Why Perfume Mattered

illustration of the reason women wore so much perfume in those outfits. the sweat.

What women wore in the 1890s

The Real Reason Scented Perfume Made Its Mark


Once upon a time, people stank. They stank so bad, they reeked. The putrid and odiferous stench was imbued in practically every living human being, because they bathed so infrequently.

This was especially true in Europe, where the cold or flux was feared as the deadly winter illness that could sneak up on you and take you away to the after life. And so, rather than bathe, they just covered up their stink with ever-increasing doses of perfume.

We really don’t want to know what it must have smelled like, exactly, to be in King Louis XIV’s royal court at Versailles or in Paris.

The reek must have been so foul, so rich in nastiness, that it should surprise none of us that this cultural norm has become the butt of countless jokes in the century and a half since bathing has become normal again.

Of course, in much older cultures, bathing was rather normal. Ancient Judea, Samaria, Egypt, Greece and Rome, were a mere handful of the major civilizations in which people bathed regularly. In fact, the Judean’s (and later Israelites and Jews) tradition of cleanliness led many ignorant Europeans to accuse them of complicity in the Black Plague (along with rats). These dirty people accused the cleaner Jews of spreading the disease that killed over 75 Million filthy, stinking, unwashed masses, most of whom had been forced into a life of following a corrupt Christian church, which approved of bathing mainly at a person’s birth and death.

The image on this page depicts a rather clear and present reason why so many women wore so much perfume. Look at all that clothing! If that didn’t make you sweat and stink, even in Europe, then nothing would. So you might as well have some scented bottles around.

As for the video on this page, it is called “Something Old, Something New”, and it was aired as part of a BBC documentary that examines the history of perfumes. Enjoy!


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