The scent of a woman — shopping tips for perfume virgins

I’ve never been a perfume gal. In fact, I’ve never bought perfume at all.

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I’ve never been a perfume gal. In fact, I’ve never bought perfume at all.

I’m very picky about scents — I believe that some just do not work on me. But I do like smelling pretty. I buy shampoo based on scent. I buy conditioner based on scent. I buy lotion based on scent. I even buy deodorant based on scent.

But perfume is tricky because I find most fragrances overwhelming. I remember one boyfriend buying me perfume. It reminded me of his mother; I never wore it. Sometimes, I will be at Shoppers Drug Mart or Holt Renfrew and I’ll try on a scent. Then I’ll spend the rest of the day wishing I could shower it off, either because I put too much on or because I just hate the way it smells.

I envy women who have their own signature perfume — I know women who have been wearing the same scent for years. God forbid if they can’t find their perfume or it gets discontinued. I have friends who fly to pick up their favourite perfume at Cartier in New York.

Another friend recently had a bad perfume experience while shopping for clothes when a stranger said to her, rudely, “Your perfume is so strong.” (My friend’s perfume is not too strong.) I couldn’t imagine having that happen to me!

Also, perfume is slightly traumatic to me. One of my first bosses wore very heady perfume. It wasn’t a bad scent, but it was strong. I’d always feel a kick in my gut when I could smell her perfume in the office elevator because I knew she had arrived before me, and that made me feel like a bad employee. Now, whenever I smell that scent on a passing stranger, it reminds me of being late for work.

I want a perfume now because I worry that my boyfriend is going to buy me one that I’ll hate, and then I’ll have to wear it, but I do want to smell pretty for him. I need help!

I got advice on finding a signature scent from Ashlee Firsten, who co-founded Aromachology, where people can make custom fragrances.

1. Keep an open mind: A lot of women, she says, don’t know which kind of scent they like. I’m not alone. “I tell people to be open minded and not to judge a perfume by the name of a scent.” And she does say that what smells beautiful on one person may smell like garbage on another. One woman, for example, loved the smell of their citrus scents. “But when she tried it on, she smelled like trash. I put in on and it smells fine on me, so you never know.”

2. Try it on your skin: She says you can’t rely on smelling a scent on a piece of paper. “There is no correlation to how it’s going to smell on you. It drives me crazy when women think this.”

3. Think baking: Food-based scents like vanilla or chocolate-caramel are a current scent trend. “My partner wears the chocolate-caramel and it smells amazing on her.”

4. Give it some time: She advises to always wait at least eight to ten minutes, if not longer, after trying a perfume on to see how it will smell. “It takes some time to absorb into your skin and then that’s how it will smell. I tell people to try some on, then walk around the mall for half an hour and come back and see if they like the smell.” It’s also important, she says, to get out of the environment you’re trying the perfume on in — especially in a store that only features perfumes, where other scents can get in the way. “It’s an investment, so you don’t want to waste your money if you’re not going to like the scent after wearing it for only half a day.”

5. Think personality when gifting scents: When it comes to men buying perfume, she always asks questions about the woman who will be wearing the scent. “I ask how they dress, and what type of personality she has. Is she spontaneous? Is she traditional? This is a great way of finding a scent they will love. Usually people with softer personalities like softer scents. People with stronger personalities like stronger scents. There’s a definite correlation that works.”

6. Think about your office environment: She also says to keep in mind where you work. “If you work in the fashion industry, then you don’t have to be as safe with your scents as you do if you work in a small office.”

7. Apply it properly: The best time to put on perfume is right after you take a shower. “You should put it on while the body is still moist.” The main areas to cover are the neck, chest and wrists. “Anywhere where there is a pulse point,” she says.

8. Prepare for attention: And, yes, perfume does turn guys on. “If you find the right perfume you will be amazed at the response. I’ve gotten compliments from taxi drivers when I get into cabs. People often stop me to compliment me on my scent.”

9. Get emotional: Perfume can be tricky because, she agrees, we do associate scents with experiences. “If you had a horrible time at camp, you’re not going to like a rustic scent.”

Firsten taught me so much that I now feel comfortable buying a scent and knowing when to put it on. I can’t wait for the day when a taxi driver compliments me on my perfume. (Or my guy. Whatever comes first!)

Follow me at and @rebeccaeckler