The question of the propriety of wearing perfume at work is probably among the few remaining unresolved areas in office policies across the globe. It probably ranks in equal importance to concerns like whether or not wearing cuff links (men) and pantyhose (women) is still a necessity in a formal office set-up. And while cuff links and pantyhose issues may be foregone in more casual offices, the issue of perfume wearing in the office is kind of an ever present one.
The importance of this issue cannot be stressed enough. How do we balance the freedom of working individuals who treat perfume as an indispensable part of everyday dressing up and the freedom of their co-employees to not be overwhelmed by overpowering scents that were spritzed one too many?
This issue has forced some offices to finally declare a war on perfumes in workplaces. The no perfume office policy is of course running against the whim of an entire civilisation which has professed an increasing commitment to consume perfume. The 2011 global report on the fragrances and perfumes market by market research firm Global Industry Analysts predicted that perfume consumption will continue to rise to USD 33 billion by 2015. How will sporadic office policies fare with that much perfume?
And yet this perfume office warfare seems to be more than just about the numbers. Some tried to tackle the issue from a more institutional standpoint through legislation. In some countries like the United States and Canada, more and more offices are starting to issue policies against wearing perfume in workplaces. In the US Census State Bureau and state government offices like those in the city of Detroit, wearing scents in the office has been outlawed. Private employers are following suit.
With these drastic measures, a perfume aficionado may be left with only one question in mind: is it absolutely in bad taste/unprofessional to wear perfume to work? Like most issue-laden questions that aim to strike the middle ground between individuality and institutional norms, the answer would be that it depends.
The propriety of wearing perfume to work would depend on a lot of factors: the modesty of the scent, amount used on a given work day and existing scent-free office policy (or requests from asthmatic co-employees for a scent-free workplace).
Before we go discussing which scent would be modest enough to wear at the office, let’s try to cover preliminary concerns first. It is absolutely in bad taste/unprofessional/administratively punishable (read: also stupid) to wear perfume in an office which declared it flat out prohibited. Some offices declare a scent-free policy in recognition of the fact that some of their employees are adversely affected by the synthetic chemicals found in some perfumes. The problem, they say, is not the scent but the chemicals. Synthetic perfume properties such as petroleum, acetone, benzyl acetate and phenol can cause fatal asthma attacks to some people. So before you wear your signature scent on a workday, better check first with management if it’s ok.
If your office is still untouched by the scent-free movement, the next concern would be picking a modest scent to put on in modest amounts. Modest here means work-appropriate. In other words, it is most advised to leave out the more sensual scents with oriental and animalistic notes for a non-office day. In the meantime, here are some scents that come recommended when it comes to office wear:
• Atelier’s Orange Sanguine or Grand Neroli Cologne. Apart from this two, almost anything from their line has been proven to last a workday without the danger of overwhelming a seatmate in the meeting room.
• Miller Harris L’Aire de Rien. Ever wanted to smell good even when you spray an ‘air of nothing’?
• L’ Eau d’Issey. A light floral with enough hints of woodiness to make it interesting. Like water with personality.
• Chanel Cristalle. Smell like the classic crisp, white shirt even when you’ve pulled an overnighter.
• Elizabeth Arden’s Green Tea. Reinvigorating but not overwhelming. Perfect for a long work day.
As to amount, modest means a spritz or two. If your cubicle smells like your scent, you probably already went overboard. Don’t be an Axe man who goes wafting through the hallways and leaves a scent imprint in the elevator. Remember that when it comes to the office, a scent worn modestly is a scent worn well.