Drugstore Divas Week – 2016
This week I’m revisiting popular perfumes available at US drugstores. The sort of perfumes that many of us know but many of us perfume lovers completely ignore.
“Are you sure this is right?”
“Yeah, this is what she wears”, she said while picking up an oversized flimsy peach box.
“Maybe we could, like you know, find her something else. Something not sold at the drugstore and something…”
“That doesn’t appear to be so self-hating?”, she said with a giggle.
In college, my best friend and I would make a pilgrimage to the drugstore perfume counter every May to buy her grandmother a birthday present. It became a joke. Here we are next to creams for rashes and nail fungus picking up her black grandma a perfume called “White Shoulders”. A perfume launched in the 1940’s that has since been stripped of all glamour, residing in boxes with crinkly plastic “windows” in a place where you get your prescriptions filled. It just felt so wrong, on many levels.
One year we decided, it was time to get her something “better”. We bought her a Bvlgari. You should have seen her grandmother’s face when she unwrapped it! The guilt we felt! She didn’t want anything but White Shoulders because it was “AN AMERICAN PERFUME¹! The best perfume in the world!”
We eventually gave up, blamed our guilt-inducing liberal arts education for getting in the way of this special woman’s love of an old perfume. We continued to buy her left over Mother’s Day gift sets of this vintage-feeling perfume in the Georgia peach packaging. We’d laugh about the nipple-less bust and the lion’s mane hair.
“There’s no shoulders at all!”, we’d exclaim. “There’s only a relief of Barbie boobs!”
During this time, I didn’t even bother to wear this perfume but I was familiar with what it smelled like. It smelled like wicker furniture sets, vinyl place mats and those clear waterproof rain bonnets. It smelled like sweet but stubborn matriarchs.
I used to think White Shoulders smelled like white grapes. Smelling it now as someone that thinks a lot about perfume, I still get that but it’s not as a prominent as I remember. The aldehydic opening smells like Welch’s White Grape Juice and hairspray. These aldehydes set the mood for the rest of the fragrance: high-pitched white florals. It’s a powdery gardenia and heady lilac. The perfume eventually turns into what I think many people remember – rose and tuberose. It’s a heady, fresh floral with a whisper of clove. From a distance, it smells like a non-descript powdery floral. Up close, it’s a mix of perfume-y roses and tuberose. It dries down to a powdery amber with a greenness that’s somewhere between moss and vetiver.
Honestly, I’m surprised by how wearable this perfume is especially since I’m sure it’s nothing like the original AND that it’s so cheap (I paid $5 for a parfum). It actually smells really good, even the “on the shelves right now” version. I’m sure it’s something that is going to feel “dated” to many Americans (my husband said it smelled like “church ladies” and from what I understand, it is a popular perfume amongst certain holy roller crowds). I don’t see myself wearing this that often, but I appreciate it. It’s a pretty retro floral. Unrelated, I want my hypothetical bachelorette pad to have everything painted in the White Shoulders peach and pair it with gold accessories.
Notes listed include aldehydes, gardenia, jasmine, tuberose, lily-of-the-valley, lilac, lily, orris, amber, benzoin, civet, musk and oak moss. Launched in 1945.²
Give White Shoulders a try if you like vintage perfumes or powdery florals. Or perfumes like Caron Fleurs de Rocaille, Patou Joy, Cacharel Anaïs Anaïs, Chanel N° 22 and/or Givenchy L’Interdit.
Projection and longevity are above average. There’s a cologne spray which I did not try. After trying this, I’m really curious about the bath and body products. If anything, I want those just for the packaging.
White Shoulders retails for about $20 at most drugstores. It’s also available at discounters like Perfume.com.
Victoria’s Final EauPINION – Powdery, vintage-feeling white floral. It’s a lot more elegant than the places that sell it.
¹I’ve since found out that indeed it is a distinctively American perfume that was marketed as a very “patriotic” perfume during and after WWII. She was from a family of African American veterans and I’m sure a certain veteran (her husband), got her hooked on White Shoulders.
²I am reviewing a small bottle that I bought 4/16. This is not vintage.
Want more reviews? Try…
The Non-Blonde – Review of vintage
The Muse in Wooden Shoes – A post on gardenia.
New York Times – Obituary of one of the founders of Evyan, and oddly an informative read.
*Product purchased by me. Product pic from Amazon. Vintage White Shoulders ad from eBay. “Essence of Desire”, it says.