This one’s for all my ‘90s kids: If you had to sum up the decade of Kate Moss, brown lipstick, and high-rise denim as a fragrance, what would it smell like?
For me, it’s a bit of Bath and Body Works’ Warm Vanilla Sugar, which sat on my childhood dresser for years. It’s certainly Clinique Happy ($62), which permeated the air in the late ‘90s in the same way that Le Labo’s Santal 33 ($198) does now. But mostly, it’s Dior Dune ($118)—the scent my mother has worn religiously since the year I was born. Even now, almost 30 years later and a continent apart, I can practically smell it when we speak on the phone. But as timeless as it is on her, somehow, the musky-oceanic scent still feels distinctly ‘90s to me: warm and minimal, like a second skin.
And that seemed to be the overarching theme of the decade, whether you remember it for the spritzers you picked up at the mall on the regular or the scent uniforms worn by the more sophisticated women in your life. In the ‘90s, the wearer herself was the most essential fragrance note—the most popular fragrances were made to enhance our natural scent, inviting those around the wearer to lean in close to get a whiff.
It’s all the timeless allure of jeans and a white tee (here’s looking at you, Kate), which might help explain why so many of these fragrances remain as popular as ever—well, that, and some good old fashioned nostalgia. See if you can spot your favorite ‘90s fragrance below.
Is it safe to say that this was the fragrance uniform of mall teens everywhere? It wasn’t just the allowance-friendly price tag that made this iconic spritz so ubiquitous—the soapy-floral combo of freesia, orange blossom and musk actually smelled good, and oh-so-grown up.
Gap has discontinued the scent on and off over the past several years. Looking for a modern update? Diptyque’s Olene ($150) has that same “clean” floral scent profile.
“Forget your troubles, come on, get happy!” The original commercial’s Judy Garland soundtrack was just as irresistible as the scent itself: citrusy, floral, and oh-so-cheery. Thankfully, the powers that be at Clinique have known better than to discontinue this fan favorite—it remains a cult-favorite to this day.
Another musk-centric fragrance…are we sensing a theme here? While White Musk was technically released in 1981, this scent’s popularity surged well into the next decade. And good news: If you’re in the mood for an ultra-feminine cocktail of amber, rose, and white florals, The Body Shop is still a proud purveyor.
It’s hard not to think of the original Kate Moss ads when getting a whiff of this perennial bestseller—probably because CK One is as ‘90s-minimal as it gets. This blend of musk and bergamot is meant to seem barely there, kind of like scent lingerie.
Is it very, very sweet? Yes. Is it delightfully nostalgic nonetheless? 100%. Pro tip: Spritz it in a bath for old time’s sake.
It’s an ode to sea that has the relaxed luxury of a Nancy Meyers movie—think creamy cashmere sweaters, a glass of white wine, and a Hamptons retreat. It’s both warm and delicate, with notes of vanilla, citrus, amber and driftwood.
In a true Mean Girls moment, I remember immediately buying this perfume after seeing the iconic blue bottle on a “cool” girl’s bathroom counter. In 2020, it remains as timeless as ever: The colorful mix of freesia, tangerine, green apple and musk boasts an elusive 5-star rating at Sephora.
The star-shaped bottle! The gourmand-sweet scent! Name a perfume more emblematic of the early ‘90s… I’ll wait.
It’s right there in the name—this cheery cocktail of citrus, melon, jasmine and oakmoss is as summery as it gets. It’s also shockingly sophisticated for the price tag, which is why the yellow bottle lived on the dresser of every ‘90s teen. (It also means you can scoop it now for old time’s sake without any guilt whatsoever.