Normcore Perfume Guide


The other day someone was wearing Tommy Hilifiger Tommy Girl. My first thought was “Oh, I love this stuff!” I think Tommy Girl is one of the best tea fragrances on the planet. And this is saying something since I was suffocated by it during my teenage years. This was the perfume that ALL of the girls wore or put on their Christmas lists or stole from the department store. Tommy Girl was this one thing that preppy, geeky and even a little skanky sort of girls wanted. It was so “mainstream” that I refused to wear it because I thought I was so unique and so cool. I haven’t actually smelled this perfume on someone in over 15 years. I started thinking, man, is Tommy Girl now “normcore”?

If you use the Internet, I’m sure you’ve heard about this little fashion-ish thing called “normcore”. I’ve noticed that for the past few years that the youth were wearing things that I wouldn’t have dare worn in the 90’s – “mom” jeans, white socks with sandals, Tommy t-shirts… My thought was that was the stuff that is now readily available in thrift stores these days and this was a group of kids so detached from pale denim overalls and white sneaker flatforms, that they thought they could make this now readily available cheap stuff cool. I know I did that with thrift store stuff when I was that age and I’m sure older people thought I looked stupid. But, then I started seeing Adidas slide sandals and basketball shorts sold at “hip” designer stores and used by stylists in fashion shoots. I knew that this trend was “something” but didn’t know the name or if it even had a name.

Well, the New York Times outed this aesthetic as “normcore”. To sum it up, it’s basically young people dressing like somebody’s lame blonde boyfriend from high school that was on the cross country team circa 1995. It’s a mix of labels and brands that middle class America could afford and easily pick up at their suburban mall. And now these clothes (a mix of sport, active, casual and ready-to-wear brands) are the anti-trendy trendy things to wear (are you gagging yet??) My beef with it is that it’s all about irony and I’m so over irony. These slim, attractive, hip young people are saying “Isn’t it ironic that I’m wearing something that you’re supposed to think is ugly but I still think I’m cool and because of this I think I look cool“. Why can’t people just be their genuine true selves? My thought is that it’s insecurity. It’s the insecurity that we may poke fun at something that is their genuine true selves. Irony and silly phrases/trends like “normcore” are ego protectors. I mean, there are people that wear Dansko clogs (and don’t work in a restaurant or hospital!) and sport Land’s End jeans, but those people don’t care about fashion and certainly wouldn’t have a name attached to it…those people are being their genuine true selves.

Anyway, I started thinking about perfumes that could be labeled as “normcore”. These are the perfumes that I remember all of the “normal” people wearing back in the day. When I say normal, these were the brands and products readily available to suburban America. It’s a mix of accessibility and “herd mentality”…fragrances to wear if you desire to blend in.

Normcore perfumes

Elizabeth Arden Sunflowers – I tweeted earlier this week that Tommy Girl was normcore. Elisa, poet, perfume lover and blogger over at The French Exit replied that Sunflowers was the most normcore perfume. And I completely agree. Sunflowers is the Patron Saint of Normcore Perfumes. It’s the Joey Lawrence “Whoa” of perfumes. It’s Blossom’s silly floppy hat. It’s Eileen’s scrunchie. But, at the same time, from bottle to scent, it’s the most standardized perfume of the 90’s. It’s not sexy, stylish or even memorable. It’s just what it is. It encapsulates all of the dorkiness and naiveté of the 90’s.

Coty Exclamation! – The different between Exclamation and something like Sunflowers was that we’re supposed to remember Exclamation. The ad campaign said we could say it all without saying a word (NOW these are fashions I can endorse!) We were to wear Exclamation to stand out. What’s funny is that this perfume was a conformist perfume. I remember my slightly older cousins wearing it. All their girlfriends wore it. If you wanted to blend in with your peers, you wore Exclamation. – The bottle was really cute though.

Dana Navy – Navy really mirrored the mall fashions of the time. It’s that “all-American” sportswear look. It’s private school in Connecticut, East Coast beach houses, Tretorn sneakers and blonde high-lights. And the deal with that fashion genre is that it emphasizes “playing it safe” and frankly, “playing it White”. Anyway, Navy, the perfume, is a campy version of this wealthy American “I own beach houses” aesthetic. But, it’s so off. It smells like a heavy, powdery amber. It has no idea what it going on, a lot like these normcore kids… I recommend reading Angela’s review on Now Smell This. It totally sums up how I feel about Navy.

Coty Vanilla Fields – My genuine true self wants you to know that I never want to smell this again. It’s in the same class as Sunflowers for its normcore boringness. If the color taupe was translated into perfume, it would be Vanilla Fields. And not like a pretty taupe, like that cheap, generic light taupe carpet that apartment complexes seem to love. Vanilla Fields is this weird blend for people that like the idea of wearing perfume but don’t want to stand out at all. I don’t know why but it’s always reminded me of every Jane Seymour series of the 90’s.

Bath and Body Works Cucumber Melon – Stand-alone fragrance stores with cheap merchandise really says so much about 90’s consumerism. Stores like Bath and Body Works define mall culture and the American mall experience. Before these malls sold more expensive designer perfumes at department stores where a shop girl would walk you through various European perfumes. And then Bath & Body Works happened and women were skipping out on the Givenchy and buying bottles of watered-down cheap aromachemicals. Because…VARIETY! and CHEAP! and Buy One Get One Free! And like junk food, people started developing a taste for these sort of fragrances. Soon people were actually preferring Cucumber Melon over French perfumes. So, I guess, Cucumber Melon really is normcore. It’s rejecting “traditional” fashion and intentionally selecting something simple/unsophisticated.

Tommy Hilfiger Tommy Girl – Absolutely beautiful tea fragrance. Really it’s here because it was so popular during the time. And the popularity had nothing to with its genius but to do with the brand. It could have smelled like anything (possibly smell like nothing) and would have sold bottles. Wearing something Tommy became some sort of aspirational middle class wealth cult. I feel like Tommy Hilifiger is the reason I still can’t stand seeing a logo on anything.

GAP Heaven – Here again for it’s popularity and its “mall culture” associations. Like the brand, this jasmine-musk perfume plays it safe. It’s a baggy tee, denim and a baseball cap studying for finals. It’s the “not even going to think about it” perfume. Since it’s GAP, it really fits with the normcore stuff.

Liz Claiborne Sport – Here because unexciting active wear is apparently normcore. It’s actually an OK aromatic “sport” scent, but it’s definitely not a stand-out. It’s the epitome of clean and inoffensive. And it’s sporty. And they even have another version for sporty women. You know, for matchy-matchy sporty couples…and matchy-matchy normcore couples.

Well, I had a lot to say regarding Normcore for a slightly farcical “haha” post. It’s interesting to see how these trend things tie into fragrance. And I rather enjoyed the nostalgia of thinking about popular perfumes form my “school days” and how they are relevant (or irrelevant) to today’s world.

*Everything but the B&BW works link is an affiliate link. Thanks! You know, in case you feel like reliving your youth or something OR if you are apparently younger, cooler and hipper than me.

24 thoughts on “Normcore Perfume Guide

  1. spot on. these are the frags that when people refer to their “perfume” i think you are just referring to the BRAND you want to identify with…. you could not have hit it more on the head with ‘playing it safe” and frankly, “playing it White”.’

    i know that fashion has it’s retro cycles, and i even have a friend who is buying up old Tommy clothes seemingly in bulk from ebay… but was it REALLY anything worth being nostalgic over?

    and irony. irony is nice when you are trying to make a point… but what is the POINT of wearing nonfashion as fashion?? put a safety pin through your nose… even wear solid black for all that matters, it’s going to translate much better than “look at the sad girl with no fashion sense.”

    i suppose all young people of a certain age are contrary just for the sake of being contrary… i know i went through that phase, it sounds like you went through that phase– but when i look back and discuss with my friends– there was ALWAYS a POINT behind it. we were rebelling against something political or a trend in sociology at the time… we weren’t just saying “i’m going to be blase for the sake of being blase”- we certainly weren’t trying to fit into mainstream america.

    wow. for a little ditty on “normcore” (even the NAME is like white bread demanding everyone see it as rye) you sure got a little fit out of me. *Laugh*

    excellent article!!

    1. I’m sure in high schools now, kids still buy whatever brand they want to associate with. It’s not about the actual scent.

      I wasn’t into Tommy, etc. back in the day. Going with what Suffragette said, I was too cool for school. But, I have bought some stupid club kid, gothy crap that I wore back in the day. I guess I’m an old nostalgic fart as well.

      The thing is that if you wanted to be “normal”, you’d just go to Express, Gap, whatever and go buy what the mannequin is wearing. This is the “no thinking” approach. BUT that would mean someone may think you are stylish and that isn’t cool. Normal people can’t think they’re stylish! So silly.

      Off topic, not a fan of Portlandia but there are some great skits. You’ve reminded me of the “Saggy ass sad girl shorts” skit. Which is totally Normcore.

      I’m fine with rebellious young ‘uns. It’s a part of growing up. But, I will side with John Waters here (well, I always do) but he says that kids today don’t have a look and that’s their problem (can’t find that interview right now, darnit). Anyway, if you have extreme views, you need an extreme look. It gets the attention and then allows you tell your story. This sort of tells me that these people have no causes. And this makes me sad because it just ain’t American to have a generation of non-rebellious young’uns.

      After this post, I have pulled out Tommy Girl and worn it. The detachment from that time helps me love it now.

  2. Sunflowers takes me back to high school! Vanilla Fields was REALLY popular, too. Anything vanilla actually, and the same goes for anything Bath and Body Works. Man, some girls would really pile the stuff on so you’d get a cloying synthetic vanilla/fruit cloud mingling with the guy’s Cool Water or Hugo Boss. Hugo by Hugo Boss was pretty popular as well. I remember Seventeen magazine exclaiming that the bottle looked like a little canteen (why?).

    I nearly bought Tommy Girl during Christmas but was annoyed at having to wait so long in line. I had read the Luca Turin/ Tania Sanchez review and was intrigued. I had always written Tommy Girl off but when I read it was tea based I decided to buy it. Glad it can be had for under $20!

    This whole “Normcore” business makes me laugh. I saw an article on it with pics of people wearing normal-looking clothes, not 90’s mall clothes. I would love it if they started dressing like the Exclamation commercial!

    1. Vanilla Fields isn’t bad. I just know I spent too much time smelling it. And I spent too much time smelling that cocktail you described!

      OMG. Hugo Boss. I had that one. My aunt bought it for me. Totally forgot about it until you mentioned the canteen bottle. And seriously, was that a selling point??? Because I remember reading that too.

      The funny thing about Normcore is that if you want to actually look normal, you’d wear North Face vests, leggings and Uggs. But, then if they did that you’d confuse them for normal people and they aren’t normal like normal people…or something. Anyway, kids these days 😉 I will try to be optimistic here and say that at least they are thinking about fashion and buying some decently made items.

      I really like Exclamation girl’s hair in that commercial, super cute.

      1. I stopped by Target today and I picked up Tommy Girl. It smells pretty good! It works better on my skin than most tea-based frags. Also at Target, they had the most ubiquitous 90’s article of clothing- the Looney Tunes Taz and Bugs trying to looking tough t-shirt. I was baffled as to why they would have those…then it dawned on me. I suppose if its at Target its over? Or will hipsters buck convention and continue it. (I’m still holding out for Exclamation girl power suits all over Silver Lake.)

        1. Do tea fragrances go all plastic-y on you like they do me? Many smell fine on paper but go to this gross plastic wrap once on my skin.

          Really? That’s back? My middle school soccer coach must be delighted, makes all her tattoos relevant again, lol.

          I’m all about the power suits and shoulder pads!

  3. Thanks for this awesome blast from the past! I remember rockin’ a few of these until I became too cool for school in high school and started wearing cheap head shop sandalwood.

    1. Gurl, me too. When I got too cool for school, I wore the head shop sandalwood too. And some nag champa just because I could.

  4. Victoria, I love your blog and skulk regularly – sorry I don’t comment more, but my laziness interferes. These perfumes are TOTALLY normcore and I must admit, I still love one in particular; Claiborne Sport. My husband has worn this for years, and we stockpile like hoarders whenever we see it at TJMaxx. He has many others, but this is his everyday scent, and it’s beautiful on him. I missed the whole Exclamation thing, but remember Vanilla Fields and wore Tommy Girl for a year after it was first released, although I never loved it.

    Thanks for your great reviews – well done!

    1. No reason to apologize! I’m a reader too and rarely comment, not enough hours in the day.

      Claiborne Sport is good stuff. Well, from what I remember. It’s been ages since I’ve sniffed it but I do remember the tomato leaf in it. I had a high school guy friend that wore it. And as you know, there were far worse things to wear from that era.

      I was “too young” for Exclamation but I do remember wanting a bottle so badly so I could be cool like high school girls. I never got it but I’m OK with that now 🙂

  5. I hadn’t worn Tommy Girl in almost 15 years and I picked some up at Target for $12.00. It still smells wonderful. It’s nice when something from your past still smells nice. Another Normcore frag is Ralph by Ralph Lauren. It smells good, but I could never pull it off. It’s popular again as well as polo clothes at my sons high school. It reminds me of the high school scene in 21 jump street. It’s weird! Kids these days don’t have anything that makes their generation unique. I think abercrombie destroyed the call for individuality.

    1. It’s so cheap but doesn’t smell cheap!

      Oh, I remember Ralph. A girlfriend of mine wore it. I used to make fun of the name, lol. “I’m going to Ralph”, oh, I thought that was so funny to say while spraying it on…they also had a hair care line scented with it too. She had the mousse or a gel, something like that scented with Ralph.

      I walked by Forever 21 today. The windows look like a TLC video. I sort of think it is flattering. I mean, the kids thought we were cool enough to impersonate 😉

      Do I even dare discuss A&F fragrances? If someone wants to kill me, they can just fumigate the house with Fierce.

  6. I really enjoyed this post although I’m Australian and can’t quite identify with the mall culture you discuss. (We had malls but they’ve weren’t so big and um, mallish.)

    I’m probably a decade older and the 1980s was my formative decade. In my late teens I wore Avon. Lentheric and Yardley were very big. They were the confofmist brands in my world. Australia tended to follow British brands. I suppose we had Coty and Faberge but I don’t remember them. But Elizabeth Arden was popular though and I remember Sunflowers. For prestige, Lauder was the brand everyone aspired to; same for you I guess. Revlon too.

    1. As a whole, I would say that Yardley is the “safest” brand of perfumes on the planet, totally “conformist”. And Avon was so accessible as well. I had Sweet Honesty…a BabySoft knock-off thingy.

      Speaking of Estee Lauder, it took me years to appreciate Pleasures because I was so put off by it’s popularity and “all American” ads too. Trying it in adulthood, I realize it’s a seamless perfume. Clinique and Estee Lauder were really popular in the States. You were a well off teen if you were buying that and not 99 cent waxy lipsticks. One of the first perfumes I ever bought with “my own money” was White Linen…a hilarious choice for a goth-y kid.

  7. Victoria, this post made my year! Thank you. The funny thing is, we don’t really have mall culture in Scandinavia the way you do in the US. No B&BW, no Gap, no A&F (Thank all the Gods who ever breathed.) So we poor, maligned Vikings and Valkyries have had to make our own way through the fashionable asphalt jungle without the benefit of chain stores telling us what to wear or buy. The horror! :O
    But what really grates me is the misconstrued ‘irony’ of it all – those clothes and that entire trend looks twice as moronic reheated on fashionistas’ snide hides.
    I’ll pass on these inoffensive perfumes (Isn’t offending someone >/i> the whole point?) and those second-run clothes and kindly request for my funeral… to be buried in Rick Owens black leather everything.

    1. AND this is why you guys are more stylish!

      It’s a silly trend but whatever, if it unites people and makes them feel special, I shouldn’t really care. I have to say in the NY Times article regarding the photographs, those people are rather “traditionally” pretty in that they are thin, young and have beautiful skin/hair. When you have all of that going for you, you can wear whatever and look “good”. In fact when you have all of that going for you, you can wear this mess and be a trend, the rest of us just look sorry, lol.

      Oh, Rick Owens…if only he’d pick me as his muse. Lovely, lovely garments that I’ll never be able to buy. I have a love/hate with fashion. I like expressing myself with clothes but think the industry is f’d. I do like the “drama” but I’m aware it isn’t for everyone. But, those people wouldn’t go around calling it some stupid name!

  8. Fun post,had a good chuckle,and some nostalgia too!Lol!Worlds apart,you and me,but just shows how small the world really is.Exclamation was THE FRAGRANCE of the 90’s over here(and to some extent still is-with all its flankers-a massive hit in South Africa!)I think maybe 2

    1. FFS!Commenting via iphone…As I was saying…maybe 20 people in SAfrica know the word Mitsouko…lol.People still drown themselves in Exclamation,Revlon Moondrops…and my ultimate normcore over here,LENTHERIC PANACHE(and the subsequent flankers)

      1. Oh, Moon Drops! I remember that one too. It was Opium-ish if I remember correctly.

        We were spared Panache…but it seemed to have a cult following in your neck of the woods and Australia. Fun fact, the only Lenetheric perfume I’ve tried is vintage Tweed!

    2. It is a small world, isn’t it? I swear that I can still “taste” Exclamation because I’ve walked through so many clouds of it. – I did notice online that there are many flankers, I don’t think those were as popular in the states. But, I don’t know.

  9. Had to stop reading halfway through because I was laughing too hard and I had to get my light denim clad, Dansko shod body out the door to run errands. Oh jeez, but I think you are right that maybe it’s a lack of having a cause. But it might also be because adults and kids pretty much dress alike. At one point adults dressed one way, kids another and the “odd” clothes phase was a rite of passage. Not so much anymore. Things are co-opted far too quickly these days.
    My formative years were way back in the day. The 60’s and early 70’s. I either had a choice of the classics (I got Youth-Dew and Chamade for Christmas) or essential oils (patchouli!, sandalwood!! headshop!!!) or Heaven Scent or Love’s Baby Soft. Heaven Scent wasn’t too bad. Not so good today. I tried several of the ‘fumes you mentioned and the several of them are ‘nice’. Just not me. Just not now. Same thing with clothes, I suppose. Been there, bought some, wore them and don’t want to pay ten times as much now. isn’t there some saying about never wearing a fashion that has shown up more than once in your life?

    1. Gurl, you’re sooo Normcore. NY Times will be doing a feature on you soon 🙂

      A few years ago I talked about this with a friend that works pretty deeply in the fashion industry. We talked about how times go through children/adults dressing the same and dressing different. We agreed that we are currently lacking that “odd” phase. But is it because kids are dressing like adults or are adults trying to be more youthful than ever? We felt like when times got more Conservative, this is what happens. After a bottle of wine, I forgot what we concluded but it was a really fun conversation.

      Well, you sounded like you have always had good perfumes! It was that cheap “quick thrill” stuff that ruined the perfume industry. Now people want to smell like cheap stuff.

      Yes, there is a saying like that. I still do it. Can’t help it. Love my boots and I like “flared” denim, lol.

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