Here’s a topic we haven’t discussed in about a thousand years: perfume at the office. DO office-appropriate perfumes exist, ladies? If so, what are the business etiquette rules for perfume?
When I grew up I always loved the idea of having “a scent” that people would know me by — there’s a line in When Harry Met Sally about how at the end of the day he wants to come home and smell her perfume on his clothes, and that always struck me as romantic and lovely.
When I started the blog, I was fascinated to find that readers, by and large, haaaaated perfume for the office. They got migraines, couldn’t escape the strongest of scents, and NO, in fact, they did not want the conference room or their clothes smelling like your perfume if you were no longer there.
Then, I took a long break from perfume because I was in that pregnancy corridor, and either it turned my stomach to wear it while pregnant, or I worried the baby would react negatively to it. My kids are 4 and 7, so I’m slowly starting to go back and try different perfumes — and it’s been really fascinating to me how strong and overpowering my longtime favorite perfumes are, at least to me.
I’d read some interesting stories about how perfumes that smell like nothing are really popular, though, so I’ve been sampling some of those, and I thought we’d revisit the topic: if a scent is personal to you (as in, you have to be in hugging/kissing distance to smell it), can it add to your personal sense of polish or empowerment — without annoying others in the office?
Are there business etiquette rules one should follow (like not spraying in the office bathroom or your own office) in an abundance of caution for your colleagues? Furthermore, which are the best perfumes “that smell like nothing”?
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For my $.02, I’ve been sampling a few different brands, and my favorites are the lines from Juliette’s Got a Gun (although I’m not personally fond of the brand’s signature scent, “Not a Perfume.”) (Sephora has the sampler set that I bought back in stock! I literally love all of them except for Not a Perfume; if I had to choose I’d say Another Oud, MMMM, and Lady Vengeance are my top three.)
I wouldn’t say that they smell like “nothing,” though — it’s more like the subtle scent that you notice if you use scented handsoap, shampoo, or deodorant (but with better staying power) — it’s an understated smell that stays with you and makes you happy when you find a great scent. I also really like Glossier’s scent, but for some reason I bought it in solid form, and it’s too strong for me in that format.
I loooove Phlur’s Hepcat, but I might put it more with Le Labo (I have this one) as a “modern perfume” and less of a “not a perfume” — the scent is stronger and more traditionally “perfume/cologne” and less soapy, at least in the modern sense of the word.
Let’s hear from you, readers — do you think office-appropriate perfumes exist, or is all perfume at the office on the “no go” list?
Which do you think the best perfumes to wear to work are — and what are the business etiquette rules for perfume?
This discussion never goes well here. [leaves to get popcorn]
I love perfume and enjoy wearing it, but I’ll never wear it at work. I even work in a tiny office right now where I’m frequently alone, and I still don’t wear perfume at work. It’s just inconsiderate. The end.
Agree–100% inconsiderate. Why on earth do people feel that they can force themselves on others in this way? It is an invasion of personal space–I really really really really do not want that kind of “contact” with my coworkers. What you think “smells like nothing” or “isn’t overpowering” is stomach-turning strong to me–we don’t all experience scent in the same way.
I like perfume but I know it’s controversial. I’ve asked my coworkers and to the extent they can even tell I wear scent, they like it and it doesn’t bother them.
I wear Annick Goutal Un Matin d’Orage. It’s a watery green floral, could be described as slightly soapy, but not an old fashioned rose-lily floral like pink hand soap. More white flowers taken down to an un-sharp level by the green/water.
In-House in Houston
I put one light spray on my chest/bra when I’m getting dressed, then I put my clothes over it (obviously). I almost always wear some kind of blouse and either a cardigan or jacket, so I feel like the scent is somewhat muted. My new favorite is Flowerhead by Byredo. My husband says it’s his favorite and makes him want to do really dirty things to me. I’ve asked coworkers if they can smell it and they either say yes, but they like it/not offensive, to they can’t smell it at all.
Your colleagues all want to do dirty things to you, too, when you wear it. They’re just too polite to tell you so.
Do you know your colleagues well enough to know whether they are telling the truth about it not bothering them? If these aren’t close relationships, people can feel put on the spot and uncomfortable saying what they really feel.
Does anyone here keep a bullet journal? I just received the nicest gift of a journal and set of pens. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of keeping a bullet journal, but I have no — and by that I mean ABSOLUTELY not the foggiest – idea of where to start. I’ve been nosing around on Pinterest, but omgoodness, talk about overwhelming (and let’s just shame me now on the fact that I am so not that artistic!) Plus, once you fall down the ol’ Pinterest rabbit hole, well… You may as well send the search party now! Any suggestions/ideas?
I did one last year! It was blatantly unartistic. I just got a set of colorful pens I liked and could write well with. I drew monthly calendars in pretty colors and made simple habit trackers and weekly calendars and that was just about all I did with it…a few other spreads for fun, like a mini calendar for the days I wanted to do yoga or a page devoted to a weekend trip I took with my mom so I could keep track of what nights I would be away from home. Link to follow, but there was one article about simple weekly layouts that I used throughout the year, switching from one to the other as I pleased. Mostly I used it for the habit tracking aspect and as I’d use a normal planner, with to-do lists for the day and such. Some people also have theirs function as a diary, which I decided to keep separate, but I love that mine sort of has a diary feel when I reread through old to-do lists and calendars (“mail birthday card, meet friend for coffee, research grad school programs, etc.”). And I can’t stress enough how no-frills I was. I think I drew a flower on my June calendar…other than that, the fun came in at using pretty pens and not having to put up with planner pages I didn’t want or need.
Another L’Engle Fan
I’m just here to compliment your screen name, Vicky Austin!!
OMG hello new friend! I was never expecting anybody to recognize it, but I’m so pleased you did!
I read and re-read our copies of The Moon by Night and A Ring of Endless Light until they fell apart. There’s one little Alfa Romeo I see driving around the city and I think about Zachary Grey every single time.
Love it, too!! I smile every time.
Inspired By Hermione
I made one in OneNote. It functions like a normal bullet journal except it’s on my phone. I tried to do a normal bullet journal probably 4 or 5 times and could never stick with it, but I’ve used the OneNote version since June.
This is my third year with a bullet journal and i love it. I wish i could post a pic to show you how messy mine is. It’s not artistic at all. It’s a to-do list and a note-taking space. It keeps me organized and fairly on-task, and leaves me with decent notes any time I need to refer back.
The only video I watched and took seriously was the one on the official bullet journal site.
I don’t have any drawings in mine.
My journal front to back goes like this
Index (I fill this out as I go along using pages)
A page for my office address and phone extensions I dial a lot
The future log, three months to a page, where I lay out my known travel/conferences/vacations for the year.
What i call the future future log, where I will start filling out 2020 known dates as they become known sometime this fall (this was a feature I added because i realized I needed it after 2 years)
Then 2 pages for broad annual goals, things i would like to accomplish this year
Then i start with the months
So January has one page of one line per date, where I put in travel days and appointments as they come up
Then one page for goals/to-dos this month and notes of things I need to talk to my manager about if I ever manage to catch him (very helpful to have this ready to roll! I just jot things down as I think of them)
Then the pages are by date. I don’t have a fixed number of pages per pay. Today I wrote 0122 Tuesday, underlined, about midway down the page i stated yesterday for Monday, and I have filled up that page and continued to the next already.
I add months as the year goes along. I migrate goals from day to day (see the video) and from month to month.
At the back of my book I have other things like, recipes I want to try and where I can find them (cookbook or website) and a list of things I’m looking for shopping (helps keep me from random sale buys) I also have a few reference pages, like this thing i occasionally have to do on the system at work that I can never remember the steps for. Things like that
If you buy the blank bullet journal made by Leuchtturm1917 it has some guidance printed in.
Good luck! I can truly say it has been life changing for me.
+1 to looking up Ryder Carroll/the original bullet journal site. I started there as well.
+1 to all this. I’ve been using one for a few years. It is not pretty at all. It’s a hybred habit tracker, calendar, notes, lists of useful things (e.g., frequent flier numbers, packing lists, names/contact info for doctors, book/show recommendations). I have a monthly calendar I draw in, a habit tracker that goes behind that (basically a sticker chart for me), then daily notes which are a combination of to dos, appointment reminders, gratitude logs, etc. if I find myself referencing something frequently, I’ll add another stand alone list to reference frequently. I also will use it for brain dumps.
Our office is official ‘scent free’. I still smell hair product semi-frequently but definitely not traditional perfume smells. Love perfume for non-work time but would feel strange to wear it to work.
On the ‘signature scent’ I don’t get how that’s a thing. Like no one has an office ‘signature’ make-up look.
I think that a signature scent is a thing. I know some people who think about a grandmother or mother when smelling a certain perfume, and the tie between scents and memories is real. I think it applies to people who wear a certain scent exclusively forever.
I wear one spray of Le Labo The Noir 29 most days. Rarely I’ll do one more spritz for the evening if I’m going on a date because my boyfriend has commented that he loves it.
I definitely get the strong association with memory and scent. My grandmother always wore Chanel No5 and I think of her whenever I smell it but I don’t get wanting to have a signature scent in the office context.
Signature scents are definitely a thing! I have a friend who wear the same one and it’s so comforting to smell it because it reminds me of her.
I concur 100%. None of the women are allowed to wear perfume, but Frank says as a guy he can wear his Aremas, and he loads it on. FOOEY!!! For some reason he thinks women will swoon over the aroma of his body odor mixed with Aremas, but we do NOT! B.O. is B.O., and Aremas wont fix that. My ex also had some cheap colone that he put on that he thought would make me do stuff to him but I was on to his anticks, and found his requests repulsive, so I did NOT do it. All I could remember was the cheap perfume he bought me from CVS with the stale chocolates (which he also thought was an afrodesiak), and laughed at him. I am SOOOO glad he is outta my life! YAY!!!
I like wearing perfume but I only put on 1 spritz – I don’t understand people who drench themselves in it. I don’t want to be able to smell the perfume of anyone (unless I’m leaning very close to them) and I don’t want to leave a cloud behind myself either.
I don’t understand who is dousing themselves in perfume. I put one maybe two spritzes on my wrist and can’t usually smell it as the day goes on.
Just remember that the daily wearer gets ‘immune’ to the smell over time. Although I don’t get migraines or anything, I can distinctly smell my colleague’s perfume, although they might not drench themselves in it, and I don’t find it enjoyable.
I get a headache from most perfumes, as does one of my coworkers. However, I’ll occasionally apply some Aveda Stress-Fix concentrate to my wrists without issue. It’s a very light scent with a pretty minimal scent radius.
I wear Jo Malone Earl Grey and Cucumber nearly every day, except when I’m really missing my mom and then I wear her signature, blackberry and bay. I have a private office and go light on it, and I’d stop if anyone asked me to
Love Earl Grey and Cucumber!
I wear perfume almost every day. I really like it, and I wear a very light scent. I also work for a company that manufactures scented products, so anyone that is sensitive to scents wouldn’t work here. Our buildings and office always smell like one or more products.
I wear perfume almost every day, Indigo by Nest. I love it. I have had a total of 1 coworker comment on it and she loved it. Everyone else thinks I just smell vaguely of tea all the time. It makes me happy, no one else notices, what does it matter? I’ve also never had someone who claims to be “allergic to perfume” notice it, so…
I love this one! Although dahlia and vines is my favorite.
Just don’t. The chance that you’re secretly annoying multiple people (who would be embarrassed to admit to being annoyed) is VERY HIGH. Scent is so personal; one person’s love is another’s “ew that’s cloying” or even worse, “that’s the same one my ex wore in college.”
Plus, people who have a signature scent tend to apply it more and more heavily over time as they go nose-blind to it, exacerbating the problem.
Every time certain persons in my office walk by my desk, my throat starts to close up. I am not allergic, exactly, but I would really love it if people would refrain from wearing perfume to work.
This is me as well. Even after my sinuses become stuffy, I can still taste it at the back of my throat. Then I usually get a migraine along with nausea and dizziness when I have the worst reaction. Not every single perfume or men’s cologne does this, but the majority do.
Historically, no matter how calmly or politely I let a co-worker know that I would prefer they go easy on their scent, it ends badly. Even when they have said it is okay to let them know.
I have a fragrance free workplace. I have been replacing my usual products with scent free versions (lotion, déodorant, etc.). At first I was grumpy about it but the process made me realize how many different fragrances I was trailing behind me. I do have favorite perfumes I splash on at the weekend.
The deodorant thing would annoy me. My deodorant isn’t leaving a trail, and the only way you’d smell it is if you jammed your head up into my armpit. Plus, a little bit of scent seems to help curb the scent-radius of less pleasant smells so…
For the love of god please don’t wear perfume in an office. Or leave random smelly plug ins in shared bathrooms. Your sent sensitive, migraine prone, sometimes pregnant and almost about to puke at all moments of the day coworkers will silently thank you for abstaining. I’m not confrontational and I’d never ask someone to not wear perfume, but I’ll just suffer in totally pained silence wanting to die a little while we have a meeting together in a small conference room lacking ventilation.
Grow up. If you refuse to even try asking you deserve it.
I was being a little facetious, but sorry (not sorry) is it THAT hard to imagine that putting something smelly on your body might affect other people…. in the exact expected ways that Cat laid out in her post? And what would bringing it up to someone do…. It can’t exactly say, hey please go home and take a shower now, you are making me ill (I work with a lot of people)? How much happiness/utility exactly does spraying yourself with smelly junk bring you to not be able to think a little beyond yourself to the needs & health of the people around you? I’ll just go around tossing the glade plug ins I find in work bathrooms from now on since I don’t even know who is putting them there (def not management).
I like citrus scents and switch them so I don’t become immune. It’s always a spritz under my clothes. I also make sure that as the office warms I wear a lighter version because heat intensifies scent. I have my own office so no one is next to me. I have a plug in that isn’t plugged in. That’s enough scent. If I plug it in I think it’s too strong.
At the consulting company where I work, our CEO is allergic to perfume. We don’t have a no-perfume policy, but it’s a small company and everybody knows – we warn new hires. I often do consulting sessions with groups, and who knows which one of them is sensitive, too? The only days I’ll wear perfume to work are the two days our CEO works from home, if I don’t have client meetings. I enjoy perfume enough on my own behalf to keep track of this. When I do, it’s one spritz of a non-killer perfume, usually Diptyque’s Philosykos.
I don’t really wear perfume but mainly because I’m too lazy to apply it but I love when others do! Nice smelling people makes me happy and there’s not enough of them in dc.
I do wear perfume every day to work but I make sure to not wear anything overbearing or just too much of it. So far, it’s been gone okay.
How about having an essential oil diffuser in your office? I recently walked into a partner’s office and she had some saje oils on, but she was sick so I’m not sure if it was a one-off.
I wish I knew when so many people became so allergic and delicate. I was discussing this with a group of friends recently. We are all in the mid 60s age wise and do not remember anyone having peanut allergies when we were kids. I also don’t remember everyone having a fit about perfume or cologne in the office when I first started working fresh out of college.
Maybe it is a function of today’s forced closeness office layouts or something. In any event, I would rather smell someone’s perfume any day than their BO, infrequently laundered clothes, bad breath, microwaved fish lunches, etc.
I second that
For my family, I literally point to this past Spring and Summer. My preschooler, over age 2, who loves peanut butter, had an allergic reaction to the sunflower-seed butter served at his preschool.
My older son developed a tree nut allergy. At age 9.
“I don’t remember kids having allergies…” I don’t know how old you are. I am 40. My husband is allergic to shellfish and hazelnuts. Maybe in your day, those kids died for lack of treatment or information. For years allergists told parents of newborns to avoid common allergens. Now pediatricians tell parents to deliberately expose their children.
If you’re interested in more information about food allergies, I urge you to contact many groups that advocate on behalf of children, families, and yes, adults of all ages with food allergies.
I hope this sounded like a humorless rant to you – this is every day life for people with “sensitivities” whether actual allergies or not.
I actually wonder if lack of exposure causes these allergies.
My sentiments exactly.
My sentiments exactly.
I do not believe anything has changed from past years to present times as far as increased allergies and sensitivities.
Smoking, and heavy smoking used to be very common in offices, restaurants, and any other public environment.
Women wore perfumes and men wore colognes.
People drank liquor at work and some still do.
I believe what has changed is that workers have a voice now, as opposed to the past.
Sick workers are not as easily fired for raising a valid issue or concern.
The corporate rules and regulations, and new laws, are indicative that there was a serious health issue.
Nancy, first, migraines are a neurological disease that yes is only having its first specific treatments come to market today despite being the sixth most disabling disease in the world. I am someone whose migraines are triggered by fragrance of all kinds (including fragrant flowers). This is because for over 20 years my brain doesn’t respond normally to that stimulus. To prevent that from happening, I take the largest daily dose of medications my neurologist can prescribe me. That’s because I am required by insurance to try multiple drug protocols and have them fail before I can qualify for the newest drugs. And even then it would cost me about $7000 a year.
So what happens if people use fragrances in the workplace even if we have a company policy or I have alerted them to my neurological disorder. Well, I have a migraine drug I can take which usually stops the migraine. But sometimes it doesn’t. I can only take those meds 3 times in 24 hours so then I have to move to injections of a drug like toradol. If that doesn’t work, I will usually have to go to emergency care where they will usually give a large dose of steroids, IV fluids, and oxygen. The last severe migraine I had due to a fragrance diffuser in someone’s office they refused to get rid of, I was on massive steroid doses for 2 weeks. Some of the symptoms I experience is vision disturbances, numbness in my face and the right side of my body, nausea, and trouble speaking, among other things.
Smelling unpleasant odors for a limited period of time is a small price to pay for those of us who are seriously impaired by fragrances. Yes, we can sometimes use the ADA to get offices to institute fragrance free policies, but it doesn’t apply in every situation and plenty of people firmly believe they are entitled to any fragrance no matter who they are harming. I would love to not have this disease but I wasn’t given a choice.
Is there a divide between people who are North American and people who are not? I find people in Western Europe (ok, France and Italy in particular) and Latin American/South American countries seem to be more ok with stronger scents in office settings. Thoughts?
I think that you are probably right. We seem to have an abundance of delicate hot house flowers here in offices these days.
You are right. As a European I love perfume but I don’t drench myself in it. Perfume has been part of my life since I was a teen. I do get the best quality scents though with subtle notes, a nice chypre for instance. My bottles last forever. I do live in the States and find women don’t know how to apply it or how to select a sophisticated scent. Most scents are too fruity and cheap that I have smelled others wearing. It’s just a cultural thing imo and especially with application.
Perfume should not cover a smell… it should accentuate you and the scent should only be enjoyed by those close to you. A small dab on your pulse points and that’s it.
I would much rather smell perfume than people’s body odors and other offensive smells at work.
This is not an either or thing- it’s a please don’t be smelly… whether you define it as good or bad smelling.
Best comment on here.
As a person with unusually severe asthma, I really appreciate scent-free work environments. Not all perfumes/scents cause a reaction, but it’s hard to know which ones will. (I, of course, always keep a rescue inhaler– I understand it’s my responsibility do that.) I am otherwise someone who is very not-fussy (maybe the product of being a middle child?), so I don’t actually mind the scent of things for the scent’s own sake. But, remember that some of us have severe allergies/asthma (or, as other people noted, migraines or some other condition). We appreciate it when you are careful to not spray perfumes!
I am allergic to perfumes, colognes and even some highly scented hand sanitizers can send me wonky. It was manageable when we were in my old office as co-workers knew. Since moving to an open office concept a year and a half ago, I have gone home sick three times. It is a running battle with HR to either bring in a Scent-Free floor or even to put up the flipping signs back up.
Some people leave a cloud long after they leave. Some people think spraying it on in the bathroom is appropriate. But my migraine, nausea, itchy eyes, sore throat speaks otherwise. I can only work from home so much.
And yes, I have always been sensitive to scents, but as I have gotten older, it has gotten worse or more likely, I have less patience with those that think it is a appropriate in any situation where you are interacting with people.
There is absolutely no circumstance in which I would feminise myself by wearing any scent in the office environment. I expect to be treated with respect according to my capabilities as a contributor to my company, not to the scent of or on a woman. I expect the same from the male contributors within the same arena. I do not want to be distracted in a one-on-one, nor a group meeting due to the scent on or of the male counterpart, versus the information being presented. I work hard in the business and expect to receive respect for my outcomes not my body and not my scent.
Hygiene is essential. Clean hair, fresh breath, manicured or well groomed hands, cleanliness with deodorant or antiperspirant, and a fragrance free lotion.
Leave your coworkers intrigued by your abilities not your scent.
After work, I am feminine, refreshed hygenically, lightly perfumed, and he is manly, with a sensual cologne that transcends me.
It is very common for coworkers to not tell others they are offended by a perfume. It is even more common for a male coworker to not be told that his overload of cologne is offensive.
Would you tell? What if he/she is your supervisor?
Once upon a time, coworkers asked if I would please tell our director that her perfume was permeating the hallways and everyone was either having negative symptoms related to this event, or the odor was causing a mental distraction. I let the director know there was an issue in the office regarding the overuse of someone’s perfume. She sent a memo reminder to all on that floor to refer to the employee manual for company policy regarding the direct opposition and rules of NOT wearing perfumes, colognes, and lotions with scent in the office as to be aware of client protection, as well as courtesy to team contributors and coworkers. This is not uncommon either. “Leaders” sending out mixed messages.
Finally. I would think about it as a compliment. You impress people at work with your attitude, (on-time or early, reliable, willing to assist others, assertive not aggressive or arrogant, polished hygiene, smart and studious persona, good grammar, etc.), leadership abilities,(every single person should learn how to be a leader), and capabilities within your position. You will never be known as successful in business by how you smelled.
And the employee of the year award goes to the contributor who wears Balenciaga de Paris? Hmmm!
I work in a corporate and I wear perfume everyday. I had a difficult time trying to find one that not only is to my like, but also smells “professional” enough. Luckily, my husband found me the right one last Christmas;) It’s Calvin Klein’s Women. I may wear other brands in other occasions, but I believe I’m sticking with Women for work now.
Tried the Juliette Has a Gun discovery kit. Got a lot compliments on “Not a Perfume”, so I got the full size. It is very ligh. Also loved “Sunny Side Up”. Now I am trying the “Phlur” sample set. Incidentally, “Hepcat” is marketed as a guy fragrance, but it is very unisex.