The Essential Guide to Buying Fragrance for Her

Get it right and you’re the king of Christmas.

Buying a fragrance for your partner is daunting. How you choose to smell is so personal and intimate that deciding that for your girlfriend feels presumptuous, like ordering for her in a restaurant. 

But the reasons that make fragrance tough to buy are the same reasons that make it a great gift. It’s because it’s so intimate and personal that if you get it right, you’re the king of Christmas. There aren’t many gifts more meaningful than a fragrance you want to wear for the rest of your life. 

Now we’re going to be honest with youif you leave the house right now, pop down to a department store perfume counter, and buy what you like, she’s going to hate it. Trust us, we learned the hard way. Instead, you need to read this guide, follow the steps, and buy the best gift you’ve ever given.

Step 1: Espionage 

The first step in buying her the right fragrance is working out what she already likes. You can do this is one of two ways. The first is totally artlessjust ask her which one of her perfumes she likes the most. However, she’s going to see right through any direct questions this close to Christmas and a Christmas present that isn’t a surprise is barely a Christmas present at all. 

Instead, we recommend you have a surreptitious root around her cabinets in the dead of night. What you’re looking for is the perfume bottle that has the least in it. This is the safest way to find out if she loves something. Nobody in their right mind uses that much of a perfume they hate. 


Now you’re faced with two choices. The coward's way out would be to buy another bottle of that same perfume. Yes, we know that she’ll like it. But she’s hardly going to be blown away. Instead, we’re going to hit the books to make sure you get her something truly special.

Gayson & Connery In 'Dr. No'

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Step 2: Research 

It’s time to take a step away from her cupboards and learn a little bit about fragrances. Although there are a bewildering number of fragrances you can buy, they all basically fall into one of seven categories: 

Floral – The most popular kind of women’s fragrance. You don’t have to be a fragrance nut to work out what this smells like. It’s flowers. 

Fresh – This is the citrus family of smells. Comprised of lemon, orange, bergamot, grapefruit, and the like, they’re clean and sunny. 

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Oriental – Made up of ingredients like sandalwood, vanilla, and amber, ‘Orientals’ are inspired by Indian and Arabic scents. They tend to be musky and more geared towards wearing on a night out. 

Fougere – Also known as an ‘aromatic,’ these scents often feature lavender, vetiver, oakmoss, and other herby notes, and generally have a green, almost grassy smell. They’re traditionally masculine but there are famous women’s fougeres as well. 

Woody – No prizes for guessing what this family of scents smells like. 

Chypre – Feminine, sophisticated, complicated, and rare, Chypres are the hardest fragrance to pin down. They marry a woody, warm and dry smell with elements of the other fragrance families. 

Gourmand – Caramel, chocolate, sweets, toffeesmells in this family are sweet and cakey. 

The fragrance your partner already loves is going to be from one of the families above, or a combination of two of them. Thankfully, you don’t need to smell it to work out which one of the seven is ityou can just Google it.

High Society

IMAGE: Getty Images Silver Screen Collection

Step 3: Buying 

This is the fun part. You already know what your partner loves, now you can go out and find an even better version of it.

This can be pretty easily achieved from the comfort of your own front room by using a website like the excellent Fragrantica or Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s book Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. Both of these sources will have lists of what reviewers think are the absolute best examples of fragrances in that category. You already know your partner likes floral fragrancesnow you can buy her the best one on the market. 

But, if you’d like to take a more hands-on approach, then head to your nearest department store. Armed with the information you know, you can get the assistants there to show you a selection of their favorite scents from that family. Remember that you can only smell around five to 10 fragrances accurately before you go ‘nose blind’ so be specific about what you’re after.

Yuletide Smooch

IMAGE: Getty Images Lambert

Out of these, you are sure to find something your partner will adoreafter all, it’s just going to be a better, fancier version of something she already loves.

This story originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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