Austen Authors August 17, 2020: Perfume in the Regency

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 2013, 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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