The smells one remembers from their teen years are likely potent, no matter the decade. Teenagers, as a demographic, are quite smelly, so they don't go subtle when it comes to masking (or enhancing) their odors. Prom, of course, is no exception. I almost get a headache when I remember all those berry, citrusy, minty, and sometimes spicy smells from "the big night." Still, recalling the smells every '90s kid remembers from prom will have you wanting to throw on a tasteful tiara and slow dance to your favorite Jewel song in no time.
Intense memories (like prom) are often accompanied by a lot of sensory memories, with smell being one of the biggest sensory memories that people conjure up when recalling past events. Prom was a pretty big deal for me, since it was almost traumatic in how awful it made me feel about myself (via my "awesome" boyfriend at the time). I'm able to remember a lot about that night, for better or worse, especially through smell.
Prom should have been a fun time for me, considering I had a wonderful group of close girlfriends with whom I was going with and we all had cute and popular (read: jock) dates. This was a major "accomplishment" for our group, since just the year before we were kind of not the most popular bunch, often looked at as nerdy and goodie-good (because we were nerdy and goodie-good). What I should have done, besides broken it off with my jerk boyfriend in the first place, is just focused on the fun I could have had with my friends and torn it up on the dance floor and said to hell with the jock boys and my dumbass boyfriend at the time. Instead, I focused on my boyfriend and his wandering eye and allowed him to engage me in conversations about how sexy everyone else at prom looked and how much he would like to hook up with them if we weren't together.
Whether other kids of the '90s associate prom with a feeling of having had an amazing time, or, like me, feelings of disappointment, they are likely to remember all kinds of smells. Perhaps they will remember some of these old favorites:
Elizabeth Arden Sunflowers For The Ladies
At pre-prom at your friend's house with the biggest backyard (read: the "fancy" house that all the parents are going to be talking about the rest of the summer) the smell of actual flowers were completely overpowered by Elizabeth Arden's Sunflowers perfume.
At my prom, everyone seemed to have dipped their Jessica McClintock dresses in the stuff before deciding that they were "prom ready," and the smell will be forever ingrained in my brain.
Acqua Di Gio For The Dudes
To this day, when I catch a whiff of Acqua Di Gio in the air I can't help but feel the thrill (read: dread) of what it felt like to be going to my prom in the '90s.
Acqua Di Gio was the smell of a '90s dude who was pulling out all the stops to look fly. My date was my boyfriend at the time, who was by all accounts possibly the worst boyfriend an insecure, teenage-girl could have. Yes, we were technically at prom together, but he had made it quite clear that he was also going to be openly eyeing all of my hot friends and classmates. Oh, and he expected me to be "chill" about it. So when I smell Acqua Di Gio, I immediately want to run to the nearest bathroom to make sure my makeup looks OK and that my stomach doesn't look bloated so that my high school boyfriend (should he be nearby) doesn't start making out with one of my friends a second later. Because no, I'm not above that.
Any Ambiguous Berry Smell From Bath & Body Works
We all read the YM and 'Teen magazines that said that the key to a successful prom look is a spa-like experience beforehand, and what spa experience is complete without a luxurious pre-prom soak? I loved my peach-scented baths courtesy of this mall-store staple.
When the sweat at prom accumulated around the room, you could tell that a lot of my other classmates had employed this same "how to make him notice you" tactic as well, when the old throwback to "Rump Shaker" made the room smell more like a fruit smoothie shop rather than prom venue.
Undertones Of Victoria Secret's Secret Pear
If we're going to be talking about popular mall scents, we cannot forget to mention the undeniably sexy and alluring scent of Victoria's Secret Pear body spray. I didn't spray this one on during prom, however, because I didn't want the dudes to get the "wrong idea" about me because I was vigilant about maintaining my goodie good status all through high school. (That idea being, that I shop in Victoria's Secret. Because, you know, that would mean that I actually, like, think about bras and stuff.)
Listerine Cool Mint Breath Strips
Wasn't the process of doling out a little breath strip kind of badass? It was to me, anyway. By the time my prom rolled around I had never held a cigarette before in my life, and had maybe had had a sip of beer, so this was the closest I could get to the feeling of doing drugs. I loved taking a strip and placing it on my prom date's tongue and letting him do the same with me. Oh, to be young.
Vigorously Applied Old Spice Deodorant
The Old Spice was super spicy on prom night. You could burn your eye with the amount of spice, that's how hot it was. Sometimes I'll smell Old Spice on a high school boy walking down the street in my neighborhood and get a butterfly in my stomach like my brain just can't turn off the association of that smell and cute boys and school dances. Then I remember that I'm old AF.
Kiwi Strawberry Snapple
What do you get when you take a '90s beverage staple and make it much more interesting? You get a Kiwi Strawberry Snapple Vodka Cocktail. It is delicious, or so I am told, because I probably took a tiny sip in the limo on the way to prom and decided that it probably wasn't a great idea for me, thanks. I did enjoy the Snapple on its own, though!
Malibu Sea Breezes
My high school boyfriend was obsessed with Malibu Sea Breezes. If my memory serves me correctly, his mom allowed him to keep a bottle on full display in his room at all times. Whenever we went to a party, he had to have his Malibu so of course it accompanied us to prom via some sort of illicit container or another.
I think my aversion to sweet drinks to this day (I can only drink dirty martinis or wine) stems from having to smell those super fruity-smelling drinks all the time when we were together.
The Sweet & Stinky Smell Of The Jersey Shore
Ah, the sea air, the moldy boardwalk, the musty motel room, the rotting fish and that burnt cotton candy smell. These are the fine sensory memories that make up that post-prom weekend in Seaside Heights with my friends and my boyfriend all those years ago. I don't think I had any fun because I was so heartbroken over the fact that my date abandoned me when I couldn't get into the 21 and over bar, then let me walk home on the boardwalk alone back to our hotel at 2 a.m. on our prom night. You know, like a gentleman. Should I also add the smell of shame and fear?
Herbal Essences Shampoo
If there is one ubiquitous scent that is forever etched in my memories of that decade and at prom it is the smell of Herbal Essences Shampoo. To me, it is the smell of friendship, because all of my friends seemed to wear it and when I ran crying to them because prom weekend was such a major disappointment, I could smell it in their hair and in the crook of their shoulders as I sniffled all over them in dry heaves.
I am pretty sure there is still an old, dried-out bottle of this shampoo in my bathroom back at my parent's house in New Jersey; a last vestige of my teen years. If I saw it, would I throw it out? I don't know. Sometimes these reminders, however (literally) bittersweet, are still good to have. I know how far I've come from being a girl who would ever settle for love that is hurtful and demeaning. My husband and the father of my two boys is someone who always makes me feel like the only woman in the room, no matter what I'm wearing (or what I smell like, for that matter).