Choosing a perfume can be daunting – scents are personal and smell different from person to person. Understanding the range of scents and how they’re interpreted can help you find one that works for your personality and lifestyle.

The scientific community remains divided on how our sense of smell develops. Some believe we’re born with a predisposition towards loving and hating different scents. But most evidence points to the fact that our sense of smell develops over time, based on early associations with a variety of odors. For example, if your first encounter with grass was pleasurable, you may grow to love that smell. One thing is certain: our sense of smell is closely tied to our memory and emotions.

Perfume classification is constantly evolving,. Here are common perfume categories and the connotations they evoke:

  • Floral – Varieties of flowers that evoke a feminine, girly feel
  • Green or Woody – Scents like fresh grass, trees, and vegetables that remind you of being outdoors
  • Citrus – Aromas like lemon and grapefruit that give off a clean, spring-like feel
  • Fruity – Includes berry, tropical, and non-citrus fruits that evoke sweet, summery images
  • Oceanic – Fresh, aquatic scents that seem androgynous and clean
  • Gourmand – Notes of chocolate, vanilla, and sweet foods that make you seem delectable
  • Oriental – Musky notes that seem exotic and exciting

Perfumes have three notes. The top note hits your nose when you first apply it and then evaporates quickly. The mellower middle note rises in a few minutes, and then fades to reveal the base note. While this base note may take an hour or more to surface, pay closest attention to it because this is what your perfume will smell like most of the time.

Never buy a perfume based on your first impression.  Because perfumes combine with the oils in your skin to create the aroma, a scent that smells great on your friend may do the opposite on you. After applying the sample to your wrist, leave it on for at least a day to see how the scent develops.

The one thing that too much perfume will say about you is that you stink. Literally. So be sure to apply it with a light hand (generally no more than 3 drops), and know that the aroma will intensify with heat, exertion, and in small spaces. Keep in mind that your perfume choosing ability is only as good as your sense of smell, so ask a friend for help.


The American Society of Perfumers

Sense of Smell Institute

The International Fragrance Association