The development and democratization of the American perfume market, 1920--1975

Date of Completion

January 1995


History, United States|Business Administration, Marketing|Women's Studies




This dissertation analyzes the development and democratization of the American perfume market from 1920 to 1975 in conjunction with the development of the modern consumer society. The process by which perfume was transformed from an imported and exclusively upper class product with limited sales to a mass marketed quasi-commodity product of American manufacture illuminates some key issues in the development of twentieth century American consumption and marketing.^ The history of perfume consumption in these years also reflects the changing roles, images and status of women in American society. As their roles expanded, and many entered the workforce, so did their consumption of perfume products. With the influence of aggressive marketing, women's view of perfume, changed from something to wear on special occasions to something to wear in their everyday life. This increased the overall sales and consumption of perfume.^ Prior to World War I, very little branded perfume was available in the United States, except for a small number of French brands sold only in major cities. During the 1920's many French perfume companies saw an opportunity to introduce their products to the increasingly affluent American market.^ Beginning in the 1950's the nature of the American market for perfume began to change and the American companies, especially cosmetics companies responded very effectively to these changes. The French companies, having grown complacent with their dominant position, failed to respond to the changing market. Aggressive marketing practices were required to succeed in this changing market and this demanded more money be put into supporting perfumes.^ The changes and the transformation of the perfume business between 1920 and 1975 provides a microcosm of the development of twentieth century marketing and consumption. Perfume was transformed from a mostly imported product for a relatively small, elite group of upper class women to an American manufactured, quasi-commodity consumed by women from all classes of society. The history of this "democratization" process illuminates the essential patterns of consumer society, the underlying values of consumption, and perhaps most importantly the marketing techniques used in modern America to motivate consumption. The story of the development of the perfume industry also illustrates how marketing and consumption, rather than production drives and directs the American economy. ^