Of course, I already knew that barbers used a soap cake that was round and hard. They put it in a mug, added some water, and whipped it into a lather with a brush. I watched my daddy do the same thing in the 50’s and apply the lathery cream to his face with a soft bristle brush. And I can’t think of Old Spice aftershave today without him coming to mind. As a little girl I loved the smell of Old Spice. I related that smell to love and a feeling of security.
In the West the most common aftershave was probably Bay Rum. Other than that, maybe simple lilac water. I couldn’t find a lot of references to the different types. I’m sure it depended on what part of the country the barber shop was in and what was available. And I think the barber might’ve made his own most of the time. It was easy to soak bay or mint leaves in rum, water and oils and let it sit for a few weeks or so.
Then one thing led to another in my research. You know how it goes.
Before long I was deep in the history of the perfumes. The very first form of perfumes was about 4,000 years ago in the form of incense. Shortly after, ancient cultures began soaking fragrant woods and resins in water or oil and rubbed the liquid on their bodies. Perfumes were also used by the Egyptians in the embalming process.
By the way, did you know that the pharaohs, queens, and wealthy Egyptians took several baths a day? They liked cleanliness I guess.
France quickly became the European center of the perfume industry and they took it to another level. Perfumes were needed to mask body odors resulting from the lack of hygiene practices of the day. In the 18th century, King Louis XV demanded a different fragrance for his apartment every day. Napoleon had two quarts of violet cologne delivered to him each week and it’s reported that he used 60 bottles of double extract of jasmine every month. I wonder if he drank the stuff. That’s a heck of a lot! Josephine had stronger perfume preferences. Musk was her choice and she used it so heavily that the scent lingered in her bedroom 60 years later. Can you imagine how that must’ve overwhelmed?
In the West, rose water was the preference of most women. It was very easy to make.
All it took was putting rose petals in a pot, covering with water and boiling until it reached the fragrant stage desired. Then it was strained and put into some type of container with an airtight lid. Of course, if roses weren’t available, any type of flower worked. Women were resourceful in the West and learned to make do with anything. They also were known to dab household vanilla and other flavorings behind their ears.
When I was young, I had Blue Waltz perfume. Does anyone remember that? Five and dime stores sold it for around fifteen or twenty cents. I thought I was really grown up to have a bottle of Blue Waltz. It was sweet and floral and if memory serves it didn’t smell all that bad. Unless you used too much. Then it was awful.
In doing my research, I learned there were different classifications.
Single Floral – used only one type of flower
Floral Bouquet – used a combination of flowers
Ambery – came from animals (musks)
Woody – from trees like sandalwood and cedar
Leather – family of fragrances using honey, tobacco, wood, and wood tars to try to reproduce the smell of leather
Do you have a special perfume or cologne that you like and if so, what kind? Or is there a scent that reminds you of times past and holds pleasant memories?
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