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A Fragrance Guide for Men and Women

BY: REUBEN WESTMAAS | 2.24.2017 |

woman holding a perfume bottle and smelling her wrist

The thing about fragrances is that they’re very situational—a fancy scent might make a night on the town unforgettable, but might also make you the least popular person in the office. Before you dive into the hundreds of options available, take a look at our fragrance guide for a few helpful hints.

We’ll break down the concept of scent notes, identify the different types of fragrances, and suggest popular fragrances for men and women based on personality and purpose. By the end, you’ll be able to distinguish between a casual perfume suitable for lazy Saturdays and an arresting eau de toilette for date night.

Fragrances for Women | Fragrances for Men

Composition of a Fragrance

A complete fragrance is made up of individual scent notes. Like a symphony, the final product is not merely the sum of its notes, but the way those notes interact with each other. Scent notes fall into one of three categories:

  • Top notes: what you smell immediately. Top notes are often sharp and distinct, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to an hour after application.
  • Heart notes: the lingering, most noticeable, and most characteristic notes. Hearts are often smoother and mellower than the top, and generally last four to six hours.
  • Base notes: often warm and slightly sensual (think woods, amber, vanilla, and musk), base notes come to the fore slowly, possibly many hours after the fragrance is applied.

The makeup of these categories determines how a fragrance is described. If it’s characterized as “green,” leafy notes like clary sage or juniper are taking the leading top or heart notes. This chart gives a more detailed look at the most common fragrance note descriptors.

Fragrance Wheel scent notes

The ten most common fragrance families and their representative notes.

Besides the individual notes of a fragrance, the other thing to take into account is the fragrance’s intensity. Different formulations will have a dramatic effect on the concentration and longevity of the scent, which in turn affects how to apply it properly.

  • Perfume (or Parfum): The most intense fragrance, perfumes are 20–30% essential oils and can last up to 8 hours.
  • Eau de Parfum: Slightly less concentrated than perfume, eaux de parfum are 15–20% aromatic compounds and might be a good choice for a casual perfume.
  • Eau de Toilette: Often used in fragrances for men, these are composed of about 5–15% fragrant oils and aren’t as intense as eau de parfum.
  • Eau de Cologne: Cologne is the mildest of the most common fragrances, made up of only about 2–4% oil.

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For the Office

Classic Florals

male and female coworkers looking at computer screen

These classic notes are simple and unobtrusive to most noses, especially roses and white florals, making them an understated option in cramped meeting rooms and close desks.

RECOMMENDED SCENT NOTES POPULAR FRAGRANCES
Jasmine Thierry Mugler Alien
Rose Bvlgari Rose Essentielle
Peony Miss Dior Cherie Blooming Bouquet
Lily of the Valley Philosophy Living Grace

For Casual Wear

Fruity-Sweet or Fruity Gourmand

couple in the park laying close on blanket

The sweetness and soft base give off a laidback and light vibe that is noticeable, but not too noticeable—ideal in an everyday fragrance.

RECOMMENDED SCENT NOTES POPULAR FRAGRANCES
Vanilla Vera Wang Princess 
Caramel/Sugar Juicy Couture Viva la Juicy
Apples DKNY Be Delicious
Berries Marc Jacobs Dot
Peaches Gucci Guilty

For a Night Out

Woodsy-Musky

couple sitting close in a restaurant on a date

Just like evening wear, an evening fragrance for women will likely have that little extra something over a daytime option. Woodsy notes give perfumes depth and smoothness, while musks and other animalics add a rich and romantic sensuality.

RECOMMENDED SCENT NOTES POPULAR FRAGRANCES
White musk Jovan White Musk
Sandalwood Yves Saint Laurent L'homme
Amber Michael Kors Sexy Amber
Cedar Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue
Patchouli Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb
Dark florals or fruits Calvin Klein Euphoria

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For the Office

Greens or Citruses

group of coworkers in a small room brainstorming

The bright, fresh scents of greens and citruses are best if you’re going to be in a professional environment, surrounded by your peers—remember not to overdo it.

RECOMMENDED SCENT NOTES POPULAR FRAGRANCES
Citruses: orange, bergamot, lemon Versace Man Eau Fraiche
Greens: green tea, grass, tobacco Nautica Voyage

For Casual Wear

Aquatics or Aromatics

couple going for a walk in the park

On the weekends, you can be more adventurous with your choices: aquatics have a sporty quality that is sharp and refreshing, and the spicy aromatics add masculinity and character without being too forward.

RECOMMENDED SCENT NOTES POPULAR FRAGRANCES
Aromatics: ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male
Aquatics: marine notes, water, salt, seaweed Acqua di Gio by Giorgio Armani

For a Night Out

Woodsy-Spicy or Animalic

well-dressed man at a party speaking to someone off screen

Whether you’re going on a first date or a date night with your S.O., now is the time to wear the strongest, most masculine fragrances. Spices and woods are both popular because they add depth, while animalics are nuanced but almost universally appealing.

RECOMMENDED SCENT NOTES POPULAR FRAGRANCES
Woodsy: cedar, sage, gin Issey Miyake L'eau d'Issey Pour Homme
Spicy: pepper F Black by Salvatore Ferragamo
Animalic: musk, amber, leather Burberry London for Men

Related Guides

How to Apply PerfumeHow to Apply Perfume for Maximum Effect

Too much and you'll clear the room. Too little and you've wasted a spritz. Hit the sweet spot with our guide on where and how to apply perfume.

Guide Staff Writer
BY: Reuben Westmaas Guide Staff Writer