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Youth Dew

I started wearing Youth Dew in my mid-teens, delighted to find a scent that didn’t wear off in five minutes.

I can’t remember who introduced me to Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew, but it was love at first whiff. Youth Dew started out as a bath oil, but because of its success, the manufacture of the perfume followed in 1953. Estee Lauder’s assessment for the longevity of this ever-popular fragrance is that “women still like to feel beautiful, pampered and loved. And that is what Youth Dew is all about.” Yes, even now Youth Dew is considered by some to be one of the “sexiest fragrances ever created…It continues to entice with its sensual, yet timeless, appeal.”

I started wearing Youth Dew in my mid-teens, delighted to find a scent that didn’t wear off in five minutes. Indeed, one of the selling points for me was that it stayed with you, reacting to your skin, your body’s temperature, and went on perfuming the air around you for hours. People knew I was approaching because Youth Dew would announce my arrival, long before I even said hello. To my teenage self, trying to budget my pocket money, Youth Dew was definitely value for money.

I loved its heavy opulence – spicy, rich, exotic. I also loved the presentation: a slender ribbed bottle with a gold bow around the middle and matching gold top – a real touch of class. It didn’t actually go with the dumpy figure I cut in my teens, but it was more a statement of how I wanted to feel about myself rather than the actual facts. Sophisticated, stylish, cosmopolitan – just plain cool.

Richard, my boyfriend when I was 16, was less enamored of it than I was. Although he never said anything when we were dating, he admitted to me when we met again some thirty years later that he’d hated it. The very characteristic that I loved about Youth Dew, the fact that it stayed with me, and on me, for hours, was just what turned poor Richard off. He’d come home from one of our dates, run into his house stripping off his shirt and tossing it into the laundry hamper, yelling to his mother, “Please wash this! It reeks!” [In hindsight, perhaps Youth Dew’s claim to being “the sexiest fragrance ever” was lost on him because some years after Richard and I had gone our separate ways, he came out of the closet and declared himself to be gay.]

I continued to wear Youth Dew into my mid-20s. By this time, shortly after completing my degree in English, I was working for a publisher in New York City. One evening when I stayed late at the office because of an urgent deadline, my concentration was broken as a familiar scent drifted my way. Fragrances don’t always smell the same on others as we think they do on ourselves…nonetheless, I instantly recognized that unique aroma. It was without a doubt my beloved Youth Dew. Who was wearing it? Who was sufficiently cultured, like me, to have such good taste? I got up, walked out of the door into the corridor to find out. There, wielding her vacuum like a weapon, was the company’s cleaner, Brenda. She smiled at me, turned off the machine, and said, “How ya doin’ Hon? Workin’ late, are ya?”

I’m embarrassed to admit that from that moment, I decided it was time for a change. I literally went off the scent!Over the succeeding years, I have gone through phases of wearing a range of perfumes, often succumbing to fads. These included periods when I wore Charlie by Revlon and later CK One by Calvin Klein. Nowadays, I’m far more conservative in my taste and have reverted to that old reliable classic, Chanel No. 5. Created by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel way back in 1921, the Chanel website tells us that it is “a woman’s perfume with the scent of a woman.” Whatever that means!

My other favorite is Thierry Mugler’s Angel. Their website coyly suggests that it is an “extraordinary fragrance made for women who are a little angelic or devilish, or maybe a little of both.” And the scent? “An inimitable trail composed of patchouli and praline.” I wouldn’t wear it if I didn’t like it but the “clincher” is economy: it’s available in a refillable bottle. What a clever marketing ploy, when you consider that a chunk of what you pay for each time you buy perfume goes towards the elaborate packaging.

As for good old Youth Dew…I must confess that I have never used it since my fateful encounter with Brenda, the cleaner.

I wonder if she still wears it…


  1. Mari,
    Your story made me chuckle. I worked with a woman who drenched herself in Youth Dew and gave me tremendous headaches. I have also seen a shirt like I own on someone else, and discarded mine when I saw how it hung on her, the stripes stretched, etc.

  2. I think of a special aunt every time I pass someone wearing Chanel No. 5–good, warm memories from a scent wafting in the air. So good or bad, fragrances are pretty potent memory makers! Enjoyed your essay.

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