Wearing perfume to work is an office style conundrum that rates as high as whether you can wear high boots to work in winter or don floral prints for the Monday meeting. In the US, there’s actually been a legal move to outlaw perfume in the workplace – in the US Census Bureau, and government offices in the city of Detroit, it’s no longer allowed. While some private companies in Canada and the US have followed suit, others have adopted formal fragrance policies.
It seems a little perfume can raise a lot of stink. Perfumes can trigger off allergies in the workplace. They can cause sniffling, dizziness, headaches, nausea and breathing problems. “Many corporates in India especially hotels, banks, and airlines have fragrance policies in place,” says Yatan Ahluwalia, corporate grooming and training expert. These policies guide the usage of perfume addressing questions like how much, how little, how to wear it and what is acceptable.
But soft skills trainer Raell Padamsee defends the idea that it’s okay to wear fragrance in an office environment, “What’s relevant is what you wear, and how much,” she says. Ahluwalia advises on ‘less is more’. “It’s better to smell good than not smell good. But use it such that there’s a lingering after smell,” he says.
Padamsee, who wears a mild day perfume, says, “If you are sweating, DO NOT use perfume to mask the odour.”
Notes to self
The secret, of course, is application – a dab, a spritz, a touch, not a drenching. Perfume should only be applied on the pulse points – wrists and behind the ears. “Never on clothes,” Ahluwalia states. An ideal work perfume is mild yet long lasting. Ahluwalia picks: anything from Hugo Boss for men and Chanel for women. “Be careful of the notes. Men shouldn’t go too floral and women shouldn’t pick woody notes,” he says. For the winter, one can pick spicy notes too.
The scent should be undetectable to anyone more than an arm’s length away from you in any direction. As a general rule of thumb – go scent free at job interviews. If your office doesn’t have a fragrance policy, opt for a light perfume with no reapplication. “And a deodorant is not a stand-in for perfume,” Ahluwalia talks of his pet peeve, “One is before you get dressed and for personal hygiene, the other is used after and for its feel-good factor – and never mix the two.” It’s a rather tall odour!
How to tell a colleague he/she has gone overboard
– If you are friends, tell them directly. If you are not, broach it when the person is alone and be polite. They may not be aware that their perfume is a problem. When people wear the same fragrance for a long time, their scent receptors can become immune to it, so they overspray.
– Say, “I’m sorry to ask you this, but I’m really sensitive to scents, and I think I’m reacting to something you’re wearing…” And then ask them to tone it down.
– If the colleague doesn’t respond, get the manager in and ask her to raise the issue with the person.