The Trope of Womanhood
Do our perfume choices harbor the ability to help us define femininity? Hayley Dwight investigates.
Yesterday, as I unpopped the bubble wrap of my most recent online purchase, I squealed: “My scent!” [pleasing sigh] “Now I’m a woman.” Humiliated by my outburst, I wondered why I considered perfume the ultimate trope of womanhood.
In interviews in glossy magazines of female creative directors, designers or other admirable and successful fashion types, the women often describe sleeping in Kiki de Montparnasse and spritzing Chanel instinctively upon waking up. (Or, if you are Carine Roitfeld, you fall asleep with a spray and wake up to another wisp so you are just layers on layers of an intoxicating ethanol blend.)
For as realistically hard-working as these women must be, they seem to have a magical life; sleeping in nighties more expensive than my prom dress was and waking up in a cloud of scent emblematic of the highest form of luxury label. From the outside, this must appear like femininity at its most appealing. But there have got to be more admirable associations than scent, no? Isn’t perfume a bit too flighty to function as the ultimate representation of womanness?
Of course, the definition of womanhood is subject to vary infinitely depending on the woman describing that which makes her “feminine” if she chooses to use the highly descriptive yet equally cryptic adjective at all. After much deliberation, though, and a strategic process of elimination–which mind you, included a jigsaw–I have begun answering my own, weighty question.
So far, I’m at no. There are no more significant, tangible tropes of womanhood than perfume.
Femininity cannot be associated with something as esoteric as intelligence point blank. We share this faculty with everyone else who holsters the ability to understand things and femininity infers a deeply personal relationship. The answer isn’t as shallow as boobies or bodies thanks to the equally feline existence of, on the one hand, Erin Wasson and on the other, Kim Kardashian. And of course, as we know, fashion’s enthusiasm for androgyny suggests that clothing may not determine what is conventionally described femininity either. (Though, this too should be discussed at length).
Womanhood is an exuded energy independent of intelligence, cup size or clothing. Instead of carrying any specific associations, “femininity” is as diverse as the breadth of population it includes. Perfume can be a literal manifestation of that energy, a cloud of scent that hovers around you like your attitude. And through our pragmatic selection of fragrance, we participate in the fantasy we’re creating.
This rationale has led me to sit gleefully computer-side, in my saggy crotched chinos from the little boys department at Brooks’ Brothers, wearing a gentleman’s watch stolen from some distant relative. In spite of my knowing that I never have been and never want to be a capital-L-lady, I take complete comfort in my own skewed sketch of femininity. What defines yours?