Back to School: Dress Code

Living in the U.S. for the last… many years I gradually got used to the fact that kids go back to school from early August to mid-September. And still, every year on the September 1st, I think of it as of the back to school day because for the first 22 years of my life (well, technically 15 – since we would start school at 7) it was the day when all schools and all other full-time educational institutions would start their new school year.

September 1st

Because of that date that imprinted in my mind probably forever, I got an urge to post something related to it. Last week there was a community project for back to school perfumes – whatever association you’ve got with that idea. My answer was Serge Lutens De Profundis, but since I’ve previously told that story, as I was reading other commenters’ interpretations, I kept comparing their ideas with my memories.

The responses were quite interesting, people had many connections:

  • Perfumes, associated with places – Library (CB I Hate Perfume In the Library); trees in the park surrounding the school (Ormonde Jayne Woman), campus in the forest (Annick Goutal Nuit Etoilee) – my school was in the downtown, and whatever the smell was, it’s not something you want to recreate with your perfume.
  • Perfumes with the smell of pencil shavings – Serge Lutens Santal Blanc and Chene, Berdoues Arz el-rab – though I’ve sharpen my share of pencils while at school, I have absolutely no recollection as to how those smelled.
  • Perfumes with apple note – Hermes Sous le Toit de Paris and Nobile 1942 La Danza delle Libellule – I didn’t know “an apple for the teacher” saying until I moved to the U.S. long after my school years, so it is not my association as well.
  • One-off clever associations “Fracas – for the fracas that the first week of school tends to be” and “going Old School” with vintage Diorella – can’t say anything about Fracas, and did previously cover school years, Diorella and my first love.
  • Perfumes that people wore during their school years – too many to list what others wore, and since for the first 20 years of my life I was in almost monogamous relationships with Lancôme Climat, this perfume is not associated for me with starting school. Besides, I wrote about it multiple times before.

And then I read something I could relate to. I don’t remember what perfume it was but the association was: new perfume in the wearer’s perfume wardrobe (connection – new clothes for the new school year). And it suddenly resonated with my memories.

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In my school years we wore uniforms. It was the same type of uniform for all schools in the country: brown dresses with black aprons (or white aprons for dress-up occasions) for girls and navy suits for boys. They were slightly different from city to city but you wouldn’t confuse it with anything else, you could tell it was a school uniform. But even though those uniforms weren’t too exciting, every year before the start of the school year I had a surge of excitement while getting a new dress and aprons.

Once I started thinking about school and clothes, my immediate association was Guerlain Habit Rouge Dress Code.

It wasn’t like that everywhere, but my school had a very strict dress code: we weren’t allowed to wear anything but those dresses and black aprons – no extra sweaters or cardigans, no colored leggings or tights, no jewelry. Of course, we weren’t allowed any make-up. How about perfumes? To tell the truth, I have no idea. Most likely not, but I don’t think anybody would think of doing it: perfumes were scarce commodity, not for the everyday use. I don’t think even teachers wore any perfumes to work.

It is not that I think that Habit Rouge Dress Code would go well with school uniform: in my opinion, it’s a more mature perfume; and probably I wouldn’t have even liked it at that age. Also, it is far too unisex for the times when I wore that uniform. But I like Gurlein’s Dress Code today and feel excited about wearing it more often than just in the beginning of a school year.

For the real review, if you haven’t tried Habit Rouge Dress Code by now and are curious about what you’ve missed, read Kafka’s review. I just want to say that I think it’s a pity that Guerlain decided to produce it as a limited edition.

Guerlain Habit Rouge Dress Code

I have many questions today. Did you have to wear a uniform to school? What was it? Were you allowed to wear perfumes? Did you? Do you have any association for back-to-school and perfumes? (I promise not to fail you if you do not answer them all)

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25 thoughts on “Back to School: Dress Code

  1. Such an evocative post! I did wear perfume at school: at first Yardley’s Lavender, then on to Helena Rubinstein’s Apple Blossom, Max Factor’s Jonquil – all very innocent fragrances and appropriate for a young girl. In my teenage years more sophisticated perfumes appealed such as Revlon’s Intimate. I’m surprised I got away with that one, especially as the teachers were very strict about us not wearing make-up and that our skirts were not too short (they would actually measure the distance between our knee and the hem of our skirts!).

    But the smells that most conjure up the beginning of the autumn term for me are those of damp earth and the first fallen leaves that I crunched on as I made my way to class, the honey-like aromas of newly waxed wooden floors in the corridors and assembly hall, and smoky morning fog – the sort that soon burns off in the hot September sunshine – with me gazing out through the windows wishing it was still holiday time.

    • Thank you, Jillie.
      Skirts length! Of course! We had a military training lessons once a week in high school, and for those days we had to wear special à la military uniforms, and there was a requirement for the skirts to be an exact distance from our knees. There was a legend in our school that the teacher who was running that military training (not the sharpest tool) at some point tried to enforce that rule together with the requirement that all the skirts should be on the same distance from the floor to form a straight line as we were a rank. According to the legend, it took a school principle to explain to him that both conditions could not have been met at the same time.

  2. Oh yes, I was allowed to wear perfume and I took full advantage of it! Perfume was a huge topic of conversation amongst the middle and high school girls. Unlike you I was not attached to one particular scent and enjoyed exploring and wearing a variety during my school years. Like others have mentioned above, the scents of fall are the ones I associate with back to school.

  3. Hey there Undina,
    Yes, it was school uniforms all the way from kindy to year 10 for me. My only real memory of excitement about the uniforms were I loved our summer uniform of navy shorts and white shirt. In year 7 which is when Aussies hit high School our winter uniform became a grey wool suit with the white shirt. That appealed to me also.
    For fragrance I wore Blue Stratos and Norsca till I was given my first grown up bottle of perfume which was Aramis and a mini of Van Clef & Arpels Pour Homme one Christmas.
    Portia xx

  4. Undina, first I have to say that I’m pretty sure I can identify you in all three of your school photos, and you look very pretty!

    In my part of the US, the only kids who wore uniforms to school were the kids who went to Catholic school. Everyone else could pretty much wear what they wanted, but by the time we reached junior high school everyone started dressing almost the same anyway, trying to fit in with a specific look: adidas sneakers, Earth shoes, painter’s pants, bib overalls, Levi jeans,Bonnie Belle lip smackers in our back pockets, a very specific kind of button-down shirt that was made from some kind of synthetic fabric that made it cling to your bosom and torso in what we thought was a flattering way, always with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow. We also began wearing perfume then, too: Faberge Babe, Avon Sweet Honesty, and Revlon Charlie come to mind as a few that were popular.

    I love Jillie’s description of scents like the crunching of fall’s first fallen leaves. Those late summer/early autumn smells — the vinegary apples that have fallen in the grass, the scent of marigolds that are going gang-busters in my mom’s flower beds as she snaps our first-day-of-school pictures in front of them — those are my back-to-school memory scents.

    • I’m not surprised you found me on the pictures: you have a keen eye for details.

      We had tendency to wear the same things as well but it was happening outside school walls. If something was considered to be fashionable, the whole city – not just school pupils – would be wearing it.

      I also loved Jillie’s description – extremely poetic and memory provoking. I miss real Fall a little since we don’t get it here.

  5. Growing up in San Francisco in the 50s 60s and 70s, our “uniforms” were pretty much anything goes. In September traditionally the hottest month of the year in the bay area we would be bundled off to school dressed for winter, with the ability to strip down to summer clothes by noon time as the fog burned off and the thermometer get the mid-80s. As we grew and the decades went forward our clothing they came wilder and wilder. I remember wearing lots of patchouly oil and frangipani in the early 70s to school but nothing beyond that.

    As for Habit Rouge Dress Code, it is still in production; presented in one of the new Guerlain bottles for 2016, and an upcoming bottle for 2017 is about to be released. Same scent however. It really is a wonderful fragrance.

    • It is a wonderful news about Dress Code! I need to seriously think if I should get a bottle when I can (now I just have a decant).

      In SF, as it seems, you need layers any time of the year (well, maybe not today or tomorrow with the temperature above 76F even at night).

  6. Not familiar with Habit Rouge Dress Code, but those photos are just brilliant! I think I have identified you in the photo where you are oldest. I haven’t heard of school uniforms involving aprons before. Ours varied according to age: For the first three years of secondary school, we wore thick bottle green tunics over cream blouses, with a silk sash / girdle in a contrasting colour – blue I think? Then from the fourth form we graduated to skirts and blouses. I didn’t wear perfume back then, though our English teacher (on whom I had a crush) wore Blue Grass, and I liked catching a whiff of her sillage. I doubt very much that it would have been allowed for pupils.

    I also get that ‘back to school’ feeling around this time even now. I particularly remember polishing shoes and covering school text books in brown paper or other wrapping paper – or the famous ‘sticky backed plastic’ of Blue Peter fame. The transparent kind, that would be. I wonder if it still exists. The trick was to smooth it with a ruler so as to eliminate bubbles. The paper certainly had an evocative, ‘freshly covered school book’ smell!

    • I remember that sticky-type book cover and the process of getting rid of the air bubbles! It wasn’t easy to get that wrapper thing, most pupils had to wrap and re-wrap their school books periodically. But my grandmother got it for me, and it was so awesome!

      A man on one of the pictures is also English teacher, and I really liked him. Unfortunately, the only scent I associate with him is alcohol: he had a problem, and he would be coming to work smelling quite revealing from time to time. I think he was fired at some point, and we were sad: other than a drinking problem, he was a fun teacher.

  7. Wonderful post! I spent part of my childhood in Europe and attended an all-girls’ school that required uniforms. They were very practical and comfortable for little girls; also quite charming, actually. In primary school, we wore navy blue jumpers over a light blue blouse and also a half-length smock over those for most of the time in class, to protect from spills, stains, etc. The smocks came in three colors: red, emerald green and royal blue. We took off the colored smocks for more formal gatherings like chapel, school assembly, etc. I have warm memories of that school, including the colorful classrooms filled with little girls in those three colors!

    • Thank you, Old Herbaceous. It was nice to walk down the memory lane with you all.

      I like the sound of your uniform much more than I liked ours: they weren’t either cute or too practical.

      Until I started looking into that and read everybody’s comments, I didn’t realize how many countries had uniforms for schools.

  8. I went to a K-12 Catholic school so yes, there were uniforms. The school color was juniper so everything except shirt, socks and shoes were in that color. The first 3 years was a pinafore with either a long or short-sleeved white shirt and a pink bow. The next 6 years was a jumper with 1 inch width straps and a short-sleeved white shirt and high school was a wide pleated skirt and white narrow pleated long-sleeved shirt and a juniper tie. The skirt cannot be above the knee and the recommendation was 2 inches below the knee. Must wear white socks and black leather shoes and the school pin pinned at a specific place on the uniform. Nails had to be short and no nail polish…no make up and no perfume.

    Heh, no wonder I associated the NST back to school community project with color! I would pair my Catholic school uniform with SSS Forest Walk.

    If I sometimes act like I have issues, blame it on Catholic school :-)

    • You? Issues?! Nooo! :)

      One thing our school didn’t try to control were our shoes. But it wasn’t because of some type of a freedom of expression consideration but rather because shoes weren’t something that we have a good choice of, and most of the available models were boring already.

      From your description it sounds like our schools weren’t too different – at least in this respect. I even have my own Forest Walk school-related association (though I think Laurie didn’t like it ;) ).

  9. Apologies for being late for school!
    I feel for you not being able to wear a jumper or cardigan over your uniform. I always feel the cold and it must have been tough in winter.
    We had a school uniform in high school that was a blazer with school badge, stripy tie and trousers or skirt. No uniform in middle school. I remember often subverting my uniform in small ways like wearing a round neck jumper instead of a v neck. Rebel. Haha.
    I don’t think there were any rules about perfume that I recall. I think the most some girls wore would have been Lou Lou or Anais Anais. I wore Obsession in Sixth From (16-18).
    I guess I associate Back to School perfume with more serious autumnal perfumes. I’d pick vintage Miss Dior. I’ll wear it tomorrow.

    • Tara, you’re late! Drop and give me 20… Wait, we’re talking about school, not army. At school in such situation a teacher would ask for a school journal to let the parents know.

      I was a rebel as well: I refused to wear hair in a ponytail :)

      Vintage Miss Dior is one of those perfumes that theoretically I could have worn back then: my mom used to have a bottle when I was in school.

  10. I had a dress code throughout middle school and high school, which basically just meant no sneakers, sweatpants, or blue jeans.

    As for back to school perfumes, I remember what I was wearing at the time: Country Apple body spray from Bath and Body Works. Jo Malone’s Peony and Blush Suede actually reminds me a tiny bit of that one. My senior year of high school, I started wearing Narciso Rodriguez For Her, which had just been released. Wearing it made me feel so trendy!

    • You’ve just reminded me! In school I wore a deodorant with a scent of green apple. It was hard to get, and everybody liked it.
      Sneakers were a luxury, not too many kids had them – so I do not remember any policy about it.

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