If you grew up in the early 2000s, chances are the scent of Abercrombie and Fitch is imprinted into your brain. Even just thinking about that musky fragrance is enough to mentally transport you to less hectic days gone by. Now that stressors are decidedly more pronounced (and not what to make your AIM away messages, for example), pros say that there are actually some feel-good benefits, associated with revisiting the nostalgic scents you thought you’d left behind in middle school.
“The olfactory system is directly linked to the mental and emotional parts of the brain—like the hippocampus and the amygdala,” says Givaudan senior perfumer, Nicole Mancini. “And that’s why when you smell something, the olfactive memory puts you right back to those moments—even more so than visual memories—because it goes right to those centers of your brain.”
She explains that using this scent-memory connection to bring your brain to a happier time can help keep you calm when everything else feels out of control, and spritzing yourself with a nostalgic scent may actually ease your frustrations. “You want to be connected in this sort of disconnected world that we’re in, and scent can do that in so many different ways,” says Mancini. “Recreating connections with loved ones we can’t see right now, recreating memories of vacations or places we want to be or places that we’ve been can really help to make this a time of reflection instead of a time of worry and anxiety, and helps to focus it on something that’s more peaceful and more positive.”
In other words: It’s time to whip out those OG scents and get happy. Here, we asked our editors to share which of those scents they’ll be spritzing themselves with, and the memories they’ll evoke in the process.
Happy by Clinique Perfume Spray For Women, $21
“Clinique Happy was the first fragrance I wore that was from an actual makeup counter. It made my eighth grade self feel all grown up. As an actual adult, I wear Clean Reserve in Terra Woods, which actually smells similar. It transports me back to my middle school days while still making feel like a sophisticated grown woman that doesn’t have braces or crush on JNCO-wearing skater boys.” – Emily Laurence, senior food and health writer
Dolce & Gabbana Women’s Eau De Toilette Spray, Light Blue, $47
“My mom gifted me my first bottle of Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue for my Bat Mitzvah, and (as cheesy as this sounds) the fragrance still reminds me of the day I became a woman. I wore it all through middle and high school, and every time I smell it it’s like I’m practically reliving my first kiss with my seventh grade boyfriend. I’ve actually been wearing it throughout quarantine, and it the Italy-inspired citrusy scent serves double duty in helping me mentally time travel back to the early aughts and feel like I’m on vacation in Capri.” – Zoë Weiner, associate beauty and fitness editor
“I knew I was moving up in the world when I swiped my body sprays to the side to make room for the heart-shaped, crown-adorned Vera Wang Princess. A spritz of this playful scent before catching the school bus had me channeling my inner Massie Block from the Clique series (#IYKYK).” – Amanda Gaines, audience development assistant
“Back when I was rocking multi-colored braces and butterfly clips in my hair, three gigantic sprays of Flower Bomb was the final step I needed to feel my absolute (awkward teenage self) best! I have since learnt that no fragrance smells good when you essentially douse yourself in it.” – Kate Spies, SVP, content and growth
“Tommy Girl brings me back to the days when wearing head-to-toe Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch were the epitome of cool. I definitely smelled this sample in one of the teen magazines and begged my mom to get it so that I too could smell like a Tommy Girl. Something about spritzing it on made me feel more grown up. Now that I’m (kind of) a grown up, it brings me back to a simpler time when all I worried about were friends, school, and my side bangs being pin straight.” – Allie Short, associate video producer
“I rocked Victoria’s Secret Pure Seduction at a time when I was anything but seductive. I was 14 and my hair was sad and broken from years of heat damage and chemical relaxers, so my hair dresser convinced me to get a pixie cut. I looked like a mushroom. A cute mushroom, but not seductive mushroom. But with a spritz of Pure Seduction, a Delia’s graphic tee, and neon skinny jeans, you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t hot.” – Kara Brown, news writer
“The only reason I had perfume at all as a teenager is because my high school boyfriend bought me a bottle of Burberry Brit. I’m pretty sure it was from CVS and also that he bought it because there was buy one, get one half off promotion, and he was already in the market for cologne for himself. We didn’t make it, but the perfume lasted me like four years.” – Alexis Berger, senior lifestyle editor
Thierry Mugler Angel, $56
“In high school, my friend Jorge wore a light spritz of Thierry Mugler’s Angel most days. It was too powdery for my liking, but it did make me understand the point of finding yourself a signature scent, which has the power to express a certain level of sophistication I most certainly did not possess in the early aughts.” – Jamie Thilman, senior news editor
“One year for Christmas when I was in high school, my mom got me my first grown-up fragrance: Marc Jacobs Perfume Eau de Parfum. This was before there was Marc Jacobs Daisy or any of those other perfumes; they’re all great, but this will always be my favorite. It was sweet and floral (jasmine and gardenia, FTW!) without being cloying or overpowering like so many other fragrances that other cool teens wore at the time. It made me feel so adult and sophisticated. I always wore it on special occasions and even today, that fragrance influences the scents that I wear now.” – Jessie Van Amburg, senior food and health editor
“Every so often, I’ll somehow get a whiff of Curve. It immediately takes me back to my high school days when it was worn by every single guy, including my best friend’s older cousin who I secretly made out with on the DL. Very erotic memories. I might spritz it on my current boyfriend to revive our dead apocalypse sex life.” – Erin Bunch, writer
“I remember getting this at Walmart with my sister. It reminds me of an era in which I was a pre-teen pretending to be an adult teen, going on adventures a la Mary Kate and Ashley in their movies like Holiday In the Sun. I put butterfly clips in my hair, wore platform slip-on sketchers, and ventured off during family vacations to plan out a strategy for flirting with cute guys at the pool… but never actually speaking with them.” – Rachel Lapidos, beauty and fitness editor
“For my thirteenth birthday, my mom decided it was time I deserved a ‘real’ perfume. So, we made a big event of going to the department store and picking out my ‘signature fragrance.’ In her opinion, I should pick a scent and own it for as long as it felt ‘like me’, thus making it my signature. So, we spritzed and sniffed and wandered for far too long, after all I was a 12 year old deciding what me smelled like. This was no small feat for a tween in the middle of an awkward phase, known to pair pearls with emo studded belts and rainbow flip flops. Finally, we landed at the Chanel counter, and ‘Chance’ won. Honestly, the weight of the Chanel empire, the legacy of the No. 5 and Allure bottles on my mom’s (and grandma’s) vanity probably held more sway than the actual nose notes, but to this day, I still (occasionally) wear the perfume, and with every patchouli hinted spritz, I feel a little bit more like the me my young, eager-to-live-a-big-full-life tween self wanted me to be.” – Ella Dove, director of creative development
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