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#perfumebeforebed: consumerist TikTok fad or nighttime essential?

Would you spray a scent before you sleep? (Unsplash)
Would you spray a scent before you sleep? (Unsplash)

Once you’ve brushed your teeth and slipped into your PJs, what’s the last thing you do before hitting the hay? Read a book, perhaps? Doomscroll for an hour? Drink a glass of warm milk? Or do you take this moment — the moment where you are most likely not to see another soul (unless in a dream) for approximately eight hours —- to mist yourself with perfume, right before burrowing into your bed sheets, dead to the world around you?

That’s what the TikTok girlies are doing, anyway. There are countless videos of Gen Zs spritzing themselves before turning in for the night, recounting their recommendations and romanticising their nighttime routines. The search phrase “perfumes for bedtime” has over 122.9 million views and counting, and “wearing perfume to bed” has 39.7 million.

Marilyn Monroe famously wore Chanel N°5 to bed (Getty Images)
Marilyn Monroe famously wore Chanel N°5 to bed (Getty Images)

But don’t be fooled by the social media hype — wearing perfume to bed has been a thing since before TikTok was even a wisp of a thought in Zhang Yiming’s brain. The most famous bedtime perfume advocate was Marilyn Monroe, who famously revealed that she wore nothing but Chanel N°5 Eau de Parfum to bed.

And then there’s Elsa Schiaparelli, founder of the haute couture fashion house of the same name, who in the 1940s released a scent called ‘Sleeping’. Shaped like a candle with a conical snuffer, the perfume was designed to help wearers have a night of colourful, wild dreams, or to "light the way to ecstasy," as adverts billed it at the time. Fellow surrealist Salvador Dali notoriously enlisted his wife to press cotton balls laced with perfume onto his eyes before bed, so as to stimulate his imagination. Safe? Surely not, but that’s just Dali.

Elsa Schiaparelli created a scent called 'Sleeping' in 1940 (Getty Images)
Elsa Schiaparelli created a scent called 'Sleeping' in 1940 (Getty Images)

Now, in the 2020s, perfume and bedtime are having yet another dalliance. Take Harry Styles’ newly launched Pleasing Closeness Eau de Parfum (£135, pleasing.com), which boasts a top note of “clean sheets accord.” Or the recent renaissance of roll on perfumes and skincare-adjacent scents, like Byredo’s collaboration with Susanne Kaufmann (£90, byredo.com).

But isn’t it silly to spray yourself with something typically quite pricey right before you shut off your senses? Not quite, says perfume expert and creative director of Diem scents Lizzie Ostrom. “That bit of time before bed when you’re pottering around, you brush your teeth, put on a cream, that’s often when I put on a perfume,” Ostrom says.

“That quiet, wind-down time is actually the ideal moment to focus on scent, because we’re not so distracted by our days, we’re kind of entering this transition zone,” she adds. It’s kind of like a sensory deprivation tank, except one scent is isolated for focus: smell.

Is perfume a nighttime routine essential or just more of the male gaze? (Unsplash)
Is perfume a nighttime routine essential or just more of the male gaze? (Unsplash)

Though doesn't wearing perfume to bed feel like just another step that women could be expected to complete in their already lengthy beauty routines? The male gaze has long extended to our beds (just ask any woman who has worn makeup to bed when sleeping with someone new), so is this a sign of letting the male nose in there too? “If your mindset is that perfume is part of beauty and feeling attractive, or that you’ve got to do it to keep up with some elaborate ritual, then don’t do it,” says Ostrom. “It should never get to a point where it feels oppressive, I would want to resist that,” she adds.

But perfume can be many things, she notes. “As long as it’s fun and it comes from a place of curiosity and enjoyment, I don’t see it as a beauty standard. You’re not undertaking any kind of labour by wearing it, like you might with an elaborate skincare regime or exfoliating your entire body.”

Ostrom also sees this as a wider trend in perfumery, as we seek to smell more natural and like our own skin. “Skin musk perfumes are not going to go away. They’re not new — remember White Musk from The Body Shop? A great perfume that’s still going strong. There’s something about the intimacy of a skin musk perfume: the “catch it or don’t catch it” smell that intrigues people. They’re not like a layer of armour, they’re comfortable and versatile, and they’re definitely not going anywhere.”

And while we’ve been focusing on women, wearing perfume to bed is by no means a gendered pursuit. “Anyone can do it, it’s worth giving it a try to see how you feel. And we've all got different reasons for doing it, it might be about helping us feel relaxed before sleep, it might be to do with sex, it might be that we just want a new part of our evening ritual.”

So why not set a few seconds aside this week to give yourself a light misting before bed? You might not regret it.

Perfumes to wear to bed, our recommendations:

The one to wear when you don’t plan on getting any sleep

Baccarat Rouge 540 Extrait de Parfum (Maison Francis Kurkdjian)
Baccarat Rouge 540 Extrait de Parfum (Maison Francis Kurkdjian)

Try the Rihanna-approved Baccarat Rouge 540. A rich, sexy floral, and favourite of PerfumeTok, this scent is expensive but long-lasting, which makes it worth every penny in our opinion.

Baccarat Rouge 540 Extrait de Parfum, £340, harrods.com

The one that smells like you’re wearing nothing at all

Glossier You (Glossier)
Glossier You (Glossier)

Glossier You, one of the most notable new skin-musk perfumes in recent years, which is named for its ability to take on the wearer’s scent (or so they say). There’s a reason it’s a cult perfume. Plus, the people behind this are the same ones behind Le Labo's beloved Santal 33 scent, so you know it’s good.

Glossier You, £62, uk.glossier.com 

The hair perfume

Diptyque hair mist Eau Capitale (Diptyque)
Diptyque hair mist Eau Capitale (Diptyque)

If spraying perfume on your skin before bed still feels a bit weird, consider lightly misting your hair with something instead. Namely this Diptyque hair mist, which promises an “invisible veil of scent” including pink peppercorn, patchouli, rose and bergamot. You’ll still catch whiffs of it as your hair blows in the wind the next morning.

Diptyque hair mist Eau Capitale, £58, spacenk.com

The roll-on oil

Byredo x Susanne Kaufmann roll-on oil (Byredo)
Byredo x Susanne Kaufmann roll-on oil (Byredo)

The Byredo collaboration with skincare pioneer Susanne Kaufmann is the perfect post-nighttime shower, pre-bedtime perfume thanks to its roll on application, oil based formula and moisturising benefits. The freshness of pine trees mingled with jasmine make this perfume “invigorating yet soothing,” so you’ll still enjoy its smell come morning time, too.

Byredo x Susanne Kaufmann roll-on, £90, byredo.com

The one our beauty editor loves

Serge Lutens Sa Majesté La Rose (Serge Lutens)
Serge Lutens Sa Majesté La Rose (Serge Lutens)

Evening Standard beauty editor Madeleine Spencer opts for Serge Lutens Rose before bed. “It is a delight to press on and smells fresh not cloying, I also love that the stopper doubles up as an applicator, so it’s all a really nice part of my wind-down routine, and I go to bed smelling fresh and clean.”

Serge Lutens Sa Majesté La Rose, £195, harrods.com

The one with a more masculine touch

Dreamland Parfum by Haeckles (Haeckles)
Dreamland Parfum by Haeckles (Haeckles)

This smoky, vetiver-heavy perfume by Haeckles is appropriately named Dreamland, after the Margate amusement park situated near Haeckles HQ. It even features charred fragments of wood and rose collected in 2014, on a cloudy day, which lends the scent a dreamlike quality. You’ll be spinning on the merry-go-round in no time.

Dreamland, £140, haeckles.co.uk