Five Steps to Choosing A Fragrance That Stands Out (In A Good Way)

Let’s face it: fragrances can be confusing, even scary. Many fragrances feature this special ingredient or that special ingredient, or are all-natural, or are meant to complement your own natural aroma, or a thousand other bewildering things. It’s a lot to take in.

Luckily, it’s not too hard to find a fragrance that suits you. But why would you want to? What’s wrong with just wearing what’s popular?

Hey, if that’s your jam, go for it. You should wear what makes you happy. Lots of people are plenty happy with something that smells clean and fresh, or maybe a little sexy and mysterious, without really thinking about it. But, while many people choose fragrances that are popular because it’s easy and uncomplicated, fragrance can and should be about individual expression. Fragrances that are chosen for you and that fit with your body chemistry and personality can smell uniquely good on you. It’s an amazing feeling, and a huge confidence boost, to be noticed for being a little special, a little cool, and a little different.

But how do you go about finding something unique? Where do you start? Here’s a simple five-step process to help you narrow down your options.

Step 1: Find the Notes that Make You Happy

If you’re a candle or diffuser person, think about what you like to smell in your home. Do you enjoy darker, richer scents like vanilla and oud, or do you prefer fresher scents like bamboo and citrus? Do you like fruit? Flowers? If you’re not sure, try visiting a candle or essential oil shop. Don’t be afraid to sniff everything and write down what you like.

If you’re not really into candles or diffusers, no problem! Instead, think about what scents you enjoyed as a child; happy childhood memories can make for some of the very best fragrance choices.

For instance, when I was a child, my parents owned a baking business, and various extracts, chocolates, and cured fruits were everywhere in the bakery. On top of that, we heated our home with a wood stove, and the smell of burning wood still brings back fond memories. So I suppose that it’s no surprise that I’ve always had a love for scents that incorporate things like vanilla, oranges, and wood smoke. In the same vein, someone who grew up near the beach might enjoy seaweed and wood and someone who grew up in a forested area might love resins and earth. Don’t question what you like or whether it’s okay to like it. What matters is that it makes you happy.

If you’re still having trouble, think about your favorite foods. You probably don’t want to smell like dinner, but if you love a nice salad, maybe try out some herbal or fresher fragrances. If a juicy steak is more your thing, give some thought to woodsy or smokey stuff. If dessert is your favorite part of the meal, try vanilla, cream, sugar, chocolate, or hazelnut. There’s so much variety that you’re almost certain to find fragrances that you like if you look hard enough.

Step 2: Try Fragrances with Your Favorite Notes to Get a Feel for What You Want

Go to a perfume counter and start smelling things that incorporate notes that you identified in Step 1. Ask for help if you like; perfume folks are often very knowledgeable. But don’t let them sell you only on what’s new and popular; this is about you and what you want to wear, not about what everyone else is wearing. Keep a list of the ones that you like and discard everything else. Don’t be afraid to put something aside if it’s not your thing.

If you’re not close to any perfume or department stores, the Internet has made it easy to sample any fragrance that catches your interest. Websites like Luckyscent, The Perfumed Court, and Surrender to Chance offer multiple sizes and the ability to sort scents by note, making them a very powerful and important resource.

Step 3: Show No Mercy

Once you have a list of fragrances that you like, start to narrow down your selections. Choose those that you love over those that you just like. Be ruthless; this is about finding something special to you, so there’s no point to keeping something that you don’t absolutely love. If there’s already a clear winner (which won’t always happen), then go with that one, but, otherwise, try to narrow it down to five or fewer fragrances that you love either out of the bottle, on paper, or both.

Step 4: Make Them Earn It

This is the part that takes a little time and a little work. Get samples of each of the fragrances that you selected (which most perfume counters will be happy to provide; order from the websites mentioned in Step 2 if they’re not). Samples are important because fragrances often smell different on skin, and over the course of a day, vs. how they smell in a few minutes on a testing strip; you want to weed out those that don’t work for you. It’s a really bad feeling to buy a full bottle of a fragrance that you think you’ll love, only to wear it and have it smell awful or vanish in a couple of hours.

Case in point: Some years ago, I was riding the subway while trying out a new fragrance. I had loved it out of the bottle, but it had begun to grow more sour on my skin throughout the day, and I was beginning to realize that it was very much not for me. The final straw came while chatting with an attractive woman standing next to me who, upon moving slightly closer, asked if I smelled "pickle juice.” Guessing that she had picked up my fragrance and absolutely mortified, I hastily excused myself and got off the train. Good thing I hadn’t bought a bottle.

Once you have your samples, try to wear each one for at least three days in a row to see how you feel about them. If other people compliment you, that’s great! But it’s not really the important part. What’s important is how the fragrance makes you feel. Do you feel attractive? Confident? Comforted? Be honest with yourself about how you want to feel when you wear your fragrance. Pay close attention to your state of mind with each one that you test.

Repeat this step as many times as necessary to narrow your list down to only one or two. If nothing that you’ve tested agrees with you, it’s perfectly okay to throw them out and start over. Different stores offer different fragrances, so, if at first you don’t succeed, try sampling from somewhere else.

Step 5: Go Forth And Smell Awesome

Once you’ve narrowed it down to one or two, you’re in good shape! If you have just one, you’re done. If you have two, pick the one you love more, or even buy both. Lots of people wear different fragrances for different settings, and it never hurts to have options.

Choosing a new fragrance may look like a long, complicated process, but, really, picking out some initial scents shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours on a Saturday, and finding the one that you love is pretty easy to do. Even if you can’t find something that you love the first time around, the process will at least give you a better idea of what you’re looking for, which can make it much easier for the future. Regardless, you’re well on your way to choosing a fragrance that not only sets you apart, but that’s special to you and makes you feel great. That’s what it’s all about.

Will Carius

is the founder of Berceuse Parfum and a lifelong lover of all things scented.

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