Do You Smell Like A Feminist? Here's How To Tell

The cultural shift toward feminism in recent decades has taken a toll on nearly all aspects of society: our career paths, our clothing styles, our family planning, and, yes, even our fragrance choices.

By Renée Walton3 min read
Pexels/Dmitry Zvolskiy

In the past few decades, mainstream perfumers have leaned on bold, musky notes for their women's fragrances, creating a more masculine aroma that reflects modern feminist girlboss culture. This may seem innocuous, but here’s the thing: A lot of information is conveyed through our sense of smell. Often subconsciously, one whiff of a personal fragrance can give us some major clues about the wearer – their personality, their lifestyle choices, and their ideals. Likewise, the fragrance you wear affects your own mood. So if you’re wearing a fragrance with traditionally masculine notes, you’re likely to feel less feminine.

Eau de Girlboss

The girlboss mindset that ruled millennial career women for over a decade looks like it’s finally on its way out, but the boss babe mentality still seems to have its claws in the perfume industry. The feminist desire to think and work like a man has transitioned into wanting to smell like a man as well. 

Several of the most popular perfumes in recent years encapsulate the girlboss mentality that glorifies the rigid corporate “grind,” exudes a flippant attitude toward sex, and celebrates a single, often childless lifestyle. The more we delve into femininity and its virtues, the clearer it becomes that these boss babe values are not innately female.

Further damaging the presence of femininity in the fragrance world is the popularization of “gender neutral” or unisex fragrances in recent years. In fact, some newer fragrance companies have made their unisex approach to perfume one of the most prominent features of their brand, and the most popular fragrance of 2022 – Baccarat Rouge 540 by Maison Francis Kurkdjian – is also marketed as unisex. This trend isn’t surprising; society has become increasingly androgynous in the past few decades, so it’s no wonder this gender-bending philosophy has crept into the world of fragrances. 

To all the girls who actually want to exude femininity: Read on so you don’t get duped into smelling like a boss babe.  

The Power of Scent 

You may be asking yourself, “Can a fragrance really give off feminist or androgynous vibes?” And the answer is yes. Scent is powerful, and it’s also the sneakiest of our five senses. When we smell something, the molecules trigger memory centers in our brains, which conjures up all sorts of associations with that particular scent. This happens in an instant and can be conscious or subconscious. So when a perfumer blends several masculine notes into a fragrance that’s marketed toward women, it’s not outlandish to wonder if that’s an attempt to promote more masculine qualities in women. On the flipside, perfume brands may just be responding to consumers’ more masculine or unisex preferences. Most likely, this chicken-and-egg situation is a little bit of both, but nevertheless, the cycle seems to continue. 

So, what makes a fragrance masculine or feminine (or neither)? As you probably guessed, it’s all about the scent notes. A traditionally feminine fragrance will include notes of florals, powders, and gourmands (perfume lingo for food and drink – think vanilla, coffee, fruit, etc.). These sweeter smells reflect traditional female roles like baking, cooking, child-rearing, and gardening. Similarly, men’s fragrances tend to include woodsy, smoky, and marine notes, reflecting more masculine work environments. 

Of course, our workspaces today are likely far removed from the forest or garden. But most of us came to associate woodsy, marine scents with men and fruity florals with women long before we ever sprayed our first spritz of Lovespell or walked past an Axe-doused boy’s locker room in middle school, simply because it’s natural that women would smell sweeter and men would smell bolder. Likewise, it’s natural for us as women to want to embrace our womanhood, and smelling feminine is one of the most intimate ways in which to do so. 

A traditionally feminine fragrance will include notes of florals, powders, and gourmands. These sweeter smells reflect traditional female roles.

On the subject of scent notes, let’s talk about ambers. Amber notes (sometimes referred to as oriental notes) are complex but versatile, so most perfumes will include at least one amber note, such as myrrh, tonka bean, leather, or cashmere. Amber notes add warmth to a fragrance, but try to avoid perfumes that are too heavy on ambers and musks; in large doses, they tend to be a little too edgy and animalistic, giving the scent an overtly sexual quality. While perfume generally does have an air of sexuality, heavy musks can sometimes convey a bolder and more masculine sexuality – cue all the feminist vibes.  

A Note on Blends

Scent notes matter, but even more important in determining if a scent is too masculine or girlboss is considering how those notes are blended. The best perfumes contain several scent notes, some of which may be unexpected. That said, even if a perfume contains woodsy or musky notes, the finished product can still give off a feminine presence if it has a higher ratio of florals and gourmands. For instance, sometimes including cedarwood or ambergris in small doses can lend a certain je ne sais quoi to a fragrance – which can be great if you don’t want to smell exactly like a cupcake or floral bouquet. We all like a little feminine mystery, after all. 

7 Fragrances That Celebrate Femininity 

If you want to give off an air of femininity, stick with fragrances that are described as florals, powdery florals, gourmands, or fruity florals. Beware of warm florals – some are lovely, but many have a heavy amber presence that tends to be a bit too musky. Here are seven ladylike faves:

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