How to Choose the Right Perfume

When you think of the word “wardrobe,” clothing is probably the first thing that comes to mind. However, there’s a case to be made for a scent wardrobe. Rather than having one go-to signature perfume—which, let’s be honest, can get boring after a while—a scent wardrobe is a collection of fragrances you pull from depending on your mood, the weather outside, or the occasion. “Fragrance is also a form of self-expression, so you should pick a scent that feels uniquely you or reflects even how you wish to feel that day,” says Victoria Christian, brand ambassador of Clive Christian. “It is another way of changing styles, and it can also renew your mood,” says Julian Bedel, founder of Fueguia 1833.

But where does one begin when building out their fragrance collection? Your favorite perfumes are a great place to start, says Christian. “If you know you are attracted to a fresher style scent, try experimenting with perfumes that capture this essence, combined with other notes, such as citrus florals or citrus wood.” Bedel also suggests starting with scents you’re drawn to and building upon that, testing out scents from other fragrance families. Don’t be nervous to step outside your comfort zone though: “Whilst it is great to wear fragrance styles you are comfortable with and feel uniquely you, don’t be afraid to try something new,” Christian.

Below, Christian and Bedel explain common fragrance terms and break down each of the fragrance families to help you build out a scent wardrobe.

Fragrance Glossary

  • Notes: The notes—top, middle, and base—are the different ingredients, or scents, you smell over time. They “signify the journey of a fragrance on the skin,” says Christian. The top notes create a first impression of a scent, the middle notes emerge after an hour or two, and the base notes reveal themselves during the final hours of wear.
  • Fragrance family: These are fragrances with similar key notes. There are five in total: floral, fresh, amber, woody, and gourmand.
  • Dry down: The scent that lingers on your skin when the perfume’s notes merge with your body’s natural oils.
  • Accords: When different notes are paired together to create a new scent, it’s called an accord.
  • Concentration: This is the ratio of perfume to alcohol (the latter helps diffuse a scent). Eau de parfums have more perfume and are more intense; eau de toilettes have less and are lighter.

Floral Fragrances

These perfumes are classic and diverse—common notes used in this category include refreshing jasmine, heady tuberose, powdery lily of the valley, or fresh and sweet freesia, says Christian. Floral fragrances are great year-round, she adds, but they’re especially suitable for a bright spring or summer day.

Fresh Fragrances

“Fresh fragrances cover citrus, green, and aquatic scents,” says Christian, and common notes include lavender, lemon, grapefruit, lime, orange, bergamot, and rosemary. “They are the epitome of summer,” says Bedel. “They’re very fresh and uplifting scents that are ideal for hot and humid days.”

Amber Fragrances

“Amber itself is typically an accord made from leathery labdanum, sweet benzoin, and rum-like vanilla,” says Christian. “Other ingredients in this opulent category can be warm spices, such as pepper or nutmeg, or almost edible notes such as tonka.” Because of the cloying nature of amber scents, these warm fragrances are ideal for crisp fall and winter days. They are also great to spritz on if you’re wearing a cashmere or wool sweater, adds Christian. “The perfume will cling to the natural fibers to fully immerse you in the scent.”

Woody Fragrances

“Woody perfumes can be anything from aromatic to deep to smoky,” says Christian. Common notes include woods like sandalwood or cedar, musky patchouli, and earthy vetiver. “Woody fragrances have a greater depth which complements colder days and has a bolder scent direction,” says Christian. The depth of woody fragrances also means they sit closer to your skin, adding a feeling of intimacy, says Bedel.

Gourmand Fragrances

Winter is the perfect season for gourmand perfumes, says Bedel. The notes in these fragrances are usually sweet and warm, he adds. Think cocoa, vanilla, hazelnut, and coffee.