The XX Factor

How I Lost My Allure

This is one of several reader responses we’ve published responding to the question “What have you given up in the recession?” Read more reader responses and Emily Bazelon’s related story on recession concessions . Next question: What haven’t you given up, despite the recession? Send answers to us at .

I’d like to offer something that I’ve given up because of the recession: smelling good.

Last year my job as a substitute teacher was cut, and I was unable to bridge the short job gap between July and our little financial Y2K. I quickly found myself unemployed and down to my last spritz of Chanel’s Allure for men. This was bad news, because Allure is my scent. It gets oohs and ahhs of approval when I hug women. My leather jacket absorbs it in winter, creating a heavenly hybrid of masculine woodsy-ness. It’s an essential piece of my everyday identity. Doing without it has been very, well, depressing.

The story behind this goes back to my days as a high school student in the late ‘90s. My French teacher was a wealthy, retired school superintendent who prided himself on his ability to impress his male (and some female) students with his fancy sports cars, tailored suits, and pleasantly distinctive scent, which he quietly revealed to be Allure. This man would lecture us on the importance of hard work. Unlike other teachers who touted a good work ethic, but somehow always seemed cornered and a little demeaned by their own career paths, our French teacher practiced what he preached, and upheld his lifestyle with an appealing philosophy. According to him, hard work was useless if one didn’t reap its rewards. A bonus wasn’t money. A bonus was a new suit, a down payment on a fast car, which set a man apart from his Toyota Tercel-driving brethren. He was the personification of my teenage notion that hard work yielded high dividends and the good life.

That was back in 2000, and throughout the decade I’ve steadily held various jobs. I was a coffee barista, a janitor, a sales clerk at an art store, a camp counselor, and an English teacher in Prague before settling into dual positions as an in-house substitute and an adult education teacher at public schools in the decrepit coastal city of Bridgeport, Conn. All of these jobs afforded me one simple pleasure-Chanel’s Allure, regularly purchased as homage to someone I looked up to in my formative years, and part of an arsenal regularly deployed in my pursuit of Connecticut women. But when the Great De-I mean Re cession hit last fall, I realized my job search would far outlast its normal gestation period. It immediately became apparent that I couldn’t spend on the little luxuries I’d grown used to. No more designer jeans, new sneakers, and worst of all, no more Allure.

I entered a smell-cession. Naturally, I tried to find cheap alternatives to a first-rate eau de toilette. Royal Copenhagen seemed to get decent reviews, and in desperation I did something I’ve never done before-purchased cologne online without smelling it first. I guess I was drawn in by the fresh blue of the bottle, and the glitzy name. Big mistake. Upon its arrival I found that Royal Copenhagen’s scent is inspired by the odor of stale potpourri, combined with an indescribable something that only a Danish hooker would wear. I walked around smelling like sweet death. I could only get through a tenth of the bottle before I gave it to a friend. Actually, a former friend. Needless to say, we haven’t spoken since.

Then I tried Jovan Musk, which retails for about $10 at CVS. I’d somehow gotten the impression that Jovan was a “throwback” scent that had been forgotten when the inflationary ‘70s merged with the quasi-sophisticated black-and-white TV commercial world of the Obsession ‘80s and Hilfiger ‘90s. Its unpretentious packaging and brand-name familiarity lent it an aura of being a good deal, and acceptable recession-wear. This time I gave it a few sniffs on my skin before putting my good money down. Jovan hasn’t offended me like R. Copenhagen did, but for some reason I’m embarrassed to wear it. I walk around wondering if the faintly putrid scent of alcohol-soaked sunflowers is acting as a pheromone booster, or just repelling everyone within ten feet of me. I’ve had no trouble getting to the head of the line at the supermarket since I started wearing Jovan Musk. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, so I’ve limited my usage to days when I’m mostly outdoors. At least then this dinosaur of an aroma can mingle harmlessly with the other damp smells of rural Connecticut.

I’ve come to realize that the stark decline in compliments on how I smell is directly related to this economic downturn, and the sacrifice I’ve made. Aramis, Chaps, Old Spice, Aqua-Velva-none of them achieve the ephemeral freshness of masterful cologne. Recently, I landed a part-time job at a local university. When my coffers are full again, my first order of business will be to replenish my stock in Allure. I look forward to the day when I can turn my bonus into the familiar heft of Chanel’s 3.4-oz little brown box. It’ll be nice to smell good again.

Until then, I’m stuck in the olfactory equivalent of a bread line.