Covering all Bases: Notes on Shopping Fragrance Online.

Allison Murphy
4 min readJan 5, 2022


How to choose your next signature fragrance scentlessly, but sensibly.

There are few purchases as intimate and personal as shopping for a fragrance. Finding a fragrance to invest in, and commit to is most often a series of inconclusive trials and errors. Although in-store testing is the most intuitive way to shop for fragrance, a spritz frenzy at the beauty counter usually ends in an indecisive huff, or one unsatisfying orgy of six scents that do little to inform our sixth sense’s confidence to buy. It seems sensible that most might prefer to shop privately; indulged in their imagination, tucked away from commissioned sales associates, and from the convenience of their couch.

Here are some tips on how to avoid the perfume clouds at the mall, and how to choose your silent siren sans a nose bleed.

To start, start with what you know. If you are looking to refresh a scent you already like, it helps to look at the ingredients present in your past signature scents. Compare the notes in your previous perfumes and your favorite fragrances. If you notice shared or repeat scents — say your last three perfumes all have rose and bergamot blends, you probably prefer floral profiles. Now take notice if these scents are base-notes. Base-notes characterize the lingering impression and message of the perfume. These notes will last the longest, and are often the legacy of the scent. Next, to slightly elevate what you already like, consider different themes you are intrigued by.

Imagine that you typically like the innocence in fresh florals, but want to add something sultry and sexy. You might look for a base note profile that blends a rose with a musky hint next, like a civet scent. With new themes in mind — sexy vs. romantic; refreshing vs. warming — you can now browse by “bases” to reinvent your scent. This is a reliable method to keep what you like while blending in a new feel.

Another easy way to switch your signature scent without veering too far, is to focus on top-notes. If you prefer to choose perfumes based on what you originally smell, for example, what you sniff before you spritz, or your impression of the first mist, then it may be best for you to focus on top-notes.

You can now experiment at finding fragrances that use your favorite top notes as base-notes. This will elongate the first scent you like into an all-day lasting wear. To do this, you can swap a top note for its base note. Let’s say you love scents that start with bergamot, but you wish it lasted longer. Or maybe you want to start with something a bit different, but do not want to lose bergamot’s bait and hook. You can now find fragrances that finish with bergamot at its base and maybe top off with rose. This works if you are looking to keep your fragrance strictly floral. Something to consider is saving your instinct and impulse for last (switch your top-note to your base-note), and topping off with a different theme. So now maybe you are wearing a perfume that has a civet musk top-note and is based in a bergamot and rose blend. If you shop the swap the top to base method you can find a perfume that surprises you in the beginning, but ends with a reliable first impression.

Now let’s get to the heart of finding a new fragrance: heart notes! Another way to avoid the headache of shopping fragrance is to listen to its heart, its essence, the perfumed punch line. If you traditionally shop perfume based on its affiliated lifestyle, then you will want to take stock of the shared heart or middle notes between your past favorites.

The body of your fragrance is important for authentically animating your spirit and expressing your identity. If you envision yourself shopping scents that say “spa day,” then shop fragrances with floral bodies. If you envision yourself wearing a scent that says “island hopping,” then wear perfumes centered around warm citrus blends. You could wear a perfume that has all the right top and base notes, but if the middle doesn’t match your imagined self, you may feel the scent impersonates you. Likewise, changing the top and base notes help fine-tune your scent according to personal preferences, while changing the heart-notes can change your storyline.

If you want to keep everything you like about your perfume from start to finish the same, but want to ultimately change its tone and vibe, consider tailoring the middle notes. For example, do you enjoy starting calmly in bergamot, and settling in a romantic rose, but feel a floral story arc is too delicate for your gritty personality? Try finding a perfume that has a musky or woody center. In this scenario, you could shop fragrances bodied in smoky vanilla sandalwood with a bergamot top note and a rose base.

Essentially, you want to explore the heart notes of former fragrances and note which ones just fell short, and which scents were a good match. Consider your central theme and how that matches your personality. Then brainstorm your notes. Are you more island? Or are you more woodsy? Then take these to new perfumes of interest.

Now you are fluent in fragrance! With a nod to notes, you can filter your online searches more effectively. Instead of swabbing test strips, enjoy switching tabs.