Fragrance shopping can be tricky. Scent is so personal that even if you get a glowing recommendation from someone, when it gets on your skin, it may end up not suiting your taste. And if you want to bypass mainstream fragrances for niche ones, if you’re not in a big city it can be difficult to find a place where you can test the fragrance first.
This is where the internet comes in. Not only can you order pretty much any fragrance online these days (even rare or discontinued ones), you can also find plenty of affordable samples and indie fragrance lines. But shopping online can be tricky, too. To state the obvious, because you can’t smell the scent. But once you get over that, your options are endless. There is so much out there, though, it can be difficult to know where to start, what to look for, and who to trust.
This is where we come in. Read on for everything you need to know in your personal online-fragrance-shopping starter kit.
Before you even think about ordering a perfume, you should take a moment to familiarize yourself with basic fragrance terminology and categories. There’s no need to overwhelm yourself with in-depth research on aldehydes or chypre (unless you’re interested in that!). Instead, we’ll help you brush up on the most common terms used to describe a fragrance’s performance: sillage (pronounced see-yahz) and longevity.
Longevity simply refers to how long a fragrance lasts, and sillage is used to describe a scent’s reach or power. If a fragrance has weak sillage, that means you’re probably not going to be able to smell it unless you put your nose to your wrist. If it has a very strong sillage, you may want to avoid wearing it to the office, lest you leave a trail of migraines in your wake. In general, most people will want to seek out a fragrance with good longevity and sillage in order to feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth. Often these terms will be used in fragrance reviews, which are particularly helpful when trying to decide whether to purchase a fragrance online.
Also consider all the different notes and categories of fragrance that exist. Notes are the different scents that make up a perfume. Usually a fragrance has top notes, middle notes, and base notes, and you should be able to experience each as the fragrance evolves in the air and on your skin. Fragrantica is a great resource for this and other aspects of fragrance. It can be fun to browse all the different categories — from broad categories like florals to very specific subcategories like oriental vanilla — and the many reviews of both popular and niche fragrances.
Whether you have a fairly good idea of what kind of fragrance you like or you don’t even know where to start, the best thing to do is try out a variety of samples. Luckily, there are plenty of places to find free or cheap fragrance samples online, such as The Perfumed Court and Lucky Scent. You can buy samples of almost any fragrance you can think of from those sites. If you have a certain fragrance in mind, you could also check the brand’s website to see if you can purchase a sample from them directly. Sephora also offers sample options, and sometimes free ones with a purchase.
Even if you’ve tried a sample of a fragrance, committing to an expensive bottle of perfume can be daunting. It takes time to get used to a tricky fragrance, and sometimes a scent that you liked at first can become tiresome or suddenly begin to cause headaches. Or maybe you’re just very fickle when it comes to fragrances and you like to switch things up — nothing wrong with that!
Whatever the case, you should check out Scentbird, a perfume subscription service that will send you 30 days’ worth of fragrance in a sleek vial every month for $15. There are more than 450 fragrances to choose from, for both men and women, and you get to pick which fragrance it sends each month.
You can also try its new A La Carte feature, which allows you to order the 8-ml fragrance vials without signing up for the monthly subscription. Either option is a perfect way to avoid buyer’s remorse and find a fragrance you truly love — although, be warned, it’s very difficult to settle down with just one fragrance when you can have a new signature scent every month.
Once you find a fragrance you love and want to commit to, make sure to purchase it from a reputed site. Lucky Scent, Basenotes, and FragranceNet are all good options for purchasing fragrance if you can’t purchase directly from the manufacturer’s site. It’s also possible to find good fragrance deals on eBay. You do have to be cautious of fakes, but eBay has a good buyer protection program that guarantees your money back.
For more fragrance-buying tips, visit Refinery29.
By: Kelly Dougher; Illustrated by Abbie Winter