A Guide to Buying Perfume for the Women in Your Life – We know the stereotype. Befuddled-looking men stare glassy-eyed in the cosmetics section of a department store while an immaculately turned-out sales assistant bombards them with words they don’t understand and price tags that bring them out in a cold sweat.
Husbands. Partners. Boyfriends. Sons. Brothers. It’s ok, we’re among friends here. You can admit it. That’s been you buying perfume for a woman in your life, hasn’t it?
Ok, let’s be fair here. It isn’t just men who face difficulties buying fragrances for someone else. It’s a hard thing to do full stop, unless you know exactly what brands they like and are content with a straightforward replacement.
But picking out something new for someone means running a gauntlet of personal tastes, styles, and preferences. Not easy.
What gives you a head start, however, is if you at least understand something of the basics of perfume categorisation. And therefore, when it comes to buying perfumes for women, men often get singled out for ridicule.
Because by and large, at least other women, using their nose and their own knowledge of perfume preferences, have a rough idea of what their mum or daughter or partner likes.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It only takes a little knowledge for anybody, male or female, to get to grips with the basics of perfumery. And once you have that knowledge, you will not only have some idea about what the sales assistant at the cosmetics counter is talking about. You will also be in a better position to make an informed decision about a gift that the recipient will genuinely like.
Rather than just panicking and grabbing the first product suggested to you.
Here’s what you need to know.
If you want to pick out a perfume that the woman in your life will really love, nothing beats getting sight of the brands she uses and prefers. But even then, you might have your heart set on buying her something new and special, rather than a simple replacement. Riskier, but a great move if you can pull it off.
The trick is not just knowing the specific brands she uses, but the style of fragrance she likes. Perfumes are categorised by their dominant aromas, which define the style of the fragrance. You might get asked what style of fragrance you are looking for when out shopping. Or if you know the person’s favourite brands, you can identify what style they are and look for similar alternatives.
With a little experience, you will find you can do this using your own nose.
The common fragrance styles for women’s perfume are as follows:
Floral: This is the classic fragrance style for women’s perfume, so much so that it has almost become a cliche. Flowery, light, sweet and a little fruity, these fragrances are ideal for day-to-day wear or for special summer occasions.
Fresh/Zesty: Citrus scents are huge in the world of fragrances. They are punchy, and bright and create a crisp, clean effect that is ideal for day-to-day use. Many unisex fragrances are in this style.
Oriental/Spicy: Just as with food, spices like cinnamon, clove, pepper, and vanilla play a big role in the fragrance traditions of the east. Oriental or spicy fragrances tend to be rich and luxurious, with big, bold aromas perfect for evening wear.
Woody/Musky: Often associated with men’s fragrances, there are plenty of women’s perfumes that put deep, earthy, woody aromas to the fore, too. With ingredients like musk, oud and sandalwood, there are a lot of crossovers with spicy eastern fragrances. Another category that is widely kept for special occasions.
Fougere/Aromatic: These fragrances are big on herby, leafy aromas. While there is some crossover with deeper woody scents, fragrances classified as ‘aromatic’ tend to be lighter and cleaner, but more complex than fresh, zesty fragrances.
Gourmand: These are the sweetest smelling perfumes you will find. They go big on vanilla, caramel, chocolate, and almond aromas, which can remind you of the smell of a cake shop as much as a perfume!
Types of fragrances for women
Once you have identified the right style for the lady you are buying for, you also must think about the type of fragrance you want to buy. Spoiler alert – perfume is not the only type of fragrance available for women!
In fact – and this may genuinely surprise some people – you can even find colognes for women. Because despite common usage, cologne doesn’t mean a fragrance for men. It’s just a type of fragrance in general.
Fragrances are produced by infusing a solvent, often alcohol but also sometimes water and other liquids, with aromatic essential oils from the chosen ingredients. Fragrance types are classified by the concentration of aromatic essential oils in them as follows:
Eau de Cologne: The ‘lightest’ fragrance type you will commonly find, with between 2% and 7% aromatic oil concentration.
Eau de Toilette (EDT): Slightly stronger than cologne with concentrations between 5% and 10%
Eau de Parfum: Stronger and more intense aromas again with aromatic oil concentrations of 10% to 15%.
Extrait de Parfum: The strongest fragrance type, with oil concentrations up to 30% or even 40%.
It’s important to note that, as fragrances become stronger and more concentrated, they become more expensive. But it is not just a case of viewing colognes and eau de toilettes as cheaper versions of perfumes. Different essential oil concentrations give fragrances different characteristics and properties, even if the ingredients are broadly the same (although perfumers will often tweak the ingredients in eau de toilette and eau de parfum of the same brand to make the most of the differences).
In general, colognes and eau de toilettes are best suited for regular, day-to-day wear. They can be spritzed on in relatively large quantities, but their odour will still wear off in a few short hours. Perfumes, on the other hand, are longer-lasting, more intense, and better suited for special occasions. With an extrait de parfum especially, you only need to use it very sparingly.
Once you get to grips with the basics of women’s fragrances, it’s time to head back to the cosmetics counter to test a few out. Ask for recommendations in the style you are confident will appeal to your special lady most. Compare different types to help make up your mind whether to go for a cologne, EDT, or perfume.
But most of all, follow your nose. What smells good to you will probably appeal to whoever is receiving the gift.
Oh, and if you’d rather not revisit your confusion at the cosmetics counter – you don’t have to. These days, you can buy cheap women’s perfume samples online to compare them in your own home, in your own time.