Other brands, like Diptyque, now include a sample vial of the exact scent you purchased. So, you can start with the sample and can return the unopened full-size bottle within two weeks if you are dissatisfied.
If the brand you’re interested in doesn’t offer samples, simply point yourself to sites like Luckyscent, FragranceNet, and Scent Split, which have terrifically vast offerings of samples for a few bucks, from niche to high-end.
Fragrance Subscriptions: We’ve all been stopped in our tracks by a terrific fragrance and just had to ask about it, right? This is why scent subscription programs are still thriving: the element of surprise. If you don’t mind spending a small amount of money to receive different small-volume vials at regular intervals, then you can try all kinds of options. You can usually stop at any point, whether you’ve accumulated too many options or have settled on one you want to wear indefinitely. (Chances are they also have a full-size option to buy at a subscriber-discounted cost.) Our favorites are Luxury Scent Box and Scentbird.
Browse Fragrance Community Sites
The best resources for online fragrance shopping are the large web communities of perfume geniuses. This is where your “educated guess” can really start to take shape. Let’s say you’ve heard about a particular scent and want to see what the best-trained noses are saying about it.
This is where you click over to sites like Fragrantica, Parfumo, and Base Notes. They are like IMDb, Facebook, Reddit, and Wikipedia for fragrances, all rolled into one. And that’s to your benefit and detriment: You might have found an exceptional scent—it’s got 4.5 stars on Sephora or Luckyscent—but the Fragrantica community scores the scent as a 3.6. Perhaps because it smells too similar to some other fragrance from a decade ago, or because some expertly sharp nose thinks the myrrh notes are too heavy, or they wished it contained cedarwood instead of sandalwood. This is where you have to step back and question whether or not these folks are grading on a much higher curve than concerns you. (Yes, they are.) But: Their expertise is valuable, in that it might point you to a similar scent that costs less and lasts longer, or has a great story behind it.
On these fragrance database sites, you can browse scents by notes, families, brands, and so forth—the discovery and knowledge is endless. You can also learn how long the scents will likely last, how fairly priced they are, which time of year or time of day is ideal for each scent, as well as which notes weigh most prominently. I find this way more helpful than trusting the brand’s own marketing for a scent, because you want to know what a scent is in actualityand how others will perceive it—and not its marketing campaign.
It’s also worth checking reviews at the big retailers, who represent a less informed but more easily satisfied customer, your Amazons, Sephoras, Nordstroms—and I think that person speaks for most of us.
When you know what you want, I suggest starting with the smallest “full size” version of a fragrance. Even if it’s a better value to buy the big bottle, sampling a fragrance for a day or three is much different from wearing it months on end. And it might have diminishing returns after continued wear, or maybe it simply isn’t the scent you thought it to be based on reviews or first impressions.
Secondly, maybe you do like the scent, but only for a specific season or occasion. The smaller size can go a long way if you don’t wear it continuously, and it’s better to buy newer, fresher bottles every year or two than to sit on the same large bottle for years on end. Fragrance can transform with age—for better or for worse—so to ensure that you get what you paid for, start small, until you know you need the larger bottle.