On Being Ladylike

A recent impulse purchase of mine was Hermes’s Caleche Soie de Parfum (1992). I’m not going to review it, as I agree in every respect with a review that Robin published on NST some years ago, that Caleche SdP is an elegant aldehydic floral, quite soapy in the middle and with a pleasant, woody drydown.

My main impression of this perfume is that it, and its older sister, the original Caleche (1961), are so, so ladylike. That is what aldehydes over a chypre structure will do, and in the 1961 Caleche this is especially so. (To me the 1961 lovely but unconvincing, but I have only smelled the most recent version of it. I gather that something has been lost in reformulation.)

The thing is, this quality of ladylike-ness is not one I care for. I don’t see the point of it any more. Sexiness, yes I do of course. Elegance, most definitely. Glamour, maybe. Prettiness, sometimes. But ladylike-ness to me is an empty, hollow quality, and it tries too hard. Ladylike-ness is to elegance what etiquette is to true, genuine courtesy.

Ms Ladylike puts too many flowers in her vases, and in her perfume. In my mind, First (1976), by Van Cleef & Arpels, falls into this category of being just too, too tasteful, as does Lauder’s Beautiful (1985). What about lush and complex florals from an earlier age, like Patou’s Joy, or Lanvin’s Arpege? No, they are probably too animalic for Ms Ladylike. Ms Ladylike rarely takes risks. Of course, because she is always relentlessly keeping up with the fashions, she may by now have accepted the cleaner, more minimalist trend in modern perfumery. I’ll bet Ms Ladylike is buying Jo Malone these days.

When Caleche Soie de Parfum came out in 1992, niche perfume houses were beginning to offer much more diversity for women aspiring to be something other than, or more than, ladies. So now we talk casually about notes of blood and semen being included in perfume, and Ms Ladylike would be aghast. (What next? Vomit?) However, the market for perfumes this extreme is surely small, and likely to remain so. Most of us still want to smell nice, somehow, when we apply perfume.

So is there a place for ladylike-ness in modern life, and in modern perfumery? Is anyone making perfume for ladies now? Does it matter?

12 thoughts on “On Being Ladylike

  1. Interesting train of thought…
    There are times when I am in the right mood to be lady-like, including the slight falseness that sets it apart from mere elegance. It is a kind of defense mechanism, used to intimidate when I feel insecure. But this is not often the case, thankfully. My perfume of choice for being lady-like would be Futur or Chanel Cristalle, they have the necessary coldness. 🙂

    1. It’s funny, I was following a line of thought that ladylike perfumes tend to be over-flowered. But you are right of course, they can go down the opposite path, and be spare and cold. Cristalle fits that picture, or can do. I don’t know Futur but I ran a quick eye over a review on NST and I’m thinking I’d better give it a try!

      Defence mechanism is right, whether Ms Ladylike is over- or under-flowered. It’s easy to imagine how she relishes the sight of the Hermes or Chanel bottles on her dressing table!

  2. There is definitely a type of perfume that says, “come close and smell me, I’m delicious!” Pink Sugar and all her bubblegum chewing girlfriends fit the bill. And there are perfumes that are, to borrow from Olfactoria above, used to intimidate—to keep people back; far back.

    When I was in college, I had a dear friend who wore a Creed fragrance. She selected it because of the movie star it had supposedly been made for (someone she identified with), and for it’s expense and exclusivity.
    The perfume was used as a statement of how she wished to be identified: how is smelled was not part of the equation. I remember when asking her about it (it was horrible, gaggingly so) she never talked about the scent, or notes, but just of the story of the fragrance, and of the illustrious history of the perfume house.

    I do believe that it was used as a defense-mechanism, and to proclaim “Ladylike.”

    The Creeds do this, and I think that some of the Bond no. 9’s do this. My perfume of choice for being lady-like? Iris Silver Mist would fit the bill! Keep back, underlings!

    LOL 😉

    1. Hum. I’ve been tempted to sample Iris Silver Mist but have held back, maybe because it does sound a bit intimidating.

      I LOVE the Creed story. It says a great deal about why people wear perfume. (I don’t suppose you can tell us what the perfume was? Perhaps better not.) I’d love to know if your friend ever moved on from that perfume to something a bit more relaxed. Did she ever gain enough inner security to try something else, I wonder?

      I’ve certainly known some women who wear the full mask of makeup, ie foundation, day in day out, never seen without it. That, surely, is a defence thing, preparing ‘a face to meet the faces that you meet’, as (I think) T.S. Eliot put it. Someone I once knew rather distantly was like this, but amazingly, she stopped. She just stopped wearing the full makeup, like she’d given it up cold-Turkey. I often wondered what had happened. She had a baby around about that time, so maybe it was that great happiness that made the difference. She was quite a young woman, so needless to say she looked so much better without the makeup.

      1. I didn’t want to mention the name of the Creed fragrance, because of the context of the reference—as to whether she moved on fragrance-wise, I cannot say. It was symbolic of her state, when I knew her (a kind, sweet, uptight prude 😉 )

        That’s interesting that you knew someone who abandoned their “full-mask” of makeup: I was one such person! I wore the full mask, including a hair style that took at least an hour, beginning in my early teens. Then, about two years ago, I went cold-turkey on the makeup and also gave up hair dye. It was a self-discovery thing. Now I’ve added back in foundation now and then, and lipstick almost daily, but I don’t need it to feel beautiful!

  3. The thing about lady-like is precisely its problem – to intimidate, to keep at a distance and never, ever lose your cool.

    I think ‘lady-like’ and I think of yes, First, Calèche, Dolce Vita, Diorissimo, Miss Balmain. Strangely enough, Iris Silver Mist doesn’t strike me as ‘lady-like’ at all, but Un Lys certainly does, and Datura Noir, too. Best admired from a distance, but never precisely…loved. Too many reservations, too much inhibition.

    I like a little dirty, a little risk or even risqué, I like perfumes that take chances on women who dare – a little or a lot. I like the ones that are friendly/happy – cue in orange/orange blossom anything – and I like the ones that are cool, calm and collected – cue in, say, Chanel no. 19, one of my perennial faves – Silences, Ivoire. I like armor for the days I need a little titanium in my spine – Chêne, Incense Extrème, Encens et Lavande. I like the ones that say come closer – no, that’s not close enough. Here’s looking at Boxeuses, Ambre Sultan, and even Bandit, although that last is subject to heated debate! 😉

    And last but not least, I love the one that is so flawlessly constructed, so beautifully executed, so breathtaking and stunning as a work of art, like a Raphael, like a Gentileschi – that I feel nothing more or less than absolutely beautiful when I wear it – and to me, that would be Ubar.

    But lady-like? Not so much…Although I have nice manners and am well-bred, passions will o-u-t in whatever context, and I’m too old to care about my own lack of inhibiition! 😉

    And BTW, Dee – Welcome back! We missed you! Really! And isn’t it nice to come back – a winner, no less? 😀

    1. How wonderfully you can describe the qualities of fragrance! I love the ‘titanium in the spine’! Chanel 19 is one of my faves too, chic rather than ladylike, I think. And Silences is very calming. I had not thought of it like that bit you are right.

      I’m in Private Collection today, to test for myself where it falls in the ladylike-chic-elegant continuum. For all its cool formality, I think PCs heart is too warm for it to be ladylike. This lady is too secure in herself, I think, to need worry about seemibly to be ‘ladylike’.

  4. To me, ladylikeness was the way that a woman exercised power in a time when women had no power. So it’s largely outdated and now lives largely in fiction, especially movies. And it wasn’t always well used (the ladies might use that power against even more powerless people), but I don’t disapprove of it overall.

    I like it better in warm, sweet, but smart and don’t-mess-with-me _The Thin Man_ Myrna Loy or sharp, funny _His Girl Friday_ Rosalind Russell than in cold, cold _Philadelphia Story_ Katharine Hepburn. But, yeah, there are times when I like to smell ladylike.

    1. Wonderful, that’s it exactly – a way of exercising power. You put it really well. I think that was what I was reaching for when I said that I don’t see the point of ladylike-ness any more. Still, maybe I exaggerated, because I am enjoying my Caleche SdP, sometimes.

      Thanks for the movie refs!

  5. I’m with you deeHowe, I can certainly appreciate ladylike, and I wore Caleche when I was 19 and an au pair in Paris – go figure. Now that I’m in my mid 40s I rarely wear my ladylike fragrances anymore. Panic has set in and I want to project bombshell before it’s too late/pathetic/will go unnoticed 😉

  6. Hello,

    I found this post to be very interesting. What I would like to say is that it depends on one’s definition of “ladylike.” I’m a blogger about this and I’ve often believed that a true lady or ladylike woman possessed the following traits: a genuine consideration for the feelings of others, a generous and charitable nature, sensitivity, kindness, femininity, grace, elegance and loveliness.

    I don’t think that being ladylike is putting on airs. I just personally feel like the term comprises of many very lovely and genuine traits. 🙂

    I’m not saying that either one of us is wrong, but that the term “ladylike” is so loosely defined that it really depends on what each of us think “ladylike” means!


    1. Hi Nina, thanks fro your comment, yes it does come down to definition doesn’t it? Those are wonderful traits in your list but speaking solely for myself I would not sum them up as ‘ladylike’. They don’t need to be cast within a feminine framework. A man could be all those things too (well, perhaps not ‘feminine’, unless he wants to be!). Perhaps what I am saying is that I don’t find that the term ‘ladylike’ (or ‘gentlemanly’, come to that) very useful any more.

      That said, I am finding myself wearing Caleche Soie de Parfum much more than I expected, especially in the evenings pottering around after a bath, or at bedtime. It reminds me of gorgeous creamy white hand soap, clean soft bed sheets, fresh flowers in a vase, herbal tea before bedtime. To me, anyone who has assembled these things for their guest is neither lady nor gentleman, but just a good and thoughtful friend!

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