Historians such as Geoffrey Jones have shown that the history of the modern perfume and allied beauty industries is worthy of close attention and can reveal new aspects in the history of capitalism and consumerism. In this paper I suggest that the perfume market can provide a mirror to economic inequality and its development over time, for it is clear that different kinds of perfumes were developed for very different markets.
I propose to address the question of how differences between mass and luxury perfumes changed in the twentieth century by examining the case of British perfume manufacturers and retailers, from low to mid-market to prestige firms, including Yardley and Boots the Chemist. In addition to corporate archives, trade journals and promotional material, I have also looked at advertisements in British Vogue to identify possible trends in retail pricing. In the early twentieth century, new classes of materials emerged as synthetics began to be incorporated into fragrances, enabling more economical production and marketing of a ‘luxury’ product to a less affluent consumer. I suggest that the distinctions between luxury perfume and mass perfume are more sharply defined during times of high inequality and more blurred during times of greater parity.