Online Perfume Shopping Is Hard—Read This, and You’ll 100% Choose the Right One

Ah, online perfume shopping—a topic that sparks much debate. Some would argue it simply can’t be done, while others swear by it and have fully mastered the art of selecting the perfect scent straight from their sofa. What camp do I fall into? Well, I would say it’s the latter but only because I had help.

Whether you love a deeply floral aroma or something fresh that captures the essence of a vacation in a bottle, you can learn to select a fragrance online with the right expert advice. In this case, I turned to Chandler Burr, former scent critic for The New York Times, author, and founder of the Department of Olfactory Art at the Museum of Arts. I think it’s safe to say he’s more than qualified to give advice on the matter. If you’re ready to dive into the (seemingly) mysterious world of online perfume shopping, keep reading for Burr’s guide below.

“Buying a scent online is arguably better than buying it in a store and for multiple reasons,” says Burr. “In both cases, you can see the packaging, bottle, font the brand chose—and really, who gives a damn? You don’t wear the packaging. The advantage of buying online is that you can read in quiet, sitting down, about the scent. You can read everything from the marketing copy to buyers’ comments, the history of the brand, and (for the hard-core perfume buyers) who the perfumers are. [Perfumers like] Maurice Roucel, Caroline Sabas, and Alberto Morillas each have very different résumés and strengths. It just allows you to know more.

“It’s also easier to try on the fragrances because you can order samples—and you should (usually) order samples. Blind buys are rolling the dice, and good online perfume sites sell samples for next to nothing and or include them for free when you buy a bottle of something you already know [and love]. You can get the perfumes delivered to you, try them on at your leisure, in an airspace that isn’t inflected with the smells of makeup, other customers’ fragrances, and the scent of the street.”

Points well made in favour of online perfume shopping. Anything that allows me to shop from the comfort of my own home always bodes well with me, but there are also a few other pitfalls Burr says to avoid. “One thing to never do [is] select a perfume by its list of raw materials. You could see two cakes with bitter chocolate, hazelnuts, and charred vanilla bean. If I’m making one and master pastry chef Della Gossett the other, you should choose hers 100% of the time. The perfume has tuberose and orange flower? This means nothing. It’s all in the execution. And ordering a tester with a click will give you the answer.”

Lastly, if you’re still hung up on gender marketing when it comes to selecting the right fragrance for you, Burr says to let that go. “Online, no one cares if you’re a man, woman, or something else. You can easily ignore the marketing that tells you which gender a fragrance is ‘for.’ Fragrances are for everyone. The first rule of perfume buying is ignore the gendering. Buying online makes that effortless.”

Armed with these tips, you can now confidently select the right fragrance for you via the internet. To give you a head start, read on below and shop Burr’s all-time favourite scents and a few other beauty-editor picks.

Key notes: orange, grapefruit, Flint, woody notes, oakmoss, benzoin. A classic warm and woody aroma, this scent contains notes of orange, grapefruit, and oakmoss.

Key notes: rose, red fruits, cinnamon, benzoin, incense, patchouli, sandalwood, castoreum. Portrait of a Lady is beloved by so many editors. Its woody, crisp, fruity scent is a total classic and well worthy of anyone’s signature fragrance title. 

Key notes: Sicilian lemon, apple, cedar, bellflower, bamboo, jasmine, white rose; base notes are cedar, musk, and amber. This fragrance captures a South Italian summer in a bottle. Although it’s labeled as a fragrance for women, Burr thinks that every man should own a bottle.

Key notes: white lily, violet leaves, green accents, black lilac, white peony, karo-karounde blossoms, Baie rose, pink rose, jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli. If you love a floral-heavy scent, this one’s for you. It’s a clean, uplifting aroma that contains a delicate blend of white lily, violet leaves, pink rose, and sandalwood.

Key notes: Roman chamomile, cistus labdanum, elemi, incense, vanilla, patchouli, cedarwood, palisander, ambrette seeds. With opening notes of Roman chamomile combined with vanilla and cedarwood, this scent perfectly captures the essence of Avignon, France.

Key notes: basil, Sicilian orange, lime, bergamot, petitgrain, lemon, green notes, hedione, jasmine, rose, patchouli. Inspired by the country landscape along the coast of Normandy, this warm, radiant fragrance boasts notes of lemon, jasmine, and Sicilian orange.

Key notes: rhubarb, cardamom, pink peppercorn, rose petals, Turkish rose absolute, raspberry blossom. There’s something a little unexpected about this fragrance, and I have to say that I love it. It’s not your average rose perfume, as it contains sharper notes like rhubarb with a dash of pink peppercorn and raspberry blossom thrown in.

Key notes: black coffee, white flowers, vanilla. This fragrance is the perfect mix of heady, sweet, and soft. It’s a fan favourite with almost a perfect five-star review, and let’s just say I’m a sucker for anything with coffee notes in it.

Key notes: ylang-ylang, Tahitian tiare, ambergris. This is another fragrance my fellow Who What Wear editors count as a favourite. It perfectly captures the scent of sun-kissed skin and tropical flowers on a sunny day.

Key notes: ylang-ylang, blackcurrant leaf, pink peppercorn. Diptyque’s light and crisp scent, Eau Moheli, brings to mind a Parisian orchard of fresh fruit. Yes, that’s super specific, but I have to say it’s one of my most-worn perfumes and always transports me somewhere in that realm when I catch a whiff of it.

Key notes: bergamot, green leaf, pear stem, fig, coconut milk, iris, blond woods, tonka bean, moss. Another well-balanced fragrance I wear on repeat. It’s the notes of pear stem, coconut milk, and iris that do it for me.

Key notes: soap bubble accord, pink pepper, bergamot, rose superessence, lavender, jasmine, coconut, patchouli, white musk. I’m a serious bath enthusiast, so that should already explain why I love this scent so much. My fellow editors agree with me on this one, too. 

Next up, trust me, beauty editors don’t want you to know about these 24 perfumes. 

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