What I Learned from a Week of Wearing Drugstore Perfumes

Revlon Charlie ad


Last week, I revisited/reviewed five cheap perfumes available in most American drugstores. I didn’t try the “vintage”. I tried what you can go and buy now. I wanted this to be a feature on easy accessibility.  I did this because many of us know these perfumes but most Perfume People ignore these perfumes. And I understand why we do. There are so many perfumes in this world and life is too short to wear bad perfumes. We’re all bombarded by new releases. We’ve all been underwhelmed by more expensive and more exclusive perfumes. Why would we go out of our way to try something that is probably bad?

I understand. I didn’t even want to wear some of the ones that I sampled. But, I did…

Here’s what I learned:

One can actually smell good for less than $20. 

Going into this, I honestly didn’t expect many of these perfumes to be wearable. I was expecting the same experience I had with the reformulated Worth perfumes. I admit, my expectations were really low. To my surprise, most of the perfumes I tried were wearable, and not only wearable, but pleasant. I’m not saying these are amazing and you should replace all your Serge Lutens with drugstore perfumes. I’m saying that many of the ones that I tried were more interesting than a lot of the newer releases sold at places like Macy’s or Sephora. In all fairness, this says more about the current state of perfumery than it does about these drugstore perfumes, but still. If one’s goal is to smell “good” they don’t have to spend a lot of money to achieve their goal.

I’m thinking of these fragrances more like drugstore makeup brands. Sure, I love a luxurious Armani Lipstick for their hefty, magnetic packaging and buttery formulas. But, on my lips can you tell? Revlon has wonderful formulas that have performed just as good or better than a lot of department store products. Just like with cosmetics, there are some hits and misses but cheaper doesn’t automatically translate as “inferior”.

But, a budget does make a difference. 

Yes, on the cheap, you can smell good. And a lot of drugstore scents smell just as good (and arguably better) than a lot of more expensive designer launches. BUT, you can still tell that these were on a tighter budget than your favorite niche line. This isn’t necessarily “bad” but you can tell –  they wear  too light or wear too tenaciously, all seem too reliant on cheaper base notes.  It just makes me wonder what would these be like, for example, if you could get a $100 bottle of White Shoulders. Would that be the gardenia that I’ve always longed for? I don’t know and I’ll probably never know.

If you try a current drugstore perfume, keep in mind the price. It’s wild that they can bottle something and distribute in all sorts of locations for like $15 and still make a profit. I admit, because of the cheap price tag, my opinion is kinder. If some of these were $100 a bottle, yes, I’d have some complaints.

1990s' Sand & Sable ad

I miss being nostalgic. 

The blog you are reading is eight years old. For eight years, I’ve mainly covered perfumes launched in the past ten years. If a perfume gives me feelings of nostalgia, it’s because it gives the impression of an “atmosphere” that I associate with a place or a time in my life. With these older perfumes, I’m actually reminded of the perfume and specific people, a specific time defined by a specific perfume. I realize I have personal connections with some commercial fragrances that I’ve never discussed on this blog, a platform I’ve dedicated to discussing perfumes.

After doing this, I’d like to have a week devoted to something like “Popular Perfumes of the 90’s” or something like that. I have so much to say about the Calvin Kleins like Escape, CK1, Obsession. I’d like to take some time and focus on some perfumes that older than the internet.

vintage Old Spice ad

Malls have had to kill the cheap, accessible “drugstore” perfume market. 

These perfumes are all cheap and accessible but I rarely ever smell them on other people. What do I smell? Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. (Well, let’s exclude NYC. NYC isn’t the American norm; everyone here smells like Le Labo). I think why we don’t really see any new “younger generation” drugstore scents being made by these American brands is because they wouldn’t sell. People can buy stuff from L Brands¹. They are cheap, accessible and somehow have a broad appeal. I think a lot of us Perfume People like to smell exclusive. If you’re avoiding drugstore scents because you don’t want to smell like everyone else, you won’t. All these drugstore brands are being ignored by everyone.

That’s just a few of the things that I’ve learned/realized from wearing cheap perfumes for a week. I also realized that I enjoy smelling powdery which I still can’t explain. I also learned nobody will go up to you and say, “You smell like you are wearing a cheap perfume”, well, I think that Navy was close to making people utter that statement, but hey, I wouldn’t have disagreed with them!

If you missed the reviews, I’ve included links below.

Drugstore Divas Week – 2016 Roundup

Dana Navy

Coty Exclamation

Evyan White Shoulders

Parfums de Coeur Skin Musk

Myrugia Maja

As far as drugstore cheapies, do you have any favorites? Are there any that you wear?

¹L Brands, based in Ohio and owns Victoria’s Secret, Pink, Bath & Body Works.

*Revlon Charlie ad from 1990’s Sand & Sable ad from 1960’s Old Spice ad from

29 thoughts on “What I Learned from a Week of Wearing Drugstore Perfumes

  1. I used to wear one in high school that smelled like gardenias. I cannot for the life of me remember….but I hated Bath and Body Works scents. I love vanilla scents but cannot stand their basic vanilla. I do however covet a few of their discontinued scents and I buy them and wear them. One is Vanilla Noir which is a dark musky vanilla that people have stopped me on the streets about….and the one I love for summer is Lemon Vanilla, which is sugary and bright with a warm vanilla dry down. They are great for someone that lives for smelling good and yet going inside and outside and back again for my job (I work in a cemetery) I will spritz myself to stay fresh a few times a day.

    Also, Target carries the perfumes of the pop stars…..have you tried any Britney Spears scents? There are one are two that smell pretty good for a $15 drug store perfume purchase!

    1. Overall, I’m not the biggest fan of B&BW. I don’t really like their florals or fruity stuff. But, they have so many scents that occasionally there is something good (and then they discontinue the ones I like!) I haven’t tried the ones you like. I loved the Brown Sugar & Fig and there was a Coconut Lime Vanilla, or something like that. I actually liked that they were light sprays. When I lived in the South, I used those two scents a lot because it is refreshing. I bought some of the ones they relaunched last year. I learned that I didn’t like them then and I still don’t.

      Those Britney Spears scents are actually really good! Fantasy is sweet but it’s really a great fragrance. I also like Curious. One of my favorites in the celeb-cheap-get-at-Target genre is Jennifer Lopez Still. It’s lovely and the bottle is like $15!

  2. Hello Victoria,

    First of all, thank you so much for doing this series. It is refreshing to take a look back at the affordable scents of our youth and see if you can still smell good for $20. A few months ago, I was bemoaning the days when brands actually put out and advertised decent affordable drugstore scents: Where are the Vanilla Fields, Navy, Exclamation, and Musk ads of today? You are right that, essentially, that type of market has disappeared. If people want cheap and cheerful, they go to Bath and Body Works and Victoria’s Secret.

    I would love it if you ever want to do a Part 2 of this series, or perhaps a men’s version where you look at Old Spice, Canoe, Drakkar Noir, English Leather, etc? I have not smelled those in ages and a fresh reappraisal would be wonderful. I am already looking forward to your “Popular Perfumes of the 90s” series.

    1. For better or for worse, L Brands is dominating that market (there’s also The Body Shop and to a lesser extent LUSH, which can come up with some gems).

      That’s a great idea. I actually bought a Brut shaving cream recently and was surprised by how good it smells. It made me want to try some of those classics, especially current Old Spice. Now that I think about it with the masculines, I wonder if that cheapie market has been impacted that much by B&BW. I guess it’s more Axe and possibly even those Ambercrombie & Fitch colognes? Anyway, I’d love to revisit some of the masculine drugstore classics.

      1. Hi Victoria,

        Glad you found my comment helpful. I agree that some drugstore male scents still smell great and that perhaps that market has not completely disappeared. I still see young men who wear Old Spice or even Drakkar Noir from time to time (rarely Brut or Stetson though), though I think Axe dominates. Perhaps the reason why men’s drugstore fragrance is still around is because of men’s (actual or perceived) extreme brand loyalty when it comes to products? I suspect it is still older men buying and wearing these scents, but repeat purchases seem to be enough to keep the market afloat.

        1. That’s a really good point. Men are typically more brand loyal (woman are too but I find they actually have more options so they stray).

          I need to do a drugstore men’s week. Portia just mentioned Tabac; I want to smell that one again.

  3. Funny, I had a similar experience this week. I had 4 flights scheduled, going to 3 interesting airports where I thought I would have the chance to revisit the Chanel Exclusives, Hermessences, etc. Unfortunately, I was always at the wrong terminal and could’t get to any of these stores so I went to the duty free stores, with a bit of a “nothing in here will smell terrific” mindset. I was wrong. There are good perfumes. Infusion d’Iris, Sensuous, Eau de Merveilles, …
    But you are still right: Most of these are “older” perfumes, the newer ones (I include Guerlain’s newest releases) all smell quite generic and … cheap.

    1. It’s so funny but it’s like the only time I get to sniff new designer stuff is at Duty Free. I’m behind because I haven’t flown in a few months.

      I love the ones you listed. There are some good things out there. It’s just so hard to swim through the sea of mediocre.

  4. When I was in elementary school I wore Charlie Express. It’s probably been discontinued since the 90’s, but I can remember any time I’d get birthday money I would buy a bottle of it.

    1. 🙂

      I really need to try Charlie again. A friend of mine used to wear Charlie Naturals when we were in middle school. I’d love to smell those again too.

  5. Ooo a 90’s week would be fun! It was the decade where I was first able to buy my own perfumes. I didn’t have many but definitely the ones you mentioned.

    My drugstore purchases over the years:
    1. Queen (Queen Latifah) the red bottle – still own
    2. Queen of Hearts (Queen Latifah) the blue bottle – still own
    3. Shakira – gave away
    4. Halle Berry – gave away
    5. Heidi Klum Shine – still own
    6. A few misc celebrity fruity floral rollerballs – gave away
    7. Britney Spears Curious – gave away
    8. White Shoulders – gave away
    9. White Diamonds – gave away
    10. Elizabeth Taylor Violet Eyes – gave away
    I may be forgetting a few but I always love to find the diamonds in the rough!

    I agree that the low quality base – the scent of hairspray IMO – is one of the most noticeable aspects of the ‘bad’ ones. I don’t get that in the two Queen Latifah scents. I gave a few away not because of the low quality, just because of the notes/profile.

    I was browsing the perfume gift sets at Walgreens one year after Xmas when everything was on sale – just for fun. I met a sweet woman who was there specifically to buy her perfume for the year. It hit home how fortunate I am to have the means for multiple perfumes, not to mention ‘high end’ ones. Thank goodness for drugstore perfumes to give a little joy no matter who you are!

    1. One that I wore in the 90’s was Gap Om and I still have a bottle!

      Most on your list, I have not tried. The only one that I have is Curious which for some reason, I like. And I wish more than anything that I liked the Elizabeth Taylor ones, but I don’t. I have a great-aunt that actually favors Liz somewhat and White Diamonds is her signature.

      I really need to get my hands on the Queen Latifah ones. They sound good and I love her.

      That’s something to think about that I take for granted. Reminds me, years ago BBC did a doc on perfume. One thing that stood out to me was regarding the trend of cleaning products, laundry products, etc. having more variety of scents than they used to. It’s basically because that’s the only time that certain socio-economic classes get to “enjoy” fragrances (or make a choice about fragrance). That really resonated with me because fragrance is something that I’ve taken for granted. And I’m also happy to see that the scents with laundry/cleaning have evolved and have gotten “better” over time because of this.

      1. I saw that BBC documentary too and also have a distinct memory of the laundry detergent discussion. So fascinating and provides a great perspective on something most of us take for granted. Now I feel like re-watching the series.

  6. Shana mentioned a gardenia perfume and Jungle Gardenia instantly came to mind. It was so unappologetically gardenia, and i totally miss it. Another cheapy I remember that my mom wore was L’Air du Temps. I remember liking that one too. I also miss Vanilla Fields, I wish this one would come back. My current favorite cheapy is Brittany Spears Curious and I even have a backup bottle in case it is discontinued.

    1. Ahh, yeah, I remember that.

      Curious is a great fragrance. And I HATE to admit it but I have a bottle of the original Paris Hilton.

  7. My drugstore go-tos are Jean Nate and Coty Wild Musk. I think I wore JN in junior high. And CWM in high school. After becoming a perfumista as an adult, I was ashamed to admit I liked them. I finally came around. I smile when I wear them. Had to seek out a vintage JN, though. I wore Obsession in the 90s and I have yet to return to that one, though…

    1. I still wear Jean Nate in the summer; I practically bathe in it.

      Drugstore musks are surprisingly great. Call me low-brow 😉

  8. Victoria,
    I loved the series and this.
    You’d be appalled at how many drugstore frags get worn at my place. Up to and including Paris Hilton too.
    Also, please do a mens version. Blue Stratos, Tabac, Old Spice, Canoe, Brut, Stetson, Pino.So many!
    Portia xx

    1. I wouldn’t be appalled at all! The stuff I wear on my free-time is often very boring. I like Chanel and Prada and stuff like Paris Hilton and J.Lo Glow!

      Oh, forgot about Tabac. I do want to know what that smells like now…

  9. The one drugstore fragrance that still haunts me (sorry it is vintage. Well, it’s discontinued. Is that the same thing when it comes to drugstore perfume? Ha!) is Calgon Herbal Meadows. I wore this in high school of course and in one of my all time best perfume compliment stories: the brand new, 20-something geometry teacher/basketball coach asked me to stay after class and bewildered I sat wondering what could I have possibly done worthy of an after class reprimand, he shyly asked me if I could tell him what kind of perfume I wore! He even wrote it down! What? Wow! I’ll never forgot this even 18 years later! Sadly Calgon discontinued this fragrance and Morning Glory is just not as good in my opinion. But! Interestingly a perfume that smells very, very similar is Serge Lutens Sa Mageste La Rose. Thanks for letting me share my nostalgia! Love your work!

    1. I love this story! If something like that had happened to me, I wouldn’t have forgotten it either!

  10. Am happy to report that Tabac still smells just the same, incredibly good!
    I converted my male friend and also wear it in summer myself.
    My drugstore favourites are ‘Coty Wild Musk’ (since teens and still wearing), and ‘Toujours Moi’ a recent discovery. ‘Jovan Musk for Men’ is great too, and has plenty’o’civet, so I layer it with others to add that animalic punch.
    I blind bought ‘English Leather’ recently, it smells like soap and I detect No leather whatsoever. 🙁 I am currently waiting on a blind buy of ‘White SHoulders’ to arrive :). Also re Maja, I found an old empty vintage bottle a while back, on opening it, I smelled of Oakmoss.

    1. yay! I loved that you tried these and reported back. Now I know I should buy them. The fact that Tabac is still good is so encouraging.

      The drugstore musks are highly underrated IMO. They are actually more interesting than a lot of niche, they’re great alone or layered.

      Maja used to be a beast, which is good. The new one is much more soapy but in a way that I like. It’s not like the old stuff but what is anymore? 🙁

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