Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

What Your Gap Fragrance Said About You

At some point in the mid-1990s, The Gap decided two things were very important: 1) convincing the world that swing dancing in dad khakis was fun; and 2) providing middle-school girls with the illusion of individuality.

Twenty years from now, our grandchildren will spend their Marxist phases critiquing the false consciousness that led us to believe that a “signature scent” could somehow stand in for character. But what is cheaply made, mass-marketed, and ostensibly classy perfume for if not providing insecure teenage girls with eight dollars worth of identity security.

Five fragrances; five personalities. For girls too old for American Girl dolls and their various markers of class, attitude, and diversity, yet too young to think about how to align oneself with the various post-feminisms of "Sex and the City." The bottles were small and svelte—this wasn’t the big investment of the big department store perfume counter, and you didn’t have to worry about the fact that you never knew WHY THERE WERE COFFEE BEANS guarding the ckOne or face the ubiquitous posters of Elizabeth Taylor’s face.

The next in a series about our teenage fragrance memories.

Previously: Smell Like A Man

You could just go to the mall, get an Orange Julius, consider shoplifting something from Claire’s, and end up buying a small silver bottle of perfume and a pair of argyle socks from The Gap, which was far less scary and man-smelling than Abercrombie & Fitch but still redolent of good taste. The Gap has long been a store filled with things that are at once ostensibly fashionable and unerringly conservative. The solid v-neck, now available in aubergine! The navy polo dress, now slightly different than last year’s navy polo dress! The overpriced chemical water, now in light, feminine scents that will neither distinguish nor offend!

I can think these critical things now, but, at the age of 15, all I wanted was to not smell like myself. And thus I offer, in offensively reductive form, a connotative reading of The Glorious Gap Scents of the Mid to Late 90s.


Smelling Notes: Freshly cut grass + slight hint of Pine-Sol.

Type of Girl: The aspiring hippie too scared of patchouli; the tomboy whose family keeps putting it in her Christmas stocking; the girl so afraid of the saleslady in the bra department that she keeps wearing cotton Jockey sports bras.

The Vibe: You understand fully that no one ever really wants to smell like grass, which is precisely why you buy it.

The Future: Small liberal arts college; dabblings in Gender Studies; organic seed catalogs; Etsy iPhone covers. There’s a decent chance you never bought another item at the Gap again.


Smelling Notes: Berry-flavored soda water with a hint of periwinkle.

Type of Girl: You have great hair but no spine to talk to boys. You dress like Shoshanna from "Girls." Your prom dress looked a lot like Anne Hathaway’s from this year’s Oscars. You know how to French braid like a boss.

The Vibe: Dreaming of a future in which you don’t have to wear the same perfume as all your friends to fit in.

The Future: Enduring great hair. Barre class. An ability to wear heels without acquiring blisters. Business or law school. Tremendous success and a predilection for Anthropologie candles. Lavender-flavored fancy cocktails. Facebook, never Twitter.


Absolutely no one remembers you.


Smelling Notes: Dryer sheets and Teen Spirit.

Type of Girl: Awesome and she knows it. Regina George in Mean Girls mixed with the Sweet Valley Twins and Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. Someone in your life, at some point, has called you “stuck up.”

The Vibe: Sophistication in a high-school twin set. You own many additional items from the Gap, along with the corresponding Heaven candle, soap and body wash.

The Future: Suburban plentitude, career in home decorating, affection for expensively embossed thank-you cards. You still have your last bottle of Heaven and are carefully meting it out. Will personally bankroll a revival of the line if necessary.


Smelling Notes: The least offensive of all incenses + Good Earth Tea.

Type of Girl: A simulacrum of Jessa from "Girls" and Claudia from The Babysitters Club. Long hippie skirts you stole from your mom’s trunk in the basement. Sarah McLachlan circa Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. Favorite book: Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.

The Vibe: More bracelets on one arm than numbers in your age.

The Future: Pretending your wardrobe isn’t from Urban Outfitters, Evergreen College for two years before transferring to a state school. Midwives and natural births. Yoga and juicing retreats, but persistent problems with “staying in the moment” during savasana. Tickets to Florence + the Machine’s next show.


Smelling Notes: Emergen-C with a hint of hand sanitizer.

Type of Girl: Tracy Flick but more effective in hiding your neuroses. Type-A, Straight-A. Day planners, baked goods, fundraising committees. Teacher’s pet that the teacher may kinda hate. Constantly trying to get over how incompetent everyone is. Big plans post high school that do not include flirting with boys in the mall food court. Went to prom with a guy who was “just a good friend.”

Vibe: Sweet, innocent, total fucking ball-buster.

The Future: Law school; unmitigated success. Very few female friends. Kinda wish that Blackberries were still a thing. Carrie Matthews minus the terrorists and bipolar disorder. Moved on from Gap to Banana Republic, which you can afford to buy even when it’s not on sale. A lot of dry-cleaning, which, oddly enough, always seems to smell just a bit like the way you did at age 16.

Previously in series: Smell Like A Man

Anne Helen Petersen writes Scandals of Classic Hollywood. She wore Day and never shoplifted from Claire’s.

32 Comments / Post A Comment

Emily Weiss@twitter (#242,323)

What about So Pink? SO PINK!!

Michaela D@twitter (#231,577)

@Emily Weiss@twitter I don't even remember any of these except that grapefruit-y Pink.

sam.i.am (#12,168)

I wore Om, but who knew I was really supposed to be wearing Dream? (Except for that whole "tremendous success" part).

Was Earth really a thing?

cherrispryte (#444)

Wait what about Gap Blue? I wore so much of that that my childhood bedroom still smells like it TO THIS DAY.

sox (#652)

I'm having trouble deciphering whether I am remembering smelling Grass in the store, or if I actually owned it. What does it say about me that I still have two or three items from The Gap circa 1995 that I still wear on the (semi) regular?

I did manage to beg my way to a bottle of ck One landing beneath the Christmas tree though.

PS, these are just great you guys. All of them, so great.

nonvolleyball (#9,329)

this spoke to me.

…let's just say that I still have a half-full bottle of Grass (which I only stopped wearing because it made my college boyfriend* feel allergic), & that my mom resorted to calling bras "top underwear" because I was otherwise unable to discuss them even when we were actually in the lingerie section.

*said college boyfriend is now my husband, & I just started laughing out loud upon asking myself the question, "& why are you saving that bottle of perfume, exactly?" I kind of love the idea that, if I'm ever single again, I'll immediately hit the town redolent of stale Gap perfume.

Maja D.@twitter (#236,581)

I wore Earth for about half a second. It sort of smelled like cinnamon, but… worse?

rubyinthedust (#185,652)

I still wear Dream to this day, original bottle.

Lisa Frank (#14,308)

I think I wore Dream, but right now all I can recall is the smell of tater tots and greasy pizza in my middle school cafeteria.

karencarrot (#233,871)

I wore Grass, definitely still would, and am still totally anti-bra! No underwire has graced me in ten years! And have owned remarkably few Gap items. Nailed it!

pennylaner (#236,744)

Yeah, Pink was my eye-wateringly pungent citrus JAM. I think I also had a tiny sample of Dream that occasionally made an appearance.

robotosaur (#238,251)

I remember for a brief time they sold "fragrance note" sets for Dream and Heaven. They had little roller ball applicators of each individual scent that supposedly made up the fragrance. I got one of Heaven for my best friend and was super proud of my gift-giving acuity. (You're out there, BFF–DO YOU STILL HAVE THIS).

caddie (#189,150)


Quadrophenia (#241,916)

I think I had a bottle of Dream but I had a much-loved orange Om candle.

melmuu (#202,046)

I worked there, so we had all the smells all the time. I have some Grass, still. When I smell it, I'm instantly back in the summer of my first job. At work they always played that Barenaked Ladies song, "Broke into the old apartment" and we got half off everything, and I wore short-shorts and learned how to fold perfectly and flirt with older guys, but now I don't really remember anymore. I can probably fix that by going home and sniffing some Grass, though.

stefania (#242,331)

CAN I JUST SAY. That I registered for an account so I could leave this, my very first comment: Me. Dream. Terrifyingly accurate. Right down to Facebook, never Twitter. Scary.

Though I did eventually switch over to So Pink. I was a little younger when I acquired Dream, like middle school.

Mad Redactrix (#242,332)

Useless knowledge that I have somehow accumulated: the coffee beans are supposed to clear your senses, like a sorbet, so you can get a fresh whiff of the second, third, and fourth scents.

Probably not too effective if people didn't know that's what it was for.

lemonlyman.com (#242,335)

Carrie Matthews?

for the record (#242,341)

…Evergreen *is* a state school: The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. perhaps you were speaking of a different Evergreen College though. at any rate, great series

Lisa Rae (#242,344)

I wore Grass! I remember using it to mask the scent of a freshly smoked doob and then revelling in the irony.

Mallory@twitter (#242,367)

Nothing takes me back to middle school quite like Dream, Bath & Body Works Pearberry, or Tommy by Tommy Hilfiger. High school was all about the Cucumber Melon, Glow by JLo and Cool Water.

Oh holy shit, this is so true. You are a wizard, but you got my future (present) wrong!

parkerjj88 (#242,389)

lots of choices, but still GRASS is my bet :)

perfume gift sets (#242,512)

GAP scents are one of the most reputed brands in scent industry. I have also use this.
Cosmetics for less

jb77 (#245,597)

My favorite scent in the mid to late 90's when I was in HS was GAP Heaven…dare I say it smelled awesome?? I agree, the girl who wore it was pretty cool ;) but I don't agree that she has a future in home decorating or suburban plentitude necessarily. I'm anything BUT. GAP scents can be a bit generic but they sure smelled good! By the way, where's GAP So Pink–or did that come later?

Lisa Eaton@facebook (#255,608)

There is a grass roots (pun intended) campaign on facebook to convince Gap to bring back Grass. Check it out. Let's convince Gap to bring Grass back one "like" at a time. https://www.facebook.com/BringBackGapGrass

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