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And I'm Never Going Back to My Old School Said Steely Dan

Oh goodness. Why didn't the photographer pull me aside and ask me to fix my hair!? No matter. That was decades ago, right?

Once again I felt compelled to write an entry based on an online forum discussion. The question: If you were a teen during the 1980s, what perfume(s) did you wear? Hmm, I barely qualified as a teen of the 1980s. I could not wait to become a teenager because of the proliferation of 1980s teen-centric culture and subsequent products. I loved Sixteen Candles and all other Brat Pack movies; the fact that movies, magazines, television and some music were not inclusive to a half-African-American girl in suburban Southern California did not matter. It irked my mother, but not me. At least, not entirely. I turned 13 in 1989 so I tried to cram as much 1980s teen culture in that one year. Aqua-Net shellacked hair? Check. Parfums de Coeur's Primo body spray? Check. Pink Sony Walkman with a Madonna cassette? Check and check! I made the most of that one teen year in the 1980s.

I entered high school in 1990. The decade shook off the shackles of the 1980s in such rapidity that there wasn't much bleed over from the 1980s to the 1990s. I blinked and Grunge was the movement and culture of the day. Now, over in the aforementioned discussion about 1980s teenagers and their perfume choices, there was plenty of romanticism for the 1980s. However, the 1990s were vilified for their cruel dismemberment and murder of the 1980s. Well, gee, that's a bit harsh, now isn't it? I actually welcomed the 1990s. I was enamored with Goth culture; I may have even fetishized it to some extent. Beetlejuice and its aesthetic changed me. It may have been a quirky, funny movie but it was the antithesis of the over-the-top decadence of the glossy late 1980s. I was ripe for the Grunge cultural movement. There was no way I was the only one ripe for such a movement.

(Grunge/Kinderwhore picture courtesy of Pinterest, not my own)

Kinderwhore. It sounds horrible but I embraced it. It was such a literal appropriation of the Madonna-Whore paradigm. I lived in vintage floral mini-dresses, tights, black 8-eyelet Doc Marten boots, matte blood red lipstick and a black cateye. There was something powerful in the diametrically opposed style; it was at once sexy, innocent, tough and unsettling. Somewhere in between these elements was my ownership of all facets of my femininity. Yes, even in my teens I was self aware enough to see all this. I learned that a woman can embrace the most fragile, "girliest" aspects of herself without being mistaken for being weak. Conversely, I learned that a strong, independent woman was no less fragile or vulnerable. In short, we women are complex human beings capable of being and doing so much. The kinderwhore look was just a physical manifestation of this internal complexity. For this, I actually loved the early- to mid-1990s.

One thing I added to my adaptation of the kinderwhore look/culture was perfume. Tresor, Sunflowers, Escape and other stone fruit and melon-based perfumes were all the rage during this time. Every girl in my high school wore these. I didn't want to smell girly, or what I perceived as girly. I felt perfumes were indulgences for women, not girls, so why not be womanly in my taste? What did my vintage dresses smell of?

  • Ralph Lauren Safari
  • Estee Lauder Cinnabar
  • Estee Lauder Knowing
  • Giorgio Red
  • Jean-Louis Scherrer's eponymous perfume
  • Oscar de la Renta Oscar
  • Gucci No. 1
  • Elizabeth Arden Red Door
  • Parlux The Phantom of the Opera
  • Alfred Sung Sung
  • Aramis Tuscany Per Donna

The late 1970s and 1980s did not end in my teen years. I may have left my shellacked bangs behind in 1988-1989 but the previous two decades were strong with me when it came to my perfumes. My tastes have changed over the years as I've mentioned ad nauseum in my distaste for most oakmoss. But I still hold a soft spot for those listed above. Some of them have never left my collection, even if I don't wear them with the frequency with which I once did. They still represent the conflicts and contrasts of my femininity, something I hold dear.

I don't miss the awkwardness of my teen years but I do miss the sense (and scents) of discovery. What a fun time I had!

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