Dusting powder is a wonderfully nostalgic treat. It’s not a strictly necessary grooming ritual, but the act of patting a fragranced powder onto the body with a fluffy puff can make anyone feel like the flawlessly beautiful star of a 1930s film, even without a bias-cut satin gown or an Art Deco dressing table. Of course, the use of talc to scent and soften the skin predates Hollywood by a few centuries, so it seems appropriate that some long-established merchants are keeping its tradition alive. Penhaligon’s is a perfumery founded during the Victorian era, and Colonial Williamsburg is the recreation of an eighteenth-century city; appropriately enough, both offer body powders scented with violet fragrance.
Penhaligon’s Violetta perfume, created in 1976, is a soliflore with crisp, green top notes above a clean violet center and a mossy base. However, the scent of its complementary talcum is simpler and sweeter: the Violetta powder (shown above) has a pure, delicate floral aroma. It’s a candied-violet fragrance, which might remind you of the old-fashioned Chowards violet candies if you have ever tried them. Penhaligon’s powders are sold in canisters with shaker-tops; to use Violetta, you can either shake the powder directly onto your skin or else use a powder-puff to apply it. (I found an affordable lambswool puff at Caswell-Massey, another venerable toiletries merchant.)
Colonial Williamsburg’s Powder of Violets (see image just above), on the other hand, is packaged with its own puff, in a square cardboard box printed with a decorative border. Inside, the powder is contained behind a sealed paper sheet, which can be slit open gently with a knife or scissor. Colonial Williamsburg’s catalogue claims that Powder of Violets, which is sold at a shop on the town’s Duke of Gloucester Street as well as through its website, is based on an eighteenth-century recipe. It is a talc-based powder, with a scent that includes subtle spicy notes, perhaps a warm vetiver, beneath a soft, calming violet. Penhaligon’s Violetta is definitely feminine, but I could imagine a man — an eighteenth-century gentleman, at least — wearing a product like Powder of Violets. Both powders have finely milled textures, and both impart a feeling of timelessly genteel luxury.
Feel free to mention your own favorite dusting powder or violet-scented toiletries in the comments section.
Powder of Violets is $10 for 4 oz. at williamsburgmarketplace, and profits from its sale support research, historic preservation, and educational programs at Colonial Williamsburg.