How To Choose The Perfect Perfume

How to choose the perfect perfume

This month, we look at how to choose the perfect perfume for yourself. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing a fragrance, but there may be some tips I can share for you to take into consideration.

Do you know how to choose a perfume that you will love? Are you in the market for a new perfume? Would you like to create a signature scent for yourself? Do you know your scent families? Um, what exactly is a scent family?

How to choose the perfect perfume

How perfume can make you feel & recall memories

I am sure you can recall someone in your past who always had a particular smell about them and how that made you feel. It tends to bring back memories of the past, perhaps provide comfort and security.

I recall my piano teacher, when I was young had a wonderful aura of ‘ rich opulence’. Her hair would be piled on top of her head in a stylish french twist – so elegant! She dressed lavishly, full of bold colour and wore diamonds and exotic coloured rings on her fingers. She smelt luxurious and I think about how she always made me feel special: somewhat refined because I was becoming ‘accomplished’ like her. (Ha! I can only play “Chopsticks” nowadays – LOL). She would bring exotic little cakes for us after our lesson. But it was her perfume that I remember most: Shalimar, she was doused in it and I loved it. It was decidedly her, a part of her sophisticated, extravagant character and inimitably captured who she was.

This is the perfect example of how a signature scent can be your personal calling card to everyone you meet and comfort for everyone you love.

Choosing a signature scent doesn’t have to be a daunting task, you just need to know the basics and some general tips to guide you.

The Basics

Before you can choose a perfume, it’s important to know ‘the basics’.

Fragrance Families

There is actually an official fragrance family wheel (who knew?). Fragrance families are a classification system the perfume industry uses to place individual perfumes into olfactory ‘groups’, based on their dominant characteristics.

According to

Absolutely nobody in the perfume world agrees 100% about families and descriptions. 

For our purposes, we will classify perfumes into the 4 basic families on the wheel. (In addition, there are subgroups within these families also eg soft floral, floral oriental, dry woods etc but for today, let’s just stick to the basics).

1 Floral/Sweet:

Floral fragrances are the most popular, traditional and easily recognisable. These scents are considered ultra-feminine and sweet. Ideal for wearing in the daytime. Floral fragrances may include notes of jasmine, rose (2 of the most popular and the foundation of most floral perfumes), gardenia, lily of the valley, magnolia, peony etc…They typically remind me of spring.

2 Citrus/Fresh/Fruity:

These fragrances are uplifting, zesty, clean, airy, bright and invigorating. They contain notes like orange, lemon, berries, peach, mandarin and apple. They are ideally suited to Summertime.

3 Oriental/Spicy:

Oriental fragrances tend to be deep, spicy, musky incense and resins. Ingredients like heliotrope, musk, vanilla, amber, orris and other resins are used. They are considered mysterious and seductive and have a warm, heavy richness to them. They are typically suited to wearing after-dark.

4 Woody/Chypre:

Woody scents are traditionally a more masculine scent but can smell fabulous on a woman. Examples of woody elements include cedar, oud, patchouli and vetiver. Scents from this family are earthy and intense which makes them awesome for evenings and cooler weather.

How to choose the perfect perfume
Fragrance Notes

There is a science to blending scents. All perfumes are made up of different layers or ‘notes’ that create their unique bouquet. The main purpose of the layers is to exude an initial scent, then to transition smoothly to the next part of the fragrance. So, rather than smelling only one scent, you will notice others which become apparent over time.

A perfumes ‘notes’ are categorised into 3 layers:

  • Top
  • Heart (or Middle)
  • Base notes

This perfectly selected blend of ingredients forms the perfume accord, the basic character of the fragrance.

Top Notes:

Known also as header notes, these are what you smell immediately after application. They form the first impression and are usually the lightest scents as they evaporate quickly, lasting 5-15 mins. Common top note scents include lemon, orange, bergamot, lavender, rose, basil and anise.

Middle Notes:

Known also as heart notes, they make up the majority of the scent. Look for fragrances with middle notes that you love. Middle notes are stronger than top notes and have an influence on the base notes as well. Making up 70% of the total scent, middle notes make an appearance as the top notes start to fade, introducing new scents to deepen the perfume experience. Common middle note ingredients include cinnamon, pine, pepper, cardamom, geranium and ylang ylang.

Base Notes:

Base notes are the layers that provide depth and boost the lighter scents. They are considered the perfume’s foundation and are rich and long-lasting. The base notes are detected after approximately 30 mins, sink into the skin and can last 6 hrs or more. Popular base notes include musk, amber, patchouli, moss, sandalwood and cedarwood.

Colognes, Toilettes & Parfums?

Differences between these are simply the amount/concentration of oils in the scent. The highest concentration of oil and therefore the purest form is Eau de Parfum, followed by Eau de toilette and lastly Eau de cologne. Note: Some perfumes come in solid form and these are equivalent to Parfum. The higher the concentration of oil, the longer your fragrance will last (and the more expensive it is).

How to choose the perfect perfume
  1. Take your time. Don’t buy one based on immediate application. Perfumes develop over time, so wait to smell the final notes. Remember middle notes and base notes last longest, so these form the strongest scent and are what you want to like as they are the notes that will linger.
  2. What are your favourite smells? Check out the fragrance wheel and know which families of scents you prefer. You may enjoy a smoky, earthy type scent reminding you of camping, forests and campfires. Or a fresh, soapy scent reminding you of fresh laundry powder. What about a ‘rich n spicy’ smell of glamour or an aroma of fresh spring flowers in the garden. Maybe the aroma of hot chocolate on a cold night? Different scents mean something different to everyone. Choose one that you love and evokes pleasant, happy feelings.
  3. Do your research: Now google perfumes with these scents (step 2) as middle and base layers. If you do your research on perfumes before you go to the shops to try them, you will save loads of time in the long run.
  4. Try perfumes in-store. Buying on-line is fine for replenishment, but there is nothing like experiencing the way a fragrance develops on your skin.
  5. Consider keeping a wardrobe of fragrances so you can switch up according to your mood, occasion and season. We know some perfumes are stronger and more suited to colder weather or night-time wear and some are lighter, fresher, summery scents.
  6. Everybody has different body chemistry, so perfumes may smell a little different on different people for this reason. Always spray perfume on a card to test first. Take it away and smell it later in the day (let it develop). If it ‘speaks’ to you, then try it on your skin and repeat this procedure.
  7. Still no idea where to start? Consider doing a perfume finder quiz like this one from Sephora also has a fragrance finding tool on their website which may come in handy. The have an education tool called FReD: a virtual fragrance consultant. You can tell FReD which perfumes you’re keen on, and ‘he’ will make a personalised selection, suggesting up to six fragrances at a time for you to try, at various price-points.
  8. Consider your skin type. Are you oily or dry? If you have dry skin, perfumes will tend to evaporate more quickly. Thus, you may want to go for a heavier, richer scent in an Eau de parfum that will wear longer.
  9. Did you know, your olfactory senses (sense of smell) are more honed in warmer weather and also as the day progresses, therefore you may want to leave choosing your signature scent until it’s warm or until later in the day.
  10. It’s a good idea when choosing a fragrance, to limit the number you smell to around 3-4 at any one time so you don’t confuse the senses. Take advantage of the small jars of coffee beans around as they act as olfactory palate cleansers. Use them when testing between scents.
  11. To enhance the smell of your fragrance and help make it last, spray on the pulse points. Body heat generated by pulse points helps to intensify any perfume you apply to them. Your main pulse points are found on the neck, inside of the elbow, behind the knee, inner wrists and on various points on the feet and ankles. Also, spray on your hairbrush for a lingering scent. Never rub wrists together.
  12. If testing at the department store, ask for a sample of the one you like to test at home, so you can test how the fragrance develops fully before you commit to buy. Not all will have larger samples, but you’ll be surprised by how many do.
  13. Does anyone notice the fragrance on you? What do they think of it on you? Is it too cloying? Ask your ‘significant other’ or a family member what they think. If it’s too strong, you may want to consider a weaker version like an Eau de toilette rather than a concentrate. In the end, it is your choice, but it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion.
Examples of Woody/Chypre Fragrances
Examples of Fresh & Fruity Fragrances
Examples of Oriental Fragrances
Examples of Floral Fragrances

Good luck with your hunt. When you find the perfect fragrance for yourself it is personally very satisfying. Look out next month for our post on ‘The Longest-lasting Perfumes of 2020’.