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Perfume and personal space

(Not So) Common Sense

Perfume. Eau de Parfum. Eau de Toilette. Eau de Cologne. These beautiful, fancy French words name types of scents or rather, they name the strengths of fine scents.

Carole Townsend

Perfume is the highest concentration of a scent and therefore, it’s the strongest.  Eau de Cologne is, by contrast, the lowest concentration of a scent and therefore, the lightest. You guys remember that this Christmas and sons, just because you bought Mom the biggest bottle doesn’t mean you bought the best one. My sweet son, when he was only 8 years old, gave me a gallon drum of perfume for my birthday. I know he was thinking that bigger must mean better. In a way, he was right. That stuff made the best toilet bowl cleaner.

Do you like perfume? Wear it? Lots of women do. For years, I did neither. An asthmatic since I was a kid, any strong smell –  especially a flowery one – always caused my symptoms to flare up. As I got older, my sensitivity to smells lessened, and I began to be able to wear some scents. They have to be spice-based, mind you. Those heavy floral scents are, to me anyway, cloying and suffocating. 

Perfume is a girly thing. I know men wear cologne but still, a woman’s signature scent says something about her. At least, that’s what the commercials say. Some scents say that you’re sexy, some say you’re flirty, and still others say you’re no-nonsense. If I believed what the perfume ads tell me, based on the few scents I wear, I’m a millionaire heiress who lives on a yacht, bakes cookies for my kids and wields a machine gun like a Navy S.E.A.L. Personally, I believe you like what you like, and that’s that. 

I remember being a kid and sneaking into my parents’ room (a big no-no), just to smell the collection of beautiful bottles of perfume my mother kept on a mirrored tray on her dresser:

Chanel No. 5.  Tabu.  White Shoulders. I can still see the bottles.

To this day, I can’t tolerate the smell of any of those perfumes. No offense to my mother or anyone else who wears them; they’re just too strong for my bronchial capacities. I can smell them a mile away, too.

I feel sure that’s why we don’t see those perfume snipers at malls any more. Oh I used to dread walking past the perfume section of a department store.  As hard as I’d try to avoid them though, it never failed. One of those well-dressed, plastic-looking women would dart out of nowhere holding a bottle of perfume out in front of her, like a sub-machine gun. She’d ask, “Care for a sample of our new scent?” And before I could answer, she’d be squirting it right in my face.  

Did that tactic ever really work for you, Estee or Givenchy? It must not have, because we sure don’t see those ladies any more, do we? Makes me wonder where they went to work after the sniper position got eliminated. The military, perhaps, but other than that? How do those skills translate to the rest of the working world?

And while we’re on the subject, do those annoying little magazine inserts sprayed with a new perfume really work either? Around my house, I can tell you how we use them. Once they fall out of the magazine onto the floor, they either get pitched into the trash, or I might stop along the way to scoop up a wayward bug that’s gotten into the house. They’re the perfect size for that. 

When I wear perfume, I apply it very sparingly. I figure if I can smell it, so can everyone around me. That’s great if they like the scent, and not so great if they don’t. But I can promise you this, I am not that woman at church who has on so much of the stuff that it makes people’s eyes water. I’m not the woman at the supermarket to whom people give a wide berth because she’s over-applied her cologne. And I’m not the woman in the crowded elevator who has a whole corner all to herself.

I wonder, if some big-city mayors can dictate whether citizens can purchase soft drinks (and in what quantity and size), and if jurisdictions can tell smokers they can smoke here, but not there, is it conceivable that some day soon, we might have lawmakers telling us where we can and can’t wear perfume?

It’s something to think about.

Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published April 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her other three books are MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA & EXHAUST; RED LIPSTICK & CLEAN UNDERWEAR; and SOUTHERN FRIED WHITE TRASH. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on, Barnes &, and at When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, children and the family. For more information, visit For more information, visit