“A Guide to Elegance” : How to Wear Perfume


The following excerpt on how to wear perfume comes from a charming little book called “A Guide to Elegance: For Every Woman Who Wants to be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions.” Written in 1964 by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, a longtime directress of Nina Ricci couture salons, it is a fascinating glimpse into the fashion mores of her time. While some advice may be outdated, the book is filled with many interesting ideas. So, for your reading pleasure, Madame Dariaux’s thoughts on perfume…

“Humanity has always felt the need to flatter its olfactory sense, and as proof you only need to visit the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum and admire the cases full of antique perfume vials which date from the most ancient civilizations. However, taste in perfume has taken many different forms throughout the world and throughout history…

At the time of Louis XIV, when it was necessary to mask the body odours that resulted from the general lack of hygiene, perfumes were much stronger than they are today. In fact, the modern trend has been more and more toward lighter scents, and toward an increased use of toilet waters and colognes in preference to more concentrated essences. Today it is considered very bad taste if a woman’s presence can be perceived by scent before it is observed by sight, even if her arrival is announced by Miss Dior. It is also inelegant to leave in one’s wake a trail of heady perfume, like the exotic heroine of a pre-World War I novel. Because of this vogue for lighter scents, many women who remember the perfume their mothers used to wear claim that modern blends are less lasting than they used to be. This may or may not be so, but in any case it cannot be too great an objection because the perfume industry is booming.

Two principal factors influence a woman in her choice of a perfume. First, the container–which she enjoys displaying on her dressing table if the bottle is elegant, obviously expensive, and if it bears a famous label and secondly, the scent itself, if it underlines her personality and adds to her allure. In this regard, the only danger to beware of is a chemical incompatibility between certain perfume essences and certain skins. Consequently, the best way to select a perfume is by a method of trial and error the best way to apply it is with an atomizer, and the height of refinement is to have your toilet water, perfume, hand soap, bath salts, dusting powder, and even sachets for your lingerie drawer, all scented with the same perfume.

In my mother’s day, once you had discovered a perfume that pleased you as well as your entourage, it was advisable to stick to it. An elegant woman usually considered it a point of honour to remain faithful to her perfume, which she considered as a sort of signature. But now it seems that perfumes follow a more varied pattern; some are designed for young women or for not so young ones; some are made for summer, others for cooler weather. So an elegant woman, thought she cannot change her scent every other day, because her clothes would become impregnated with a dreadful mixture, is not as faithful as she used to be. On the contrary, she is always delighted to receive a gift of a new perfume.”

Dariaux, Genevieve Antoine. A Guide to Elegance: For Every Woman Who Wants to be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions, Doubleday & Company, New York, 1964 (HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.) Available from Amazon.com.

Photography by Waldehuth via vintage-glamor.ru



  • columbine: i fully agree with what is said here. i do have different perfumes for different occasions, thanks to blogs like yours. i like the idea of having one perfume for life (and i used to be like this) but in practice, i would find a pity to have to renounce so many wonderful perfumes.
    i have to say, i am not bothered about changing perfumes every day (there is no pattern but it can happen), because clothes don’t always keep the perfume and definitely after washing, the smell is gone. also not all perfumes stick to fabric the same way and not all fabrics retain perfumes the same way. i find that would keeps perfume the best, if worn directly on the skin. i sometimes steal my boyfriend cashemere sweater when we have to be separated for certain length of time, to be able to keep his perfume smell in his absence. June 10, 2011 at 5:41am Reply

  • karin: Sounds like an ad to get out there and buy a new scent. Works for me. 🙂 June 10, 2011 at 7:43am Reply

  • Taarna: This is a charming, if somewhat dated, little book. Lots of nuggets of very good advice like this one. Love her perfume entry, glad you’re sharing this with everyone 🙂 June 10, 2011 at 9:10am Reply

  • Dain: That sounds like a good philosophy. We can be overeager to champion grand perfumes, whether niche or classical, but sometimes all that reveals are pretensions. That doesn’t seem like elegance to me. June 10, 2011 at 5:38am Reply

  • Elaine: Honorable or not, I can’t imagine wearing the same fragrance day in and day out. On the other hand, I agree completely about always being delighted to receive a gift of a new perfume. June 10, 2011 at 10:52am Reply

  • Olfacta: Interesting! I’m thinking that, in 1964, clothing wasn’t washed or dry-cleaned after every wearing, the way it tends to be now. Climate is a factor in this too; our summers make it necessary that we launder often!

    I remember (I was a preteen then) that women didn’t wash their hair every day, as was popular in the 70’s; sometimes the weekly “shampoo & set” was all. So if more than one perfume was worn that week, there would be a mixing on clothing and, to some extent, hair. June 10, 2011 at 8:01am Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: I can’t imagine wearing only one perfume for life- hell, I’m not married either- but I also think there is a certain elegance and integrity to having a signature fragrance that makes your perdonal statement, and sticking to it for a lifetime. I once stumbled across an old interview with model/actress Marisa Berenson (she was in ‘Caberet’ and a huge fashion icon in the Seventies) in which she said she had worn “L’heure Bleu” for decades. I wonder if she still wears it. But it always annoys the living daylights out of me when fragrance companies are sold, or they decide to “re-launch” a classic fragrance and tamper with the recipe. The new Chloe is nothing like the lush, volptuous tuberosey scent Karl Lagerfeld brought out back in the day; Rive Gauche doesn’t seem as bright and lively and uninhibited as it used to, and Oscar de la Renta’s original doesn’t have the same swoony femininity of it’s late Eighties self. I know they are changing the scents to keep up with current “tastes” (ugh!) but it really destroys the purpose of a classic scent and itts appeal to its core audience. It would make more sense to just change up the advertsing- find a new spokesmodel; give it a fresher outlook without altering the juice itself. Not everybody wants to smell like the present moment; some of us are into nostalgia, and want to stand out from the rest of the fruity-floral crowd, and wearing an old school perfume is a great way to do that.So many of today’s perfumes (god, I can’t believe I wrote that; it makes me sound 500 years old) are as characterless and auto-tuned as today’s pop music. They smell the way Justin Bieber and Britney Spears sound! I want something with depth, style, individuality, grown-up sexuality and sophistication. I guess that’s why I wear Annick Goutal, and listen to Ella Fitzgerald. June 10, 2011 at 7:20pm Reply

  • Jennifer: Very interesting snippet…This is how I used to feel about picking a perfume, too. Like a shot in the dark. Like going into a bar by yourself and not knowing what drink to ask for. Once you finally find it, you are greatly relieved, hooray! Only picking perfume was worse because you would often have a pushy sales assistant “helping” you at a fragrance counter. I only ever got past that anxiety when a giant discount cosmetics store opened nearby that set out dozens of tester bottles and scent strips along a big wall without a sales assistant in sight. I sniffed and compared and bought. That’s where I met Paris, Oscar, and Mitsouko etc., and fell in love with perfume. It wasn’t until a year or two after the store closed, still in mourning, I read “The Guide” and began to seek out the blogs, reviews, and online discounters like Perfumed Court. The rest is hundreds of dollars worth of blissful history. June 10, 2011 at 7:22pm Reply

  • Musette: this is charming! I wonder what she would think of us perfumistas, with our myriad decants and samples…flitting hither and yon in Perfumeland….

    xo June 10, 2011 at 9:36pm Reply

  • Madelyn E: Thank you Victoria for a scented walk down olfactory lane.
    I wish I could have a signature scent, it would develop into a comforting ritual of daily grooming . I go through periods of perfume monogamy , but then feel the temptation to switch.

    Thankfully today, perfume or not the vbalue of daily bathing is ingrained in our Western culture (more or less).
    This piece reflects a society of old fashioned values and a change in the role of ‘ladies’ in society. I miss the oak moss laden versions of our classic fragrances – but am forever grateful for our abundant choices. June 11, 2011 at 4:20am Reply

  • Suzanna: It’s interesting that she notes the varieties of scents, something that really came into its own in the Seventies, and in America largely via the Lauder counter. Lauder’s Aliage was revolutionary. The first sports fragrance! (What they didn’t tell you was that it was bug-spray potent; try to wash it off and change into something else in the evening.)

    I would be interested in the names of the perfumes she says were meant for the young and for the old and for warmer or cooler weathers. Perhaps you know. If you don’t have the answer no one will and we can only speculate. June 11, 2011 at 9:37pm Reply

  • Lucy: Yes, I am always delighted to receive the gift of a new perfume!
    I love these vintage books on style and fashion. I have a couple of American ones that tell you how to do everything, from choosing sheets to exactly the right colors of makeup to wear for your coloring. Hair color was so important in the past. It defined almost everything about you. Love that you shared this with us. I bet you have others in your collection and look forward to more advice from the past, the wise and and the elegant. The lady in the photo is such an ideal. June 20, 2011 at 8:02am Reply

  • marlane: a lot of people are totally SICKENING with perfume overload…. if they only knew… July 9, 2011 at 10:58am Reply

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