In the ’80s, being cool wasn’t only about how we looked sporting our Z. Cavs or Jordache jeans—how we smelled was also incredibly important. Our scent revealed as much about our style and personality as our crimped hair and choice of Trapper Keeper. We poured through the latest magazines and tore out the samples to rub them against our wrists, testing which scents would make the biggest statement. At the mall, we cruised the perfume counters and sprayed the tiny cards, ourselves, and our best friends, losing ourselves in the intoxicating cloud.
We understood that eau de toilette was somehow different than perfume, and this made us experts. The perfumes of the ’80s were potent and powerful, and we loved them. The ads and commercials promised fun, glamour, and cute boys. We were sure that if we wore just the right scent we would find a boy as dreamy as Rob Lowe. Here are just a few of the ’80s fragrances we couldn’t live without:
The black and white bottle was an actual exclamation point. When we wore this scent, we felt fearless and fun. Our tastes were as classic and timeless as the black and white bottle. The girl who smelled of Exclamation smelled of excitement. The ad featured a young Famke Janssen flirting with a cute guy and dancing to pop beats. Like Famke, when we wore Exclamation we were “making a statement without saying a word.”
Often we would borrow this scent from our mothers when we ran out of our own. Its scent gave off an aura of mystery and glamour. The hints of both mandarin and jasmine made us feel exotic. The 1986 commercial featured supermodel Linda Evangelista, and we wanted to smell the way she looked.
3. Electric Youth
This fragrance was inspired by pop princess Debbie Gibson’s song of the same name. Electric Youth spoke to us because it was all about being young. This scent represented the electricity we all felt as we navigated the tricky landscape of adolescence. When we wore it, we were good girls, just like Debbie. The bottle was fun too, featuring a pink spring inside. Of course, for those of us who were team Tiffany, we never, ever wore the fragrance of our favorite mall rat’s arch rival.
While the early commercials portrayed scenes that bordered on stalking, Obsession was about the all-consuming love we frequently felt as teens. The scent was moody and musky, and ’80s phenom David Lynch directed a series of sexy ads to promote the product. Each commercial was based on a literary giant’s words. In the F. Scott Fitzgerald piece, a young Heather Graham was featured. While all that was fascinating and wonderful, what we really loved was the smell of it on boys as we passed them in the hallway on the way to class. Someday, we knew, we would find a boyfriend who would leave the lust-inspiring scent of Obsession on the Champion sweatshirt he would lend to us.
5. Benetton Colors
Benetton was a clothing line we loved, and when they released their fragrance and called it Colors, we had to have it. Benetton was all about diversity and unity. The ads featured people from all over the world coming together in spite of their differences. Wearing the perfume made us appreciate our own uniqueness and embrace that same individuality in others. Colors represented how the world was changing, and we felt proud that our generation was a part of that.
6. Designer Imposters Body Spray
These sprays were more economical (cheaper) versions of the real thing. They didn’t smell quite the same, but if we were desperate or broke, Designer Imposters got the job done. These knockoffs, by Parfums de Coeur, included an Opium imposter called Ninja, an Obsession knockoff called Confess, and a Giorgio imitator called Primo. The sprays were not available at fancy department stores, but rather at our neighborhood drugstores. These frugal fragrances were lifesavers, because they helped us save for other crucial fashion staples like acid-washed denim.
7. Jovan Musk
This fragrance was wild and animalistic. The deep musky smell was both primitive and sexual. While we were only just beginning to understand the complexity of sex and how it would impact our lives, Jovan Musk made us long for hidden passions. The perfume’s 1987 commercial asked, “What is sexy?” and in the final moments answered its own question by declaring, “What sexy is.” They proved they really did understand sexy when they hired Adrian Lyne, who had directed ’80s steamfests 9½ Weeks and Fatal Attraction, to direct the 30-second spot.
8. Love’s Baby Soft
This fragrance smelled of childhood with its powdery fresh scent. Love’s spoke to us because its campaign was targeted at us. The girl in the commercial was not a fashion model or famous actress, but just a regular teen like we were. She shared the same problems, had the same needs, and like us, wanted nothing more than to talk to the cute guy across the room. Love’s was, after all, “the fragrance for the moment of discovery.” Isn’t that kind of what adolescence is all about?
Whatever our ’80s signature scent, there is no doubt we’ll never forget it. And if, by chance, we pass the perfume section and happen to see our old fragrance, we may just stop and spray a bit on our wrists and behind our ears, and for a brief moment, we will allow ourselves to indulge in a sweet flashback to our youth.