Perfume in the Regency, by Zoe Burton

Perfume in the Regency, by Zoe Burton

I was writing something the other day (I can’t remember what now … I recently dropped two projects that were going nowhere and began a Christmas story) and the topic of perfume came up. Caroline needed a personal perfume, a scent that was hers alone so Darcy could tell just with a sniff and no eyes that it was her approaching. I know that making perfume was something lots of people did in Regency England, so I thought to make it the topic of today’s post.

As usual, I seem to have bitten off more than I can chew, so I’ll share bits and bobs, but not explain anything in detail. I’ll provide links to my sources so you can explore further, if you’ve a mind to do so.

Perfume flasks from the 1600’s.

The first website/blog I looked at that had information about how perfumes are made was this blog post by the Pragmatic Costumer. I found it to be very informative, to be honest. She has a chart of scent types and an explanation of how they work. She also describes the two categories that a Georgian/Regency perfume would fall into. One of these is the floral category, the other the musky category.

What I found most interesting of all about this article is that there wasn’t much difference between men’s and women’s perfumes in the 1660’s and 1700’s (the 1700’s being when the Georgian Era began). Guys might use rose water and ladies might use sandalwood or other “male” scents.

This article went on to say that perfume wasn’t one consistency. When I think of perfume, I think of a liquid of some sort, I assume with an alcohol base. However, back in the day, it could be water-based, alcohol-based, wax-based, or oil-based.  Each type had a different use back then, as well. She also says there was a lot of variety in perfumes back then, which is similar to what we have in the 21st Century.

DIY rosewater

This article has a recipe or two in it, and links to other sites, one of which was to a do-it-yourself rosewater page, which … no longer has that content on it. L So, I did a Google search and found this page that describes three ways of making it, and this page that I think is probably easier. My roses are old-fashioned and bloom in June, so I’m going to try to remember to harvest some blooms and make my own next year, if I can be that patient. LOL Otherwise, I’ll have to search for either organic roses or dried organic rose petals and actually pay for them. 😉

Nowadays, perfume comes in a range of prices, from cheap to “you need a sugar daddy for that.” The packaging tends to reflect the price, but even then, it’s usually just kept in a glass bottle.

Back in the Georgian and Regency periods, perfume was kept in flasks. The more financially well-off you were, the fancier the flask, I’m sure. In the 1600’s, it was a tradition for a newly-wedded husband to gift his wife with a vanity set … a brush and mirror … and some perfume flasks.

Another blog post I read, this one written by an author who did her own research by visiting two shops in London that have been around since the Regency, excited me, mainly because she did go do her own research. Both shops sold perfumes and colognes, and she got to smell some that were around in that time period. One of the stores was famous for Lavender Water, English Flower perfumes, and Classic Colognes. She goes on to tell us that classic colognes were fresh fragrances, traditional colognes were “warmer” and had orange scents in them, and freshening colognes contained lemon. I never knew there were cologne classifications. LOL

Scent bottle that was part of the Cheapside Hoard.

In 1912, a cache of jewelry from the 1600’s was found in Cheapside under a street. One of the 500 items discovered in the chest of jewels was a gold, diamond, opal, and enamel perfume bottle. This article from The Jewellery Editor website describes a perfume inspired by it that was to be created in 2013. The list of ingredients that were combined to make the perfume is impressive, and all were popular in the 1600’s. Lavender, rose, frankincense, sage, cedarwood, geranium, and beeswax are just a few of them.

One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve read through these articles is that some people are just perfume lovers and they talk very emotionally about different scents and how one perfume will smell differently on one person than it will on another. I can understand their passion, as I am the same about stock car racing. It makes me giggle, though, to read their words about “notes” and reactions and body chemistry. I confess I stopped using perfume long ago, in part because it all kind of smelled the same to me. LOL 😉

Are you a perfume connoisseur, or are you like me, just not that into it? Do you have a favorite?  


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April 30, 2022 10:40 PM

I know I’m a bit late to the game here, but just wanted to comment…

I’m not sure if it’s the same as what you would use for making your own perfume, but I know I’ve purchased rose water from local Indian grocers to use in baking. It has a powerful but delicate fragrance to it and could probably be used as a perfume all on its own. I’ve put some in a teapot on the stove to use it as incense/air freshener before and didn’t need to add anything to it. It’s only about $4/bottle.

Obviously not quite the same as starting entirely from scratch but all of the instructions I’ve found for making it from scratch seem both expensive and tedious, so I’ve settled for store bought.

August 19, 2020 12:10 PM

I love Plumeria(also known as Frangipani) and look for perfumes featuring that scent. I loved in Hawaii and the scent takes me right back there! I confess I often forget to put it on, though! I suffer from migraines and if I happen to get one ANY strong smells are torture. ? I can’t predict when one will strike, so wearing perfume is a crap shoot for me! ?
I’d never heard of the Cheapside hoard, very interesting! I did read in the photo descriptions that it was discovered in 1912, the perfume was commissioned in 2013 to celebrate the opening of the museum display. Now I must find out more details about the discovery! Who wouldn’t want to find a treasure chest in their cellar??

Patricia Finnegan
Patricia Finnegan
August 18, 2020 1:03 AM

I am not really a perfume person. my dad had allergies and ashma so the scent would set off an attack. since my parents divorced i tried a couple and it was too much for me. the smell was overwhelminh. if anything, i prefer oils

August 18, 2020 12:03 AM

no fav; interesting info

August 17, 2020 10:45 PM

Interesting post. I have read some variations wherein Jane and Lizzy makes their own floral scent. They sometimes describe how the two partially does it but I always wonder how long they last (never though of the liquid base they use). How I wish I can do this too.

August 17, 2020 9:11 PM

Fascinating post, Zoe! I occasionally wear perfume.

August 17, 2020 4:44 PM

I have never worn perfume as my dad can’t stand the smell of it so it was not allowed in our home. It’s fascinating though how long people have been using it and how things have changed, and stayed the same, through the years. Thanks for sharing,

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
August 17, 2020 12:58 PM

Back in the day, I worked as a teller and there was a glass panel between myself and our customers. This was pre-COVID days. There was a small opening that worked as a pass-through for paper and money. There was another opening at the top that allowed an air to circulate and whatever the customer was wearing or not wearing would often assault my senses with the current. Those farm hands coming from the field or the barn were especially odoriferous as were those that worked in the chicken plant. However, one day a man… a real man dressed to the nines… walked up to my window and whatever he was wearing made me absolutely weak in the knees. I barely remember the transaction and can only hope I conducted myself professionally rather than drool on the counter in front of me. Mercy but he smelled good.

My cousin has to be careful as scents change with the chemistry of her body. I mean… it can go really bad within a few minutes. I used to put perfume on a cotton ball and put it in my bra. Don’t even let me go near a Bath and Body Works store. I love their lotions and creams and invariably when I find one I like, they will discontinue it. Grrr!

In some JAFF stories, they mention that Jane was proficient in the still-room. We don’t have a big explanation of what all she did but I would imagine she did distilled and compound work, ointments, salves, brewed medicines, created various perfumes to suit each of the sisters and their mother, lotions, creams, soaps, sachets, and such. That would be fun. Elizabeth would help with the research and the collection of herbs [nature woman that she is] and whatever plants Jane might need. In the ’95 movie it showed Jane and Elizabeth hanging plants to dry… I assume they were in the still-room.

JAFF has mostly chosen lavender as the signature scent for Elizabeth. I have occasionally seen the use of rosewater or something else. Darcy is usually sandalwood and occasionally someone will add a hint of citrus mixed in. Oh… I hope you have something horrid for Caroline. With her attitude and bitter jealousies, nothing would mix well with that acid based skin of hers. I’m sure she has no understanding of acid and alkaline based compounds [they didn’t teach that in her seminary] so the field is wide open to do her up good. Plus, any chemist would just love to unload a batch that went terribly wrong on the unsuspecting public or one extremely taxing customer. She probably doesn’t have a nose for scents and can’t tell one from another. This was a fun post, thanks for sharing this with us.

Linda A.
Linda A.
August 17, 2020 12:11 PM

I don’t wear perfumes any longer — haven’t for years. Man-made scents give me a headache, but nature-made scents don’t tend to bother me. I can handle the smell of a skunk to the smell of some of these so-called “air fresheners”. Thanks for sharing!

Riana Everly
August 17, 2020 9:21 AM

I’m afraid perfume is a bit lost on me. I love a fruity scent, and some florals like rose and lilac are lovely, but too much makes me sneeze. We picked up some beautiful floral perfumes in Bermuda once, and I still have them. That trip was 25 years ago!

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
August 17, 2020 8:47 AM

I don’t wear a lot of perfume but when I do it usually is a musky scent. Something soft scented and not very strong so I am not being strangled by the scent!lol

August 17, 2020 7:28 AM

Like Eliza, I have a sensitive nose. I still occasionally wear Channel #5, but, generally, if I choose a scent to wear it is lavender or vanilla. You might like this scene one of the few contemporary novels called “Second Chances: The Courtship Wars.” The couple involved are at a national conference. He is a psychologist. She is a psychologist/sexologist, meaning she studies sexual behavior. As always, this scene was laced with the research I found on the subject. They end up being two of the three psychologists on a new reality TV show where divorced couples wish a second chance together. WARNING: Although relatively innocent (in fact, the whole novel is more innocent than one might suspect), this scene is not for everyone.

“Are you telling me…telling this audience, you seriously believe we choose our mates by how they smell?” After several less than stellar presentations, the discussion had become a heated one between him and the pretty brunette. In the back of his mind, Lucian considered how tantalizing it would be to argue and then have make up sex with his opponent.

“Why not? Attraction must be based on something…an intangible,” she retorted. “Is science absolutely certain it knows what attracts two people to each other.”

Although her impertinence infuriated him, a crooked, boyish smile played across Lucian’s face. “Maybe it is something as tangible as a person’s looks.” Her appearance had certainly piqued his interest.

The woman quipped. “Or their body odor.” A snicker crisscrossed the room as Lucian felt a twinge of indignation; in claiming her own respect from the audience, she had dismissed his.

His voice rose with the embarrassment: No one spoke to him with such bravado, especially not a woman. He knew full well his appeal to women for he had used it to carve out his current success. No cheeky female, despite how attractive she might be, would show him up. “Then explain to me, Miss Cornell, why there are so many divorces if all we must do is sniff people to find our perfect mate. Maybe we should act more like dogs.”

Incredulously, she flushed before saying, “Some women already think men act like dogs.” Again, came the snickers of laughter. “In reality, it is not so simple.”

Lucian leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms across his chest, symbolically closing off the discourse and denying her ideas their validity. “It never is.” A look of amusement overspread his face, and the laughter accorded him lasted longer than what his sexy opponent had engendered.

Despite his being her target, Lucian liked that she did not concede defeat. It spoke to the type of woman she was. The type he normally avoided. Miss Cornell demanded, “Dr. Damron, do you challenge the existence of Nerve ‘O’?”

“I am a man of science, Miss Cornell; I am willing to accept the possibility of what you purport.” He thought he saw the flash of her eyes, and he smiled as if they were already lovers.

However, the lady brushed off his overtures, a fact he duly noted. Obviously, the woman meant to spend her time discussing her research and placing her agenda on the table. She had no time for him, and Lucian wondered if he had made a mistake in demonstrating an interest in the woman. “Reproductively speaking,” she continued, “MHC may determine how healthy our offspring might be, and as far as our susceptibility to another person, it does appear, sir, that next to our brain, our nose is a powerful sex organ.” The crowd responded as tainted images drifted among the attendees. “Women in my research groups report a connection between a satisfying sex life and their guy’s scent.”

“Oh, God, save us from scent aphrodisiacs!” Lucian protested loudly.

“A study by the Berlinger Foundation discovered which scents increase a man’s arousal by increasing the blood flow to this organ,” she countered. “Would you be interested in knowing what those might be, Dr. Damron?” Her voice held its own taste of sarcasm.

“Most assuredly, Miss Cornell, enlighten me. I may need to know what scents to avoid in the future.” Smugness crept across Lucian’s countenance.

Even though the lady apparently meant to put him in his place, Miss Cornell laughed, and Lucian could hear the seductiveness of it. “Turn up your attraction,” she smirked, “by having your mate indulge in pumpkin pie or black licorice or a donut or lavender.”

Regina Jeffers
August 18, 2020 7:33 AM
Reply to  Zoe Burton

One thing I found interesting was the concept that women on birth control seek out someone with a similar “natural” scent, meaning the birth control pill changes our chemical makeup and prevents the more natural “opposites attract” concept. Have look at…
Berman, Laura, Dr. “Scientists Discover Secret Sex Nerve.” Today Show. 25 Mar. 2008.

Eliza Shearer
August 17, 2020 4:36 AM

What a fascinating post!

I have a sensitive nose and many perfumes make me sneeze, but I do like fresh, natural scents. Lavender, bergamot and jasmin are firm favourites with me.

Eliza Shearer
August 19, 2020 7:04 AM
Reply to  Zoe Burton

Nothing worse than an over-perfumed person sitting next to you at a fancy restaurant! It certainly spoils the meal for me 😉

Chelsea K
Chelsea K
August 17, 2020 12:51 AM

I have a lot of perfumes that I have picked up when I found something I liked that was cheap or gotten as gifts but I don’t wear it much anymore. I got out of the habit years ago (late college probably) when my Mom was going through a phase of being more sensitive to smells.

Perfumes worked very differently on me versus my Mom. A perfume could sometimes last hours on me but only last a few minutes on her.

I don’t think I have any particular favorite scents. Sometimes I decide to wear a perfume based on the time of year (flowers in spring, fruit scents in summer, Apple or sweets in the fall, or peppermint in winter) and sometimes it can be based on what I am reading (Rose for Beauty and the Beast Variations, Lavender with some P&P Variations, etc.)

Thank you for sharing this post and I hope you are staying safe!

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