How to Buy Perfume for a Woman
Like any gift, perfume is a good one if it's given with intent
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I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but perfume is a good gift.
As a perfume lover who has relatively little knowledge of the nuances of the fragrance world, this is, perhaps surprisingly, my hottest fragrance take. (Hotter, even, than my scalding declaration last year that cologne is canceled).
Why? Because in recent years, perfume has developed something of a bad rap as either a dated gifting cliché, an impersonal cop-out and/or an unnecessarily risky endeavor your average man is unlikely to pull off with much success.
These are all incorrect opinions. Any woman who likes and wears perfume (which is many of us) would love to receive a bottle of it as a gift. For any fragrance wearer, perfume nails the Three P’s of gifting that I just came up with: It’s practical, meaning it is a gift we will actually use, but it tends to be pricey, meaning we’d rather not buy it for ourselves, and it is also personal, because fragrance is a very intimate aspect of a person’s physical presence that often becomes deeply attached to their identity, and if you are the origin of that fragrance, you will then become associated with that intimate aspect of their identity, probably to the extent that when you inevitably break up they will have to stop wearing that perfume forever because it will just make them sad. (This is a subtweet at the high school boyfriend who ruined American Eagle’s now-discontinued ‘Crush’ perfume for me).
But because I don’t trust my own beliefs and opinions, I decided to consult a fragrance expert to confirm that I am correct and perfume is, in fact, a good gift.
Fortunately, she backed me up. “Perfume is a great gift because it’s so personal and playful,” says JT Siems, founder of Immortal Perfumes, a boutique perfumery known for the Dead Writers line of fragrances based on famed literary and historical figures.
While some of the more pervasive anti-perfume-gifting stereotypes center around the notion that perfume is either too lackluster or too overtly romantic to be a fitting gift for chic, modern couples, Siems points out that it can actually be a much more versatile gift than it often gets credit for.
“It can be a sexy gift if it’s meant to spice things up or it can be nurturing if it’s meant as self-care,” she says, adding that the key is to simply “think about the message you’re sending,” which would likely be different if the recipient were a woman you just started seeing than if she were your wife of ten years. Like any gift, then, perfume is always a good one as long as it’s given with intent.
If you’re worried about coming on too strong early in a relationship with an overtly sexy fragrance, Siems recommends going with a themed or indie scent related to something the intended recipient enjoys. That way the gift remains personal but is ultimately “more about the context of the perfume than a statement about sexuality.”
Of course, there are also certain logistical concerns that come into play when purchasing perfume for someone else — namely, how to make sure you pick something they’ll actually like.
Fortunately, according to Siems, the solution here is much less complicated than it may seem.
“This sounds so obvious, but just ask!” she says, adding that if you want to protect the element of surprise, there are more subtle ways to sniff out the info. “Just say something like, ‘Hey, what’s in that fragrance you wear, it smells so good!’ Your girlfriend will take it as a compliment and not necessarily think you’re going to run out and buy her some.”
And if you really aren’t adept in the art of subtlety? You have a nose for a reason, and Siems suggests using it to get an idea of what your girlfriend already likes and wears. You may just find you’re more aromatically perceptive than you think.
If, however, you find you’re actually less attuned to matters of olfactory nuance than you hoped, you can always seek professional help. Siems recommends paying a visit to fragrance boutiques like L.A.-based Luckyscent, which she calls “like wine tasting for perfumes.” Experts on staff can pull samples and make recommendations based on what you like and the information you share about your girlfriend’s tastes and personality.
However, Siems does caution that perfume reacts differently to individual body chemistry, “so how it smells in the bottle is not necessarily how it will smell on skin.”
Does this mean that you shouldn’t give perfume as a gift? Nope! The solution here is easy too. If you’re really worried about the unpredictability of scent, just put together a collection of sample-sized fragrances for your girlfriend to test out. “You can easily make the gift look pretty by wrapping, putting it in a nice bag, or making a little gift basket,” says Siems.
(And if that seems a little outside your realm of craftiness, Sephora actually offers a perfume sampler gift set, complete with thirteen fragrance samples and a voucher the recipient can later redeem for a full-sized bottle of her favorite one. You’re welcome.)
In conclusion, perfume is a good gift, you have no excuse not to buy it for your girlfriend, and if you don’t have a girlfriend, you can just buy some for me instead.
To help make this even easier for you, here are a few picks, some expert-recommended courtesy of Siems, and some regular-recommended by me, a woman who likes perfume.
For a Rich, Sensual Fragrance:
Byredo Mojave Ghost
Tom Ford Tobacco Oud
Calvin Klein Eternity Flame
Gucci Guilty Absolute
For Flirty, Feminine and Floral Vibes:
Marc Jacobs Daisy
Tory Burch Love Relentlessly
Yves Saint Laurent Mon Paris
For Men Who Can’t Make a Decision
Sephora Favorites Perfume Sampler Set
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