(Please note, that most of this refers to real-life shopping as opposed to Internet shopping)
Before you go to the shop...Take a minute to think about what you want. If it's a present, are you buying it because you want to buy a fragrance or because you've been told to buy a fragrance. Fragrance is a really good idea for a present when you can't think of anything else!
If it is for a present for someone, try and find out what fragrances they have used in the past, even if its just Brut or something, it doesn't matter, it will give the store's fragrance consultant something to go on.
When you get to the fragrance counter...The initial instinct is to spray on all of the testers on show, on every spare space on your body. This is all very well and good, but soon you'll run out of skin (unless you start stripping off, but you may get chucked out of the store). As well as running out of skin, your nose won't know what's hit it, and send you confusing smells to your brain. Are you going to remember what you sprayed where? (Was it Tommy on the left elbow or was it Dune?)
Okay then, here's what to do.
Ask for some fragrance blotters and a pen. Fragrance blotters are small strips or squares of card, often supplied by the fragrance houses. You can spray a fragrance on to these cards instead of your skin. You can also write the name of the fragrance on the blotter and bring the blotter home to show someone else. Although the cards won't give as good impression as your skin, but it will give you a idea of what the fragrance is like.
When you smell the fragrance, don't just smell it once and decide you hate it. Give it a few minutes and come back to it. The scent of a fragrance develops as the notes evaporate. On a similar note, don't just smell the fragrance from the bottle spray, The fragrance that has been deposited around the spray has been exposed to the air and bacteria and won't give you a true rendition of the smell. (If you are going to do this, make sure you take the lid off as you'll just look stupid)
After smelling about three or four fragrances, your nose gets fatigued, and you will have difficulty smelling the true scent of any more fragrances. You can do several things to regain your sense of smell. (1) Go for a walk in the fresh air for a bit. (2) Eat a mint. (3) Stick your nose in your elbow and smell your shirt.
Once you have decided on two or three fragrances that you like, you can then spray some on your skin. You don't get a true impression of the fragrance on the card, so applying to the skin is essential if you are going to spend £45 on a bottle. Remember what you sprayed where and LEAVE the fragrance counter. Go and do some other shopping. You probably need to buy some some toothpaste or onions. If you are getting the fragrance for a present, here's a good time to buy a greetings card.
When you've sprayed the fragrance on your skin, just leave it to develop. If you rub the fragrance in, then you can distort the true scent.
Check out what they smell like now. You will have a better idea of how the fragrance develops now. Quick, go back to the fragrance counter before you forget which one it was you liked.
Choosing the fragrance...This can be a bit daunting. It's easy just to buy yourself the same fragrance you had last time, but go on - try something different! Even if you tried everything last time, there will have been loads of new launches since.
If you like Fresh-Fougere fragrances, (Polo Sport, Tommy, Platinum Egoiste etc..) then tell the fragrance consultant this, they will be able to suggest similar fragrances (Eternity, Cool Water, Chemistry).
One way of choosing fragrances, if you aren't sure what you like is to try one from each of the main families (Fougere, Chypre, Citrus, Oriental). Decide which 'family' you liked best, and then try another one from that family. Again the fragrance consultant will be able to help you here.
If you are buying the fragrance as a present for someone you don't see all that often, then it doesn't really matter what it smells like!
What size to buy?Fragrances can come in several sizes, here are a few of the regular ones.
Miniature: Miniature fragrances come in very small bottles and are ideal for bottle collectors, or just so that you can try the fragrance out. Average size 7ml (0.25Fl.Oz.)
Trial Size: These are useful for trying fragrances out or for traveling with. Normally 25ml (0.85Fl.Oz) to 40ml (1.3Fl.Oz)
Standard fragrances: Normally come in two sizes, either 50ml and 100ml (1.7Fl.Oz and 3.4Fl.Oz) or 75ml and 125 ml (2.5Fl.Oz and 4.2 Fl.Oz) It often works out a LOT cheaper overall to buy the larger size, but this decision depends really on how often you will use it and how quickly you get bored of a scent.
Extras..Sometimes there will be a Free Gift available when you buy a fragrance. This will almost always be either a T-shirt, A Bag, A Watch and in the Summer, a Towel. Don't buy a fragrance just because you want the free gift, BUY IT BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT.
If the fragrance is for a gift, ask if the consultant can wrap it for you, Sometimes you will have to pay a fee or be expected to tip, but some offer it for free.
Samples. If you spend a bit of money at the counter, then you may be given a few samples. If you haven't purchased anything and are having trouble choosing a fragrance, then if you ask nicely, the fragrance consultant may offer you a free samples. Don't think you can come back each week and try and get more, so you never have to buy anything. They will recognise you, and they will tell you that "the supplier hasn't sent any samples this week."
Lastly..Check out the store's return policy, can you return it if you don't like it? Do you need to keep the receipt or packaging?
If you are really unsure about a fragrance you are about to buy, just go home and retry another time. No-one will mind.
If you are buying for yourself, see if the fragrance has a refill. The 'A*Men' 30ml EDT comes in a fancy metal case, but the refill for it costs around two-third's the amount, so save your self a few quid.
If someone's asked you to get them some fragrance while you were 'in town' then get them to write down the full name, (From the box if possible). There is nothing worse than going into a store saying.. "Can I have a large bottle of Calvin Klein please?" and getting the response... "Calvin Klein? Yes, we have Eternity for Men and Women, Escape for Men and Women, Obsession for Men and Women, Contradiction for Men and Women, Calvin for Men, Truth for Men and Women, Crave, cK One and cK Be.... Which was it you wanted...?"
Lastly make sure you are buying from an authorised retailer, to ensure you aren't getting dodgy bootlegs or old stock.
Good Luck, and happy buying!