Fragrances: On trying before you buy

Buying fragrances can be tricky. Even a scent that smells gorgeous on a friend won’t necessarily smell the same on you, because each person’s skin chemistry is different. And those little paper strips they give you to spray at the mall? Forget it. Nothing will really tell you how a fragrance smells on you without actually wearing it on your skin. However, there are ways to try a fragrance at home, outside the jumble of smells that is the fragrance counter, and see how it dries down on your skin before making a purchase.

The first option, obviously, is to see if your sales rep has a sample you can take home with you. The best retail store for this, by far, is Nordstrom. They have a generous sample policy, and their customer service is fabulous.  The one in Charlotte actually leaves out little vials that you can fill yourself. Their selection runs heavy on high-end niche scents, though, so if that’s out of your price range, your options there may be a bit limited. Second choice retailer would be Sephora. While they don’t load you up on samples the way Nordstrom does, they’ll give you a sample or two if you’re debating between two  or three fragrances, and they give you a selection of samples to choose from when you’re ordering online. (And I cannot say enough good things about fragrance shopping with Ryan at the Sephora at Northlake Mall. Seriously, if you’re local, go talk to him.) Sephora also has sampler kits available. The way that works is that you buy the sampler, and it has 10-12 different fragrance samples and a voucher for a full bottle of the one you choose. If you’re going to do this more than once, be sure to read the fine print, because sometimes there will be overlap in the samples included in different sets, and you may end up with duplicates of fragrances you don’t particularly like.

Depending on what scents you’d like to try, sometimes the manufacturer will send samples to you. I’ve gotten lovely samples from Hermes, where I got the samples I’d asked for plus one I’d never heard of but ended up really loving, and from Nest, which was amazing–they sent me samples of their whole line! (And this was before I had the blog, so I know it wasn’t just to get a plug here.)

If there are specific scents you’re wanting to try, ordering samples is an option, too. If you’re wanting to try out expensive niche fragrances, then check out LuckyScent. For a more diverse collection, websites like Surrender to Chance and The Perfumed Court have a broad selection to pick from. And there are always samples to be had on eBay.

If you’re going to order from Yves Rocher, they don’t sell sample vials (and the free samples that come with your order will probably be those awful damp towelette things–not worth bothering!), but their “travel size” fragrance minis, at $5 for a 7.5ml/0.25oz size, are a great way to try out their scents, and cheaper than some of the 1ml samples from other sites (depending on what it is, of course). I’m still angry with Yves Rocher for discontinuing Iris Noir, though. I’m a sucker for a good iris scent, especially one that doesn’t smell too soapy.

I’ve made the mistake of buying fragrances untested before, and I know better, but I’ll probably do it again at some point. These days, though, who can afford it? Especially since it’s so easy to try them out first.


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