My recent guest posts (and the guest posts of other husbands on other perfume-based blogs) seem to have apparently
started a little bit of a discussion (as seen on the comments of these guest posts) and perhaps there is even more discussion in emails and “makeup alley” forums. (Yes I am aware of “makeup alley” and that it has nothing to do with atonement whilst bowling).
These discussions seem to centre on the theme that husbands have no interest in, nor knowledge of perfume. And whilst this may in fact be technically correct. I chose this next guest post as an opportunity for the wives and girlfriends out there to understand the harrowing experience it can be for the perfume-ignorant male to shop for fragrances. Knowing we are unarmed in aromatic wisdom, women still want and expect their man to go through this redolent retail ordeal with each birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s day etc.
I think it’s time one man stood up and shared with you, his bloodcurdling and hazardous undertaking each time he nears a perfume counter. I am sure the females are not aware of the pressure, the angst and the right stuff a man is required to endure in order to get his sweetheart … well … the right stuff.
We men, would not send you out to buy us snow tires or chain saws. But yet each time there is a date circled on the calendar, we must slog our way out to the perfumery, knowing we haven’t a clue what we are doing and feeling as out of place as Keanu Reeves writing an acceptance speech. We grovel our way into the store, looking like a dear husband in the headlights!Here is my story …
Submitted for your approval … Mr. Colombina… an average middle-aged heterosexual husband goes in to a department store. His intentions are noble … to buy a present for his wife… to give her something she could cherish and be proud of him for selecting. But for all his good intentions, his intellect is about to be challenged. His senses will become clouded. In this strange and alien world, he will be befuddled with inane concepts, French words and evil, life-sucking sales women … and he will be lucky … to survive. For Mr. Colombina has just entered ….
The (eau de) Toilette Zone
The perfumaniac-blogger wives, and readers of fragrance blogs, have no understanding of the bizarre and hair-raising experience it can be for a normal male to enter the (eau de) Toilette Zone! Armed only with one’s primal sense of preservation and a visa card, this quagmire of smells and fiscal insanity is enough to make a grown man cry. The daunting challenges before him require the bravery of a medieval knight in a gallant quest … for he must slay the dragon sales lady (metaphorically speaking – though tempting in reality as well) and escape with the bounty of aromatic salvation in order to maintain the domestic bliss of his kingdom.
One hears strange and indiscernible utterances in this zone. Things like “yes I can really feel the chypre coming through in this one!”
Or, “No, that’s too camphoraceous. The last one was a bit fatty and snuffed candle. I’d like something a little more floriental but with a hint of fougere. Perhaps something less tallowy … spare me the nuancers but something with ample substantivity!”
“Do you have something a bit coniferous? Maybe with leather notes and lingering resinoids?”
For many other men, this experience takes on the surreal nuance of an uncharted voyage … a place where up is down, black is white and everything is expensive. He can choose to go through the looking glass with an open mind and give in to the allure of the newness of the experience. For even if he has journeyed here many times before … each visit is replete with new treachery and peril.
Still … like experiencing LSD for the first time, this cacophony of sensual stimulation … though completely devoid of reality in his world… can be welcomed with the same adventurous trepidation with which he might mount the world’s scariest roller coaster.
This chance to experience the mind-numbing realm of these extra-terrestrial nose creatures is lurking in the darkest deepest recesses of his (otherwise logical) mind … as an opportunity to openly invite his world ... and all he thinks of it … to be turned inside out. He is about to engage …. A PERFUME COUNTER of the third kind!
Men of Earth, we must protect ourselves! We must gain knowledge of our enemy so that it may be understood. We should organize, train and arm ourselves for this final frontier. We should boldly go where no straight man has gone before… to purchase strange items with strange names… to seek out new lives and new civilizations before it destroys the very fabric of maleness left in the universe!
"Evasive Action Mr. Sulu! That Thing's Trying to Spritz Us! Uhura, Open All Hailing Frequencies! Mr. Chekov, Fire Photon Torpedoes!"
The perfume counter sits in the middle of the department store … the furthest spot from any escapable exit. It is the cornerstone of the three most perplexing commercial entities to the common male …. The jewelry counter …the cosmetics counter and the perfume counter.
History records the voyages of many brave male souls who have ventured into this Bermuda Triangle of feminine zones, never to return. What are the strange forces that dwell in this world? UFOs? Prehistoric creatures who’ve sought refuge and managed to escape man’s detection? Or is it some other supernatural power from Madison Avenue and Rue De Folie?
Men are befuddled at any counter that doesn’t sell lunch meat. Each jewelry, cosmetics and perfume counter is an island, fraught with confusing tactics and language, designed to steal your money, your dignity and your logical world. Enter at your own risk. You have been warned!
Let’s face it. Buying a gift for your woman … or any woman is never easy. While they act like they would LIKE a surprise, in fact they know what they want and just want you to figure it out.
Whether it’s a birthday, mother’s day, Christmas, anniversary or any occasion … Colombina will ALWAYS want perfume. Fortunately she generally arms me with a list (ALWAYS STICK TO THE LIST) with at least a dozen choices …each carefully described.
I usually just hand the list (and my wallet) to the woman at the counter and ask her not to make it hurt too badly. It reminds me of when I was a small boy and my mother would send me to the corner grocer with a list pinned to my coat.
Of course though, I never remember which department stores carry which brand so the rather stern prim and proper sales woman will look at me like I’m a moron for presenting her with a list that includes fragrances exclusively sold at Bergman GoodDorf or StrawMacy’s, when in fact I am standing in Marcus Niemann or where ever I stumbled in to.
I’ve learned from the past, that the following stores should be avoided for perfume purchasing at any cost: Walgreens, Sam’s Club and above all … THE DOLLAR STORE!
Occasionally, when there is another male at the perfume counter, I have attempted to listen to what HE says … hoping he might be bisexual and thus better informed. If he sounds like he knows what he is talking about, I just repeat everything he said verbatim.
As my father used to say … “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man has the cheapest car insurance.”
The first tactic designed to confuse men is when the sales woman sprays a bit of several perfumes on some kind of specially treated litmus paper.
Then the department store nazi/dominatrix informs stupid old me that the fragrance will smell different on each woman who wears it. So it could smell like chrysanthemums on one woman and smell like what? … maybe garbanzo beans? Teen spirit? … on another woman.
So all I know is how it smells on a piece of cardboard. Or sometimes, they will actually spritz the sample right onto my wrist, which ironically is right on the vein that a suicidal person would slit, and that thought begins to get tempting. If I am ever to have a makeover, I want it performed by Dr. Kavorkian.
Then the next scary female is always telling me about something new … to confuse me.
“I’m sure your vuhman vould like zis new scent called “Eau de Fromage.” It’s zee latest ting from Paris”
And the whole time I am thinking, “don’t look her in the eye …don’t look her in the eye!”
So I ask the saleswoman which is the cheapest? Normally this is a mistake. I have learned (through forced involuntary celibacy) that this is the WRONG one to choose. A good rule of thumb is when selecting a perfume, shy away from anything you (as a sport-minded, semi-worldly male) have heard of … particularly scents named for celebrities … especially B-list celebs.
“Oh honey, I thought you would love Dr. Phil’s “Psychobabble”
“Darling, here’s a brand new scent called “Regis”!
Even once I’ve selected a brand … when I say selected, I mean was steered to … Even once I have done that … I then must decide between the parfum, the parfum de toilette, the eau de parfum, the eau de cologne and the eau de toilette.
Eau de pain, Eau de pain Will Robinson
In general, a man can not browse the shelves at the counter for more than a nano-second before at least three different women will ask, “Can I help you sir”? … and in a condescending and contemptuous tone that translates to, “Can I sell you something over-priced today you stupid person of the male persuasion?” They team up on you until you feel trapped. Don’t even try the “I’m just looking” routine because your every action will be monitored more tightly than the North Korean nuclear program.
Ultimately you will succumb and buy something … anything … just to get out of there … maybe spend a few minutes in the sporting goods or electronics departments just to get the testosterone flowing again. It is a very emasculating experience. I find it to be the equivalent of a retail castration, or a ‘walletectomy’.
The sales woman at the perfume counter is generally older than the cosmetics counter girls … not unattractive but a bit scary in her dark business suit and white blouse … a string of pearls and almost invariably, a broach. She might have her hair in a bun and some reading glasses on a string around her neck. She looks like a kindergarten teacher which is appropriate, since she will treat me like a 5-year-old. Americans should picture a cross between Martha Stewart and Miss Jane from ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’ Whilst British readers should picture someone more like Lorraine Kelly.
Often I will get suckered into buying some fragrance (that the store usually can’t give away, much less sell) by the promise of a “free” gift. If I spend $200 for less than a bloody ounce of ANYTHING … I hardly think a two dollar cosmetics bag is ‘free’ but these ‘free’ gifts always make for good stocking stuffers.
When you stop and do the math. Let’s say a decent fragrance was $50 an ounce. That means that if you bought a gallon of the stuff is would cost $6,400. It’s enough to make me absolutely dizzy with happiness to pay $3.00 a gallon at the gas pump!
I know that when I’ve strayed from Colombina’s list that the perfume I bought is going to sit on her shelf (at the very back) from now until there’s peace in the Middle East. It would be nice if every once in a while she had the common courtesy to dump a little of the stuff down the sink, so I could at least think she was using it.
Getting back to the saleswoman at the perfume counter. She is also without fail ALWAYS going to try to get me to open a charge card account for the promise of an extra 10% off. Yeah like, other than for the wife’s perfume, I do any shopping at a department store that doesn’t have ‘mart’ in its name.
Her condescension aside … I always have the feeling, that beneath that stern exterior and the DKNY suit, the woman is wearing a rubber teddy and will lash me with a cat-o-nine tails each time I mispronounce a designer’s name. “It’s Ralph LORen you idiot. Not Ralph LoREN!” Man I need help.
Even when I know what fragrance I’ve come in to purchase, I know I am going to get some grief from the saleswoman which makes me nervous and then I screw it up..
“Excuse me, do you carry the “Truth” by Kevin Cline?
“The Truth? YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH! … Oh …and it’s CALVIN Klein you dimwit!”
In order to spare myself this indignation, I have in the past, attempted to buy perfume over the internet. I mean since I suffer from anosmia anyway, what does it matter if I can’t smell the fragrance before I buy it. That only serves to confuse me anyway.
Once I bought (over the internet) a fragrance named after Colombina’s home town – “Samara” (in Russia, not Iraq) and it said (online) that it was a knock off (IE rip off) of the Guerlain scent, ‘Samsara’. Named after my wife’s home town? … smells like a Guerlain fragrance? $10 for a really huge bottle? Sounded like a winner to me. That sat on the back of Colombina’s shelf for a very long time until one day she accidentally dropped the bottle and it broke. She’s clumsy that way …always accidentally breaking perfume bottles … ironically, just the fragrances I bought her (that were not on any of her lists).
That’s the problem with there being SO many fragrances. There are so many bad choices …(For Example) Love’s Baby Soft, Chanel No. 6, or Britney Spears’ ‘Bi-Curious’ or whatever it’s called.
Still, the perfume counter is always a far safer bet than the cosmetics counter. A gift of cosmetics is the gift that says, “I don’t like the way you look, so here’s some stuff to change that. You’d think that the perfume counter sells gifts that say “I don’t like the way you smell,” but actually that only applies if you give deodorant as a gift (which I have done – but only as a ‘practical;’ stocking stuffer). Men, if you do venture to the cosmetics counter … trust me on this one … do not (REPEAT - DO NOT) be lulled by the simple and easy “gift set” on the tables between cosmetics and fragrances.
The hooker-red lipstick will go down about as well as buying her a new mop for her birthday. And the Crayola 64 eye shadow color assortment will be appreciated as much as giving her a beermeister.
And I don’t know how to buy cosmetics for Colombina anyway. Her natural beauty requires no make-up in my opinion. (brownie-point alert!)
It’s easy to get lured towards the cosmetics counter though. The girls working there are generally much younger and less scary. In my opinion they always look a little bit slutty (not that there’s anything wrong with that). They kind of look robotic and dim but remember, they have a semi impressive job title (cosmetologist – which has nothing to do with the Russian space program by the way) whilst the perfume lady is not a perfumologist.
I don’t understand this marketing though. Although they ALWAYS seem busy, plucking, tweezing, brushing, waxing, blending and combing as well as applying foundations and finding the right “spring color” for someone’s ‘skin tone’ Surely a middle aged Tammy Fay- look-a-like customer is never going to look as good as this 19 year old former Hooters’ waitress.
When it comes to gifts for women …AVOID buying clothes like your life depends on it …because it does. Get a size too small and your woman will feel fat. Get a size too big and your woman will think that you think she’s fat. (Lose/Lose situation). Don’t even try to think you could get her sense of style or fashion correct. You can try to read Cosmo and Vogue and Glamour and all the other rags to try to “get a peak at the opposition’s playbook” but as a male, you’ll never understand it anyway because it’s written in woman.
You see there is male logic and then there is female logic and ne’er the twain shall meat. Male logic is too … well … logical, to understand female logic. Remember, only a woman would spend two hours getting ready to go out for 15 minutes.
Plus with clothes, you apparently must always be aware of what color is ‘this year’s black.’ When I hear someone say “red is this year’s black,” I always feel sorry for the confused snooker players out there. I wander occasionally through the women’s clothes area and my fellow men will back me up on this when I say that I am convinced that all the women who see me in their section are convinced I am a cross dresser. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder when exactly did department store mannequins start sporting nipple erections? And why do women want to buy a blouse that’s hanging on what looks like a woman smuggling a pair of sewing thimbles?
My fellow men .. fear not the perfume counter. Remember, even if it makes us feel useless and clueless …even if it robs us of our natural sense of the order of things … of economic sense …even if the experience makes us feel two inches tall …. Ultimately we can take comfort in the fact that all of us … from Joe Q. Average construction worker … to the big shots and movers and shakers of this world … have survived the perfume counter. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Sure, life would be easier if our women asked us to get them the latest version of 'Madden' … or the newest titanium fishing pole …but that’s not going to happen … so be proud …be male … and get in there … face the music … buy something French that doesn’t have the word ‘fries’ after it … and then get the hell out of there as fast as you can with as much money left as possible.
To all the women out there:
If you can't understand why men find it so difficult to get you the right gift... think about this for a moment.
You dye your hair, wear false eyelashes, contact lenses and form-fitting clothes ... you apply makeup and tan-in-a-bottle ... you wear support hose and wonder bras ... and you pluck your eyebrows only to draw them back in with a pencil. Half the time we can't even remember what you really look like, much less what things you like.
Your perfumes have names like; "Enigma", "Hidden" and "Mystery"!
'Enigma' by Alexandra De Markoff'
Hidden' by Anne-Marie Perrisol
and 'Mystery' by Naomi Campbell
Even your lingerie is a 'secret'!
So at gift time ... I guess it’s the perfume counter by default … a man's best (slim) chance to get a gift she’ll like … especially if she gives you a list!