Finding the perfect fragrance can be hard and overwhelming. Often times, the sales associates that are there to help steer us in the wrong direction. Do not despair, however, in the face of numerous bottles and spray-happy attendants. Here are five steps to follow that will guide you pick a perfume that you will love, even after you leave the store.

Step 1: Know What You Want

I've been there before: I go to the mall, wander around the isles, hoping that something would grab my attention. Inevitably, out of nowhere, a nice lady with a bottle in hand would jump out from behind me and hand me over a liberally doused piece of paper with the release from one designer brand or another. I would do the polite thing: thank her, smell the strip she pushes under my nose and make a vague compliment "oh, uhm, that's pretty good". She, of course, would take this for a cue to show me more, and within minutes I would be standing in front of the counter holding my Visa ready to buy a bottle I am not quite sure I even like.

This scenario has happened to me often enough that now I don't step in the fragrance department before I have a clear idea what I am looking for.

I suggest you do the same. The more you know what you like, the more likely you are to steer the sales associate to show you fragrances you may actually like.

When you go up to the counter tell the attendant what type of fragrance you are looking for and for what occasion. I would say something like:

"Hello, can you help me find a citrus-centered fragrance that I can wear casually in hot weather? I really like Eau Sauvage by Dior, so I'd like something similar but maybe not as floral."

It's a good idea to mention a fragrance you like, so that the sales person can use it as a reference point when showing you various fragrances. 

Step 2: Be Honest

At this point, the attendant would have probably lined up ten different bottles of juice in front of you. Take your time smelling each one and tell the sales associate what you like or you don't like. It is crucial to be honest. I tend to be too polite whether I like a fragrance or not, which has gotten me into awkward situations. Don't be like me. Be honest and say what you think. Usually, I would say something like:

"I like the lemon note in this one but I find it too feminine. Do you have something with a little less white flowers?"

Sometimes the associate would be great and would make suggestions based on your guidance. Often, however, they may just stare at you and push on you the "latest best-seller". Don't go for it. 

Step 3: Don't Believe the Hype

In the fragrance world you have two types of sales associates: regular counter attendants and demos. The former usually manage the floor and are hired by the department store and the latter are usually hired by a brand (e.g. Dior, Chanel, YSL) to promote and sell only their products.

If you happen to talk to a demo, they will most likely make recommendations for fragrances from the brand they work for. They will also try to hype up what they are showing you by saying that perfume XYZ is a best-seller for 10 year straight and that the superstar of the day showers in it. 

While they may be factually correct, often times they are not, it doesn't really matter. What matters is whether you like the perfume. After all, you are buying it for yourself, not Taylor Swift. 

Step 4: Pick 2

I've found out from first hand experience that trying to decide between more than two perfumes leaves you confused and split. Therefore, narrow down your options to two and spray each one on each of your hands. 

It's a good idea to test on your skin only when you are 80% sure that a scent could be a winner. Spraying a fragrance right away on your skin will use up precious skin real estate for stuff that is really worth smelling. 

Air the fragrance out and let it dry for a second. Take a whiff and see how it develops on your skin. Because of the chemistry and warmth of your skin, fragrances will always smell differently than on the paper. This is why, you always want to test on your skin before buying. Otherwise, you might be up for unpleasant surprises when you get home. 

Step 5: Ask for a Sample

After you've tested the scent on your skin and you like it, it's best to ask for a sample. Even though smelling the perfume on your skin in the store will give you a good idea what it is like, actually wearing it for a day will leave with much deeper impressions. 

Giving a scent a full test drive is a good idea for the following reasons:

  • It allows you to experience its full development in the environment where you will most likely wear it. The department store is not the ideal place as there are so many other olfactory distractors. 
  • It allows you to test longevity - this is how long the fragrance will last on you.
  • It allows you to test projection - from what distance others can smell the scent. 

Sometimes, sales associates don't have samples or have a policy not to give them away without a purchase (an odd practice given they are promo materials). The best thing you can do then is just to walk around with the scent applied on your hand for several hours (the longer, the better) until it dries down. This is crucial as many scents smell great when you first spray them just to turn unpleasant two hours later. 

With this I think you are ready. Now, you can go and conquer the perfume world. Enjoy your shopping and buy smart.