that not as many people are using perfumes and fragrances. Some people are smart enough to figure out that they don’t want to poison themselves. Even if like you, they don’t care about anyone else around them.

    Fragrance Free Spaces are coming. Get ready for it.

    1. Thank you, Nancy. You bring tears to my eyes. For me, at my University, it has become an issue of a fragrance free class room, or I can’t attend. Even while wearing a mask over my face to protect my upper respiratory system from symptoms caused by the inhalation of fragrance chemicals, but mostly from the solvents used to disperse these ‘scents’. Lucky for me, I have medical proof, documentation, and the support of Disability services. I’ve blogged about it here: http://the-labyrinth.com/2012/12/16/fragrance-free-adaptive-technology-room-at-victoria-university/

      If people could understand that perfumes are no longer made from natural ingredients, and that things like Benzene, which may also be in cigarettes, are a part of their composition, along with many other nasties. Essential oils are a much better choice, if people don’t want to infringe on the health and the right to breathe clean air. It’s not about the smell; it’s about the chemicals and the symptoms they can cause.

      Ps. It’s a health and safety issue

      Oh, and just for education’s sake, here is a report on the suspect ingredients in designer perfumes http://the-labyrinth.com/2012/12/21/perfume-an-investigation-of-chemicals-in-36-eaux-de-toilette-and-eaux-de-parfum/

      Miche x

  14. Just because we like something does not mean it’s good for us, like addictive recreational drugs or unhealthy desserts. Like Nancy’s entry outlines, typical commercial products with fragrances (perfume, aftershave, lotions, hair and laundry products, candles, air fresheners, kitty litter, etc.) are loaded with toxins that hurt EVERYBODY, whether you know it or not. And even some unscented products, like Bounce Fabric softener, still contain many harmful chemicals. You inhale toxins, absorb them through your skin, and ingest them every day, and your poor body constantly attempts to detox and eliminate the chemicals. But most people’s bodies cannot keep it up, and so the neuro-toxins affect your brain and neural system, the carcinogens cause cancer, and other chemicals lead to a long list of other issues like hormone imbalances. They are especially dangerous for infants. This is the same reason why there are now laws about cigarette smoke.

    Just because something smells good, are these risks worth it? If you want to be healthy, and care about other people and animals around you, then look into the issue -there is much scientific data about the harmful effects. Or ask around and you will meet many people like myself who cannot tolerate chemicals and who therefore cannot participate fully in society. I was injured by a broken heating and ventilation system, and now I cannot tolerate many chemicals. It’s called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or Environmental Illness. My symptoms include migraines, lethargy and brain fog, hypothermia, etc. My liver and kidneys struggle, and that leads to many other issues like extensive food allergies. I can no longer go into most clothing or gift stores, cars that are new, detailed or with air fresheners, hotels, public bathrooms, health clubs, yoga studios, church, etc. And there are more and more people me. I think the most common group of people who cannot tolerate perfumes and other chemicals are asthmatics. Asthma has become epidemic and can be fatal. No one’s desire to wear perfume should rob another person’s right to survive breathing the air in public places like schools! Many other people who claim to be “health” are still bothered by perfumes and report feeling sleepy, jittery, headachey, etc. About 1/3 of the population by most informal polls done in college classrooms.

    I understand that people feel it’s their “right” to wear perfumes but I do not think they realize it is very harmful, even potentially life-threatening to people and pets around them. I cannot imagine anyone really wants to injure other people. People tell me that when they switch to safe, nontoxic, fragrance free products (like unscented deodorants and salts) their sense of smell improves and they start to taste foods with more vibrancy and enjoy wonderful subtle natural scents in nature. And then when you know you are going to a place where you can wear perfume without hurting anyone, just a little bit will become a wonderful treat for you and yours. I wish everyone health, Sue

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