For several years, my grandmother was a serious pusher of all things Avon, and from everything I could tell, she was a big-time dealer of fragrances, make-up and other beauty accouterments that came through the mail-order cosmetics company.
In fact, Grandmother Gresham sold so much of the stuff in lower Alabama that her house was always stockpiled with free gifts and samples awarded to those private franchisees who met or exceeded high-volume sales goals. An entire corner of her home maintained a general fragrance of Avon at all times, and as a result, so did her grandchildren.
Countless gifts throughout my childhood came from her Avon hoard. Colognes of various flavors appeared in bottles shaped like fire trucks or cowboy boots for birthdays, holidays and regular summer visits. Meanwhile, if my sister and I weren’t receiving samples from the Avon cosmetic line, we were perpetually slathered in the popular solution known as “Skin So Soft.” After all, “SSS” is the best dang bug repellent this side of DDT. It only makes sense that every trip into the rural Alabama countryside required heavy-handed doses of the stuff. It really did repel mosquitoes, flies, gnats and probably every other living thing.
Yes, thanks to Avon and my grandmother, whenever my sister and I entered a room, you could usually smell us before you could see us. As children, though, we didn’t care too much. We slopped the stuff on, thinking that there is no limit to “smelling good.” Little did we know, the tears that sometimes came to adults’ eyes weren’t related to their joy in seeing us — our aroma was often so strong that we rivaled smelling salts, freshly sliced onions and the ripest blue cheeses.
Really it wasn’t a big deal, though, because children are expected to stink — at least a little bit.
Adults, on the other hand, should be expected to know when too much perfume or cologne, is too much.
Unfortunately, I have begun to notice that there are plenty of adults who don’t quite know when to say, “when.” I can’t put my finger on what drives folks to bathe in their favorite fragrance, but some folks pour on enough of the stuff to single-handedly impact the area’s air quality index. Why? Do olfactory senses decline over time, prompting some people to douse themselves with perfume until they can smell it? Do men soak in cologne in hopes that they really have a better chance of attracting women? Is it really important for everyone within a 50-foot radius to smell you coming and going?
Again, on a child, over-fragrancing is almost cute. For an adult to stink to high heaven is a gaffe akin to asking an overweight woman when she’s “due.”
With that in mind, whether you apply too much fragrance, or (in your opinion) apply just the right amount, here’s a few helpful suggestions for places where you might be mindful of the quality of your scent over the quantity of your fragrance.
* The gym or fitness center. Do you really have to pour on the perfume to exercise and get sweaty? Think about the person running on the treadmill next to you — do you think I want to inhale the noxious perfumes you are emanating while I am huffing and puffing? No.
* Airplanes, buses or long distance car rides. You are going to be inside a confined space with very little air circulation for at least a couple of hours. You may think Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds smells great when applied by the bottle, but nobody else does. The rest of the passengers are trying to breath, and your overwhelming aroma doesn’t help.
* Restaurants. The smell of fresh food on the way to my table is great — until your Drakkar Noir overkill blends in and ruins my meal. Even if your fragrance smells like cookies, gingerbread men or birthday cake, it can’t possibly pair well with my food and wine selection.
* Church. You may be able to handle sitting in your own pew, but the Lord doesn’t need to smell you to know you are in church on Sunday. Neither do I. Sure cleanliness is next to Godliness, but even a gallon of perfume isn’t going to cover all your sins from the past week.
Now, don’t get me wrong ladies and gentlemen. A little fragrance can be a good thing — with the emphasis there being “a little.” I love it when I catch the faintest hint of my wife’s favorite fragrance after she has left the room. That doesn’t mean, however, I want her beating me over the head with her perfume bottle.
A little bit goes a long way, and if your eau-de-toilet makes me run-for-toilet, you have probably slopped on too much fragrance. For the sake of sniffers on faces of family, friends and strangers, take it easy with the smelly stuff. The world — and the ozone layer – will thank you.
Michael Willard is the publisher of and a columnist for The Observer News Enterprise. His column appears in the weekend edition.