The majority of women put perfume on every day, so much so that 143,000 bottles of perfume are sold every day in France (source: Planetoscope). And what might seem like a simple beauty step has a much deeper cultural dimension in reality…
The use of perfume goes back to antiquity when it was used in religious rituals (as offerings to gods, for embalming bodies amongst the Egyptians). Perfume was therefore originally associated with sacredness. Today still, this theme can be found in many adverts: perfume is seen as a mysterious essence because it’s invisible yet extremely powerful, almost magical.
It was during the Renaissance that it started to be used in a similar way to its current use: perfume and glove-makers made scented gloves for aristocratic women, designed to enchant men who followed in their footsteps. It was only in the 19th century that the atomizer was invented and women started to disperse their perfume on the hottest parts of their body (nape of the neck, wrists) to better activate the particles.
In recent decades, a profound change troubles the boundaries of gender, partly triggered by the emancipation of women. This disruption of genders finds its apotheosis in the figure of the androgynous aesthetic, used by some brands in their communication strategy. This model of beauty carries the contemporary values of our time.
Socio-historical perspective about gender evolution
In the past, the gender was governed by strict standards; individuals couldn’t take personal position. From Ancient Greece to the 18th century, the large institutions: Church, Family, State, was the ones disclosing the major codes to follow. Individual behaviour, gender roles, simply stemmed and arbitrarily the biological sex of individuals arose.
Since the French Revolution, amongst other, new values have emerged in Western society, those of freedom and equality. This is the era of modernity. Individualism has become the backbone of everyday life.
Previously, a framework governed the individuals’ behaviour, now they are faced with their personal choices about their lives in which they are in charge.
The gender that can be defined as a social and historically construction, framed by traditional standards, is particularly impacted by this new situation. Gender identities, that is to say, masculinity and femininity, may appear illegitimate in a modern society essentially egalitarian, where everyone defends its interests and own identity.