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The Scent of a Girl
December 3, 2012 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Why did girls used to smell like girls?

When I was a boy, I would notice that sometimes certain girls smelled like, well, girls. There was a very specific scent, sweet and earthy and clean and animal, that my young brain identified as being uniquely female. I could notice it just standing next to a girl, no intimacy required.

I can't remember when I started noticing it. Certainly by junior high school, maybe even earlier. I seem to remember the occurrences fading as my coterie emerged from puberty, and by college I think I smelled it very rarely, if ever.

Once every few years I get a whiff of something similar that brings up a sense-memory, and I end up wondering what it was I was smelling, and why I stopped smelling it. Was it pheromones, or was there some perfume popular with girls in the early '80s, or was it something else? Has the scent gone away, or have I just lost the ability to perceive it? And, perhaps most importantly, did anyone else have this experience?

A few additional observations: I wondered if it might have something to do with menses, but I'm not sure the girls in question were always old enough to menstruate, and besides it didn't have any metallic aspect to the scent. And I've been around menstruating women as an adult and not picked up the scent.

I don't smell it on adult women. I haven't picked it up from a young girl since I became an adult, but I spend vanishingly little time around young girls.

It's one of the weirdest memories of a weird childhood, and I'm hoping someone out there can provide an explanation.
posted by user c to Human Relations (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
...I'm going to suggest the names of a few perfumes/colognes that were popular in the early 80's in the (sincere) hopes that this may be it. See if you can get your hands on Jean Nate or Windsong and see if they're familiar.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:18 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also Love's Baby Soft.
posted by elizardbits at 11:19 AM on December 3, 2012 [40 favorites]


This is a weird question. I'm not sure why you think menstruation makes girls smell of iron, but to address your point: in boys and girls, the onset of puberty, of which menstruation is but one factor, is accompanied by changes which affect the chemical composition of sweat, due to the production of androgens. They also produce changes in sebum (oil) production, which can also alter how people smell.

Depending on your age, you may also have found that girls used far less perfumed soaps, had their clothes washed in less scented detergents, climbed more trees and ran about more and so forth - i.e that there were environmental factors.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:21 AM on December 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Also Love's Baby Soft smells like baby powder, which used to be used a lot more commonly than today, I think.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:21 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Love's Baby Soft! Yes, that's another one.

And Charlie.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:22 AM on December 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


This might also relate to the natural decline in olfactory senses that most experience in adulthood.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:26 AM on December 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


This is a weird question. I'm not sure why you think menstruation makes girls smell of iron, but to address your point: in boys and girls, the onset of puberty, of which menstruation is but one factor, is accompanied by changes which affect the chemical composition of sweat, due to the production of androgens. They also produce changes in sebum (oil) production, which can also alter how people smell.

I have a very sensitive sense of smell, and I would say that period blood--mine and that of other people, whiffed in passing--definitely smells metallic.

This isn't a weird question at all. I actually can smell man smell--it's especially thick on the crown of a guy's head. Worse when a guy doesn't wash his hair, but always present and never present on women. Sense (particularly scent) perception sometimes fades with age, so it's indeed possible that you were smelling girl.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:26 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not the women themselves that smell of iron. I can't generally tell when a woman is menstruating, but on occasions where I do get the scent of menstrual blood it smells like, well, blood. Metallic.
posted by user c at 11:31 AM on December 3, 2012


I think I smelled it once when I was about 19 and the only way I can describe this scent is "human, but pleasant".
posted by hat_eater at 11:32 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It could also be flavored lip balm which was popular with my friends in the early 80s and is still popular with my daughter and her friends.

(omg, someone is making tinted lip balm in a tin like the old Village Lip Lickers, but they're $14!!!!)
posted by vespabelle at 11:36 AM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


I know what you mean and I still smell it (I'm 28). I also remember that in junior high/high school cucumber-melon scents were popular, but that's a different smell.

I guess I do smell it less than I used to, but I definitely smell it and it instantly makes me attracted to a woman. Maybe as women grow older they're more apt to be purposely wearing a scent or have some scented shampoo that covers it.

I don't have anyhting to compare the scent to. It's just "pretty girl" to me.
posted by cmoj at 11:36 AM on December 3, 2012


I don't recall ever thinking that a girl ever had a girl smell, but little boy smell is really noticeable to me and distinctive from what a man smells like to me. Maybe we just notice what the other gender smells like because it isn't like us?
posted by cecic at 11:38 AM on December 3, 2012


I think the girls were probably wearing some scent.
posted by Dansaman at 11:42 AM on December 3, 2012


Blood has a metallic taste and smell, but I have no idea if that's what the OP is referring to.

Maybe it has to do with perfume or pheromones.
posted by dfriedman at 11:42 AM on December 3, 2012


Scented deodorants (baby powder, floral, etc.). The reason you can't smell it any more it because it's drowned out by Axe or whatever awful stuff the boys are wearing now.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 11:59 AM on December 3, 2012


It's almost certainly a perfumed product, shampoo maybe. I've got problems with perfume and it is really hard to impossible to get everything scent free. A few large chain stores don't even carry perfume free laundry detergents. I've been trying to track down unscented baby powder lately, you practically have to go to a speciality store.

Maybe it was a kids shampoo that adults don't use normally, like a no-tears brand. A pink branded one so parents only used it on girls.
posted by Dynex at 12:09 PM on December 3, 2012


It's gotta be some sort of product. Teenage girls are especially liberal with fragrance application, and tend to follow trends rather than find their own signature scent.

That plus "sweet and earthy and clean and animal" plus the 80s makes me think of musk. There were a lot of musk-based drugstore fragrances back then: Jovan, Coty Wild Musk, Bonne Bell Skin Musk, Alyssa Ashley, etc. Some of them are still around; sniff the testers next time you're at the drugstore and see if they're familiar. Kiehl's Musk Oil might hit that spot, too.

Or it might have been a popular shampoo or conditioner; scents tend to linger on the hair. In the 90s, we all used Herbal Essences and couldn't stop sniffing our hair (the fragrance, sadly, has changed since then). Not sure what girls were using in the early 80s.

Combining these two: Johnson's Baby Shampoo has a fragrance that reads just a teensy bit musky to my nose.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:18 PM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm nthing the perfume and cosmetics. Specifically, drugstore perfume and drugstore lip gloss, because that's what you can afford at that age.

My friends and I could talk for hours about Bonne Bell Lip Smackers and which flavor was the best. There was also a roll-on lipgloss (also by Bonne Bell I think) which was root-beer flavored. In this era, many drugstore cosmetics were strongly scented (one foundation, which name I've forgotten, absolutely REEKED of fake gardenia).

Then there was the inevitable Love's Baby Soft, Wind Song and Jontue (all of which I received as birthday gifts at one time or another). The Jovan line of drugstore musks hit big at this time too.

Ah, this is bringing back youthful memories...I'd add in Maybelline Dial-A-Lash mascara but I don't think mascara smells that strong.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:27 PM on December 3, 2012


I don't notice girl-smell, but started noticing boy-smell when I was around 11/12, man-smell when I was around 22/22. I reckon it's pheromones/sweat/skin/oils. Probably related to what you're describing. It's nice. I'm not sure that I notice boy-smell anymore
posted by pammeke at 12:53 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


as far as products go - teen spirit deodorant was also really popular around that time.

i don't actually think you were smelling a product - i do remember that pre-cologne, pre-deodorant, but still around that 10-12 year range, boys had this smell that i couldn't place, even my brothers had the smell and they used the same products as me (i'm a woman).
posted by nadawi at 12:56 PM on December 3, 2012


Also, generally: scented products (body lotion, soap, deodorant) used to much more prevelant (ie. not a lot of unscented products) and much more homogenous (most scented products smelled similar.) Which is why you're getting alot of repetitve suggestions for products, and why you might have perceived as a universal 'girl scent'.
posted by Kololo at 1:09 PM on December 3, 2012


I wore Charlie when I was in Jr. High, moved to Stephen B or Halston in High School. Some times Love's Lemon (summer). Patchouli was also pretty popular with my cohort.

Some wore WindSong, Jovan Musk, or Enjoli. Stuff you could get in the drugstore.

Fragrance was sort of obnoxious back then . My eyes are watering just thinking about it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:48 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also popular were Avon Sweet Honesty fragrance (marketed to teens and preteens), Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo, balsam hair products, and yes, musk.
posted by jgirl at 1:48 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing a hair product. My mom used to put this gel called "dippity-do" in my hair (definitely an 80s thing), and the smell is very distinctive. I came across it once after growing up and the smell made me wish I still used it. I'm clawing my brain to try and remember the shampoo of the time, but I can't. Prell, maybe? I'm not sure. But I'd place my bets more on a hair product than a perfume or lotion because anything in the hair seems more natural and long-lasting.

Gosh the more I think about it, the more I vote for dippity-do. It had such a unique scent that seemed so pleasing, but so "oh that smells so good I want to smell more" but seeming natural at the same time. Btw, this wasn't used in the same way as gels are used now, so disregard hairstyle—the hair would still look free-flowing like there wasn't anything added to it.

Now I really want to get my hands on some dippity do.
posted by Eicats at 2:15 PM on December 3, 2012


omg, they still make it: Dippity-do. I didn't know about the pink version; we always used the green stuff. You'll see even this link refers to it's scent. I'm curious to see if the current stuff still has the same smell, but if you can find some in a local drugstore, it might be worth it to take a whiff!
posted by Eicats at 2:26 PM on December 3, 2012


I forgot to mention that I'm wearing Lauren now. I'm rocketed back to college, the early 80's and warm desert nights.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:30 PM on December 3, 2012


I have memories of a sweet very clean smell when as young kids (we were mostly girls) we came in from playing outside in the fresh air. I've noted it again on my own kids and nieces and nephews.
posted by mmf at 2:36 PM on December 3, 2012


Wella Balsam shampoo had a clean, earthy fragrance. Lots of 80s girls wanted Farrah hair!
posted by maggieb at 2:45 PM on December 3, 2012


Those cheap perfumes like "Cody"? or stronger perfumes were popular back in the 80s...and roll on lip glosses etc. Rosie M. Banks has the names, on preview.
posted by bquarters at 2:45 PM on December 3, 2012


White Rain hairspray?
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 5:19 PM on December 3, 2012


Paul Mitchell shampoo is my first guess.

Next? Sauve "green apple" shampoo, Camay soap, facial toner, Bonne Bell Lip Smackers, old-fashioned liquid foundation makeup, CK Eternity or One, Liz Arden Sunflowers.
posted by cior at 6:20 PM on December 3, 2012


Exclamation is another perfume that was popular at the time, in the same category as Love's Baby Soft, Windsong and Jovan Musk.

So excited to go out and relive all of these fragrances!
posted by kellybird at 9:01 PM on December 3, 2012


Some people seem to be able to detect pheromones/subtle scents/etc. better than others. Anecdata- my GF DEFINITELY smells different when ovulating, and she claims to be able to smell pheromones better than most other scents. I vote a natural thing.
posted by Jacen at 9:19 PM on December 3, 2012


I don't think it was a product, just because I used to smell "boy smell" also. It wasn't particularly pleasant, but it wasn't unpleasant either, and it had a mildly arousing/attractive quality. I can still smell certain men in a way which seems to be purely body musk (not sweaty or unpleasant). I'm sure there's some kind of girl equivalent. It also might be related to diet (or maybe ovulation as Jacen mentions).
posted by stoneandstar at 11:00 PM on December 3, 2012


You probably could smell girls. When my boys were growing up and I was around a lot of children I recall that from about 8 to 11 anyway, the boys smelled a bit like tin, although girls did not seem to. I was around a lot more boys but nieces and so forth usually smelled of whatever state their hair presented, whether a strong or moderate shampoo smell or even dirty hair, all of which overpower fainter scents.
posted by Anitanola at 11:11 PM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


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