Sometimes, the easiest way to decide which perfume to buy next is to buy up a bunch of samples reviewers you follow have been raving about. Other times, doing so makes your choice even harder.
So how to decide if a fragrance is full-bottle-worthy (FBW) or not?
There’s more than one factor that determines if a perfume is full-bottle-worthy or not. It’s as much about the scent—and the way it mixes with your skin and smells on you—as it is about the longevity and sillage.
For starters, you should like the scent. I know it sounds obvious (duh, Simona!), but whether a fragrance appeals to you or not is sometimes subtler than we care to admit.
Take Xerjoff’s Italica: an almondy, profoundly milky, Willy-Wonka-went-mad-and-started-making-only-white-chocolate gourmet kind of scent that got everyone talking in 2021. (It’s also on the pricier side, with the 3.4 fl oz (100 ml) bottle retailing around $350.)
Read, listen to, and watch as many reviews of this perfume as you like, and yet you will never be able to picture just how intensely almondy it is. You must really, and I mean really, like the smell and taste of almonds to want to keep wearing it.
Longevity is another decision-critical factor at play. When it comes to longevity, not all fragrances are created equal. Even if two perfumes have similar notes, the unique set of ingredients that create them—and how they’ve been formulated—will result in different longevity for each.
This is especially important when you’re eyeing an expensive fragrance. Price is never a good determinant of longevity, and, for one reason or another, not all reviewers out there on the Internet are honest or knowledgeable enough on the topic.
N.B. When testing, keep in mind that a scent may last longer on your skin than you think. It may simply be playing hide and seek with you, which means that you’ve quickly grown anosmic to one of its ingredients.
Another one on our list of full-bottle-worthiness criteria is the perfume’s sillage, a fancy perfumery term for the scent trail that the scent leaves behind you as you traverse through a room or open space.
The stronger the sillage of a perfume, the more alluring you will be to others. And let’s be honest among ourselves here, allure, mixed with a subtle sense of mystery and lust, is unquestionably why we spritz fragrances on those beautiful bodies of ours.
To deem if a perfume is full-bottle-worthy or not, you have to wear it for at least a few days so that you can decide for yourself.
Another, less obvious, down-to-earth criterion is how the scent fits into your collection as a whole. So open your dresser drawer and take a long, hard look at the bottles of perfume in front of you. Are you running low on casual, non-demanding scents to wear on a workday? Or are you about to run out of deep, dark fragrances to spritz on for a cocktail party?
Last but not least is the time of year. For example, you may be hopelessly enamored with Van Cleef & Arpels’ California Rêverie, an exceptional summer scent. But, if it’s October and you’re running low on winter fragrances, is now the best time to buy it?
Why You’re Meant to Try Before You Buy
One of the lesser-known facts about perfume is that it smells differently on every wearer. To a large extent, how a scent develops on you is determined by your skin type as well as your hormonal balance.
Perfume is a mix of fragrant oils of natural or synthetic origin blended together in what is called “perfume essence.” That perfume essence is then dissolved in different concentrations of alcohol (and a bunch of other ingredients that keep it stable and make it last longer).
When you spray perfume on your body, preferably on the pulse points (behind the ears, the base of the neck, the inner elbows, and the inner wrists), that mixture settles on and reacts to your skin.
The scent that reveals itself from that reaction depends on your skin type, your skin’s acidity (pH levels), and even your hormonal balance for that given day. Perfume reacts best to oily or well-hydrated skin and is affected by the substances on your skin and in your sweat.
To put it simply, to determine if a perfume is full-bottle-worthy, you must absolutely try it before you buy it.
That’s why blind-buying a fragrance is never really a good idea.
Sure, it may smell great on your friend or colleague, and that fragrance YouTuber whose opinion you trust so much may have fallen in love with it. And yet, for reasons you have no way of predicting, it may end up smelling weird on you.
That’s also the main reason why you’re meant to try a scent before buying a full bottle of it, as those paper strips at the store simply don’t do it justice (which, as you can already imagine, can go both ways).
The question is, how do you get there without breaking the bank? Buying smaller-sized bottles, especially if you’re into higher-end fragrances from niche houses, can be a highly unaffordable hobby to have.
Don’t ‘cha worry, gorgeous. As usual, we at Sterlish have got you covered.
Get the Travel-Sized Bottle First
Some scents have a travel-sized bottle, typically 0.25-0.5 fl oz (7.5-15 ml) big. When that’s the case, you can probably get it from the online store of the perfume house in question.
Sometimes, though not always, the travel-sized bottles are also carried by department stores and online retailers. However, they’re kind of harder to find there (as they have an incentive in selling you the bigger stuff).
When there’s no travel-sized bottle to buy, revert to option two below.
Get a Perfume Subscription Service
Lately, perfume subscription services have been all the rage. And no wonder: for the price of a few lattes at Starbucks, you can choose from hundreds of designer and niche fragrances and get a small, 30-day supply shipped directly to your door.
Whether you live in the United States, Canada, Latin America, or somewhere else on either side of the Atlantic, we’re confident you have at least a few perfume subscription services to choose from.
(The favorites among the members of our editorial team are Scentbird and The Fragrance Club in the U.S. and Yuniqu in Europe).