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Smellovision: How To Buy Perfume

By Amalah

(Eye makeup demos still coming! Still in the works! Mostly because I’ve gotten a ton of volunteers and exactly zero actual submissions. So…uh…get cracking, slackers! We want your eyeballs!)
Dear Amalah,
It is seriously time for some new perfume in my household. The last time I bought perfume, KISS was on tour and Valerie Bertinelli had just married Eddie Van Halen. Ok, I’m kidding. But seriously — need some perfume. No, I am not exceptionally smelly — I just think it’s nice. In small quantities so as not to overwhelm one’s husband/colleagues/neighbors.
Which brings me to the point. How do you shop for perfume without going home smelling like Aunt Gertrude? I can’t imagine that I’d actually spritz samplers all over myself all day long in order to find “the one.” Magazines are no help — they’re mostly all descriptions about types of perfume, but you can’t smell text.

jeanpaul.jpgWell, first and firstly and foremost, DON’T spritz yourself with the samplers. Spritz the testing papers instead. I don’t know if the handy-dandy little paper strips that Sephora offers are some kind of big post-KISS development in fragrance shopping, but any store that’s worthy of your fragrance dollar should offer them.
As does, oddly enough, and if you want to be all fancy and seem like an experience perfume shopper, you can call them mouillettes (moo-yets) like the French. Breadsticks! Which is sort of what they look like. I geddit.
So basically, go to the store, spritz some perfume on the strip, let it dry and then sniff. If you like it, label the strip and set it aside. If you don’t like it, toss it.
To reset your sense of smell in between all that sniffing, look around the store for a bowl of coffee beans. Sniff them, then wait a couple minutes before trying another perfume. (Your nose will hit perfume overload after about three scents otherwise, and that includes sniffing the tester bottle pre-spritz.) I suppose, if you’re really serious about fragrance shopping, you could bring your own baggie of coffee beans.
I’ve also heard eating a cracker will help, kind of like it does at a wine tasting.
Once you’ve identified (via the strips) a couple perfumes you like, narrow them down to two. Spritz the inside of each wrist with one fragrance (don’t rub!). If you absolutely must try more than two, you can also spritz the inside of your elbows, but I think the scents can still interfere with each other. Also: Aunt Gertrude City. Now smell the coffee beans one last time and LEAVE THE STORE.
burberry.jpgYou never, ever want to buy perfume during your testing session. Not only is your sense of smell guaranteed to be at least a little whacked out by the end, you need to test how the perfumes react with your body chemistry. Is it undetectable after 20 minutes? Is it too strong? Does it smell completely different than it does on the strip? Does it give you a headache? Does it make your significant other gag or…ahem…boom chicka bow?
You should be able to answer these questions after about three hours. You should still smell the fragrance, but it shouldn’t be wafting off your body in waves. So now you can go back to the store and buy with confidence, or go back to the breadsticks and sample a few more.
One final thingie: if you have any leftover perfume from your Van Halen groupie days, I hope you…uh…have thrown that out. Perfume is not wine and does not age well. Two years is about as long as you should hang onto it, since it will start to smell all alcohol-y after awhile. You can extend the shelf life by keeping in a dark place like a drawer, or even in the original box. Light is not perfume’s friend, no matter how pretty the bottle looks sitting on your dresser.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Heyladee

    August 15, 2007 at 10:57 am

    No tips here, just want to share/ention my favorite perfume. Angel by Thierry Mugler! Love, love, love it! I get stopped all them time by random people (not just creepy men, older ladies too!) to ask what I’m wearing. It’s a very sexy scent and a bit heavy, so a little goes a long ways. I’m not big on sweet scents, but it’s kind of a sweet vanilla base but spicy and musky at the same time. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

  • Alice_R

    August 15, 2007 at 11:11 am

    Oooh I love Angel by Thierry Mugler too, it’s my ‘fall and winter’ scent. It smells SO good.
    For spring and summer I prefer something a little lighter – I LOVE Missoni Missoni. You can get a sample at Sephora (that’s how I found it). It’s delicious and my husband can’t keep his paws off me when I’m wearing it.

  • jen

    August 15, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    some of my faves to add to the growing list: narciso rodriguez for her (romantic but not overly heavy), marc jacobs (feminine and pretty), philosophy amazing grace roll-on perfume oil (great for travel or keeping in your desk at work).

  • procrastamom

    August 15, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    Everytime you order online from Sephora they offer you three free samples with your order. I always, always pick the perfume ones because they send you a good-sized sample and you can try each of them at your leisure. Also, the Great Inventors of Teh Internet have not come up with a viable scratch and sniff tool to aid in my online shopping. I refuse to spend 50+ dollars on a bottle of something described as “a mellow vanilla scent wrapped in overtones of jasmine and bubblegum”. Need to smell first!
    (what I’m wearing right now is actually American Eagle’s original scent…much to my teenager’s chagrin…that is HER store and how dare I purchase something from there)

  • Anne Glamore

    August 15, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Okay, since you bugged me about it I’m going to throw away the Poison I put on everyday in the 80’s while I wore my fingerless black lace gloves and stilettos with fishnets AND lacy socks. But I’m going to play “Like A Virgin” and shed a few tears for my lost youth before I do it.

  • NewfieldBella

    August 15, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    I never buy a perfume without having a sample to use for a few days. Allergic reactions don’t always happen on the first try… sometimes they happen on the third or fourth try.

  • Keri G

    August 15, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    I get stopped about once a week by random people asking me what perfume I’m wearing. I wear Euphoria by Calvin Klein. It’s absolutely divine smelling…

  • wilddreemer

    August 15, 2007 at 9:00 pm

    a few i love bulgari Omnia…its kind of cinnamoni and guarunteed to get a bow chicka wowow…i prefer this in a lotion, its more subtle and lasts longer.
    i also looooove Giorgio Armani Emporio She mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

    • Susan

      November 4, 2014 at 7:38 pm

      I love that perfume too. Why did they discontinue it?

  • Genevieve

    August 16, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    Blvgari’s original perfume (the one they gave away when you purchased their fancy-ass jewelry) is a fantastic clean scent for those who aren’t a fan of most perfumes. I was surprised to find that I liked the perfumes put out by Marc Jacobs. I expected them to smell of irony or something.
    I admit a fondness for pink sugar. It is great for when I want to smell like sugar cookies.
    And if a girl is in the mood to throw down some cash for a more classic scent, she can never go wrong with Joy by Jean Patou or L’eau d’Issey.
    Sometimes Department stores (like Nordstrom) will host a perfume event. You can smell things and and also get a good deal on a number of perfumes.

  • SarahD

    August 16, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    I cannot possibly emphasize enough the importance of ultimately trying perfume on your own skin and then waiting for an hour or so before buying it. I have what I like to describe as “picky” skin. My skin chemistry eats most perfumes for dinner and then spits them out again smelling radically different and usually bad. I’ve amazed many people by showing them what my skin can do to a perfume. In my whole life I’ve only found 4 perfumes that smelled good on me and of those four only three still work for me (my skin chemistry changed sometime in my early 20’s and I lost the ability to wear Liz Claiborne, which up until that time smelled beyond divine on me, sob). Currently the only perfumes I can wear are Bvlgari (original), Caesar’s Woman, and Poison (sorry, but it works).

  • ratatattat

    August 21, 2007 at 12:58 am

    Word on the street is, coffee beans are basically worthless when it comes to refreshing your nose. I spent a few months last year as a (woefully bad) perfumer, it was standard protocol to use citrus to “reset”. I’d recommend taking a vegetable peeler to the outside of a lemon and hiding a ziploc bag full of zest in your purse. Bonus: the lemon will banish that stale mint/lipstick smell inside your bag.

  • MoMMY

    August 29, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    OMG SarahD, I thought I was the only one. It is almost impossible for me to find perfume that smells good on me. It was the bane of my existence in the 80’s that every perfume I tried mixed with my skin’s chemistry and ended up smelling awful. And now I’m allergic to most scents. GAH!
    I finally tried and stayed with jasmine oil. My skin doesn’t seem to mind it and the husband loves it.