How to Find the Right Perfume Scent

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The perfect finish for that great outfit and a special occasion is the right perfume. Learning a little perfume language and taking the time for try-ons will complement your overall look as little else can. Whether you are looking for a daily dab-on or something to light up your night, remember that choosing the right perfume is worth a little effort. This is a very personal choice, both in terms of your confidence and your body chemistry. One of the mysteries of perfume is how differently it can smell on different people—that's chemistry. Find a perfume you love as an expression of who you are, and watch the reactions—that's another kind of chemistry! Figuring out your own personal statement in perfume is fun and will produce just the reactions you want.

Things You'll Need

  • Perfume store or perfume department
  • Soap and water

Learn the terms perfumers use to describe the qualities of scents. This will help you communicate with sales people trying to help you and decode descriptions on packages. Learning basic descriptions also gets you out of the frustrating this-is-not-quite-right-but-I-don't-know-why puzzle. Perfumers customarily describe their products in terms of ingredients: citrus, floral, spicy, woodsy and musk. While almost all perfumes are a mixture of ingredients, usually one of these "tones" predominates. The ingredient list is also arranged in terms of light-to-heavy: a citrusy or single-floral scent is likely to seem lighter and perhaps more suited to daily wear than a heavier woodsy, musky scent. There are, of course, exceptions: jasmine, while a flower, tends to have a heavier effect than lilac or lily-of-the-valley, and some woodsy, spicy scents give a light non-girly effect that complements your polished business look.

Start your search at home. This will help you test out your taste in scents and also determine what others will notice after you have worn a perfume for a few hours. Put a single dab of perfume at the crook of your elbow—this keeps you from washing it off as you do your daily chores. Sniff. Wait a few hours and sniff again. Notice how well it wears. It may have faded or it may smell very differently from the way it did when you applied it—that's your body chemistry at work. Wash the spot off with soap and water and go on to the next. You should be able to sort your birthday or Christmas collection into like/love, ho-hum and what-was-I-thinking. And you've learned what you need to know when you go shopping.

Wear short sleeves to make the most of your shopping trip—we're maximizing test-areas. This gives you four try-on patches—both elbow-crooks and both wrists. Trying perfume on your neck or the backs of your hands will just confuse your nose, so you have room to try four scents at a time. For more research, you need time to wash off the four try-ons and start again. If you have sales help, speak the language—it will narrow your search. You can also help your sales person by saying what you like but what you don't like about it—X smells great, but it fades really fast on your skin; Y starts out wonderfully complex but gets stale and cardboardy after an hour or two. Informed sales help will have alternatives for you to try.

Devote one shopping trip to compete experiments, if you can find the time. Find out what those fabulous scents you're read about really smell like on you. Too expensive, perhaps, for daily wear, or they just don't fit with who you are—but now's the time to find out. The worst case: a little wasted time, a little soap and water, and the chance to say, "I just can't wear XYZ." The best case: you'll find something new that adds to your wardrobe of scents—what a happy surprise.

Remember that the ultimate judge of perfume is you. You don't have to know everything about how it works—just how it works for you. The right perfume scent for you is the one that makes you feel confident and happy about who you are. Confidence, it turns out, smells just perfect, and those around you will notice in a great way.

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