In discussing how to buy perfume with some of my close girlfriends, I have discovered that this idea is about as clear as mud with most American consumers, from a young woman looking for her first scent to an adoring husband searching for a gift for his wife. My first piece of advice is to never, ever buy within minutes of approaching the counter. Sales representatives would like you to think that you can make a decision quickly if you like something. But it is a shame to the art of perfume to do this - mostly because the true character of the scent does not shine until it has dried down and that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. The best thing to do is ask for a spritz on your skin or on a card and walk away to let the scent develop. If you still like it within the course of three to four hours, a purchase is more justifiable.
That leads me to another point, test on your skin as often as possible. Actually, test as many as possible! Testing and sampling is extremely important. It is a rare occasion that I have been shopping for perfume and liked the first one I tried. Sometimes it takes days or multiple shopping trips for me to find a scent I truly love. Again, you will receive some resistance from sales representatives in doing this but it truly is the right thing to do. Stores I have found friendly to testing include Barney's New York, Bergdorf Goodman, CosBar Scottsdale, Essentials and More Scottsdale, Fred Segal Apothia, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue and Takashimaya New York. (If I have missed any, forgive me. These are the stores that stand out to my knowlege!) I am certain there are a smattering of knowledgeable sales staff at other stores, but for the most part my perfume testing and shopping experiences at stores like Macy's or Dillard's has been marginal at best. Additionally, the latter rarely have truly remarkable fragrances available in their offerings. What they do have are an abundance of fragrances driven by marketing that lack depth and beauty. (There are exceptions, but for the most part I never shop there.) Perhaps the best places to shop are tiny boutiques like Scent Bar in Los Angeles (for online purchase information please read my perfume tip on online fragrance shopping here.) Oh how I wish there were a place like Scent Bar where I live. I have often thought of opening a store in my town like it to satisfy my cravings for truly fantastic fragrances. But I digress ...
Overall, the more you test, the more you discover what you truly like. Research the fragrances you like online before or after testing and find commonalities between the scents. Are there certain notes you are drawn to? Certain houses? Basenotes.net offers a wonderful search option allowing you to type in notes to find fragrances containing them, giving you many options to test. Read reviews on the fragrance blogs I recommend. Additionally, never, ever succumb to the idea from a fragrance model that a certain fragrance "fits you" and buy the fragrance on the spot. Figure it out for yourself, test it for a few hours, keep sampling others and you cannot go wrong.
In purchasing a scent, remember that a full bottle of fragrance is a lot of fragrance. It is much easier to swallow that fact when you have found love. I am a huge fan of buying decants online, because I rarely use up a whole bottle of fragrance. (I rarely wear the same fragrance every day.) The beauty in this is getting a smaller amount of a scent you have recently discovered you like. If you empty the decant and still like it, a full bottle purchase is certainly justified. There are several places to buy decants and my favorite is Theperfumedcourt.com. I know most of the ladies involved in this site. They are second to none in customer service and maintaining a collection of the most gorgeous fragrances on the planet.
I will leave you with a final thought. The fragrance industry is largely driven by marketing these days. The bulk of the cost of perfume is in the packaging, so sales associates make it a point to carry around the bottles and tempt you to purchase quickly. I encourage you to pay more attention to what is inside the bottle. A heavily marketed fragrance is more likely to be crap. A more quiet, obscure and difficult to find fragrance is more likely to be worth investigating, in my experience. Do some research, test and test again and pay attention to how you feel when you wear the scent. If you are able to check all of these boxes with positive thought, only then is pulling out your wallet in order.