Being led by the nose - the etiquette of wearing perfume

19th March, 2013

In this article, Global Fragrance Expert, Marian Bendeth takes a look at the etiquette of wearing perfume...

You have to love those special days when you wake up with a splitting headache and your stomach is in war mode with last night's dodgy restaurant meal . You drag your body early in the morning to the local bus/subway and are lucky to find an empty double seat.

No sooner do you settle in than a sickly hurricane of fragrance fumes and it's accompanying body invade the next seat. They shift around in the air, wafting piquant waves up the nose to the heart of nausea.

As your vehicle progresses, so does the intensity of the fragrance. You decide to stand rather than suffer. Seeking fresh air before work, you arrive in the foyer; a group of people wait with you at the elevator. Piling in like sardines, there is now another foghorn of an obnoxious scent emanating from someone's neck as the doors slowly close.

Sound familiar? Parents drum into our juvenile heads the fundamentals of etiquette. Always say "please" or "thank you" darling! In fact, they shortened it to that familiar phrase…"Now what do you say?" but there is also another unenforced fragrance decorum that still dumbfounds popular society. If one is fortunate enough to be raised in a fragrance family - literally, you might also have received some fragrance politesse during your formative years. Unfortunately, the majority of us just grab any fragrance that comes to hand at the last minute, slap it on with gusto and go out into the world without a thought to "what am I wearing? is it appropriate? and how much did I spray on again?

Perfume Places and Points to ponder...

The Workplace:

Many work in an open environment or enclosed retail space. Some really love their heavy-duty battery charged orientals, gourmands and fruity blends but the office is not the best environment to trumpet the atmosphere. For those who only wear one, this kind of animal tracking will certainly reveal where they are in the building. How a customer, co-worker or boss perceives your fragrance can affect their working relationship with you as well. Perfume discretion can be the most potent when it comes to business.





Maybe you are meeting someone for the first time. We all love to make a great impression and put our best foot forward. The question is, is this person worthy of your best scent just yet? What if the chemistry just isn't there for you at the end of the date and they are totally turned on by it? Best to keep the big guns for a big occasion for that final touchdown. Next to your dazzling personality, it can be used as a heavyweight arsenal so use it sparingly.





Some magazines and bad TV shows will dramatically show someone spraying the air and walking through. In reality, when one is testing a scent for the first time, the skin needs to mesh with the scent in order for a true evolution. Picture all those other people also spraying the air..what are you inhaling? Probably thousands and thousands of hanging molecules that others have just propelled up there. Always spray on the skin to learn if you will love it or not.

Leaving a sprayed blotter behind on the counter for someone else to pick up and spray a completely different scent on for adjudication can also be annoying. Take it home or throw it away.

Double and triple spraying over an existing fragrance before returning to work on your lunch hour can't be any fun for co-workers either.

Spraying the fingertips..not sure exactly why people do this? I do know it looks very odd and a bit icky; spraying the counter as if it were one giant paper blotter; gunning the atomizer head like some James Bond spraying bullets with the baddies and spraying directly onto clothes, especially silk ties is not cool, not even in daydreams.


Advertisement — article continues below


Movies/Plays/Theatre:'ve spent a fortune on great seats with an amazing view and acoustics. Now, you are stuck with your own personal 500 piece olfactory orchestra right next to you and it is annoyingly loud for the next two hours. Consider a mellow subtle blend for tight spaces. For stand up concerts, raves and dance halls..let it rip! A sea of moving bodies, hot lights and loud music begs for your hottest ticket in a fragrance.




Restaurants, cafes and bars:

Was that your perfume or my dessert? Inhaling vanilla and chocolate from the next table when the waiter brings your pasta with freshly grated garlic and romano cheese can turn off the taste buds within a millisecond. Being respectful of other diners and their dining experience should be considered before even leaving the house.




Airplanes, trains, cars and taxis - the long haul:

Most have experienced the long flight when oxygen masks are desperately needed which had nothing to do with mechanical difficulties. Consider the pungency of a scent before embarking on a long trip. It can be a pleasant experience or feel like the trip from hell.




Visiting your Primary Healthcare Giver:

A General Practitioner once confided that certain patients overwhelmed his examining room with pungent sweet or spicy perfumes that linger for hours. This over application came about as a result of fear of one's own personal body odour. The examining room had to be aired out with a fan. Now think of your Dentist, even with a mask on, they are close up in your face. Wouldn't want to throw off their concentration now would we??




The Mall:

Investing in great fashion is not cheap. There is nothing more frustrating than finding something you love, in your size that reeks of someone else's overbearing scent that has now permeated the fabric..and they want how much for this?

Never test a fragrance right before trying on clothes, jewellery, scarves and coats. It's a little thing but a big thing too.


* * *


Consider that we actually "read" each other's fragrances and subconsciously attribute certain personality traits based on one's scent. Sometimes we are right and sometimes not, but the amount and blend can say volumes about who we are and how we wish to be perceived.

The bottom line is a bit of a quandary. We seek fantastic fragrances that will hopefully last and we each have our own personal tastes in fragrances. We should also have the freedom to pick, choose and wear what we love but the trickle-down effect is also daunting. The anti-fragrance lobby are trying to stamp out all fragrances in all public places. So far, most have succeeded in Hospitals and Government buildings.

The elegance displayed in taste and application with fragrance lovers in a given environment should soften this mutiny with the thoughtful use of fragrance etiquette at the fore. We wouldn't wear a ball gown to the amusement park, why would we smell like we do. Sexy can come back thank you Mr. Timberlake but not during your Powerpoint presentation. Just ask yourself, would you want to be seated next to you and smell that fragrance for that duration of time? Up close? In a tight space? For that long?

Fragrance wardrobing allows us to express the many sides of who we are in any given environment and mood. There is certainly no shortage of great choices in fragrances but it is when and how we wear it, that will give the biggest impact of all.



Images : Shutterstock


  • Share this

About the author: Marian Bendeth

Marian Bendeth is a Global Fragrance Expert based out of Toronto, Canada. Marian has won six fragrance industry editorial awards for her writing. You can find out more on her website


Advertisement — comments are below


    • Rod | 19th March 2013 15:15

      Excellent article! Everybody on basenotes should read this, as I'm sure that there are many "cologne guys" around here :D

    • noirdrakkar | 19th March 2013 17:19

      more basenoters need to read this. it's honestly not acceptable to wear 6 sprays of a musty macho powerhouse. its flat out disrespectful.

    • Kagey | 19th March 2013 17:44

      Great article. But would be even better if it included a couple of tips to help people enjoy their fragrances without necessarily sharing them with the world--limit number of sprays, spray under clothes, dab instead of spray, etc. Even powerhouse fragrances can be worn discreetly if you're careful.

    • Sillage6 (article author) | 19th March 2013 19:46

      Dear Kagey,

      Thank you for your comment.

      It appears I have spent the last 24 years of my career in literally hundreds of publications answering those very questions over and over and over again, so I decided to go the environment route for just a change!

      But thanks for your input!

      Marian Bendeth

    • Rod | 19th March 2013 21:04

      100% Agreed

    • lpp | 19th March 2013 22:06

      Agree - and it was a very refreshing article - thank you.

    • Sniffmonkey | 20th March 2013 13:29

      I must be lucky - I have NEVER in my life experienced someone wearing too much scent for me to appreciate. But I have been repulsed on public transport by the stench of damp clothes, B.O, booze and worse. As a perfume nut, I would rather smell scent on someone who's at least made an effort, any day.

    • Papi Le Bon | 20th March 2013 19:53

      All this kind of guides seems to me only apts for newcomers fearful of being criticized and laughed at.

      It's not bad when people expresses themselves, in a not mute, small and shy way. There is no show of disrespect if you can smell other people's fragance, even in France.

      And finally, there are a lot of options in the market but infortunately very few with enough sillage & longevity that to wear it with largesse become a social damaging demeanor.

    • Sillage6 (article author) | 20th March 2013 23:33

      Papi, this is not just for newcomers at all!

      Many fragrance freaks and lovers may over wear a scent..don't take the high ground just may not but that doesn't mean others who are very passionate about perfume aren't always thoughtful alongside the masses!

      If you do decide to express yourself, I just wanted to nudge and remind everyone of the problems it can cause.

    • Papi Le Bon | 21st March 2013 03:50

      Thank you for your sound and empathic answer. You let me nodding & speechless!

    • tracerbullet | 21st March 2013 05:52

      I don't care where I am or going, when I wear a fragrance...a light spray to the chest and one to the wrist where I tough my two. That's it. I feel it isn't overpowering but subtle enough for me to enjoy it, maybe someone who gets close, otherwise most probably don't feel overpowered.

    • FumeHood | 21st March 2013 11:53

      I do struggle with this. Not because I want to be a foghorn. On the contrary, I am discrete but pretty selfish with my scent space, meaning that I often wear perfumes for me and me only - to be able to study throughout the day. So the issue is one of olfactory fatigue. Too light and I will lose reference within an hour (while other passersby victims may still find something quite potent).

      This is a good reminder for someone like me. My main response has been to go with a thick application to one pulse point, with a casual application around the neck and shirt line. I won't notice the headspace within an hour of application, but the wrist is always there, even if it makes me look like I have a coke habbit or a bad cold as I'm copping a whiff throughout the day.

      I had a good learning moment in a bar a few weeks back when a friend (who knows I am in to scent) gave me a hug, recoiled, and commanded that I "back off until that Puredistance subsides..."

      There is no right answer. But, as this article well addresses, it's good to always consider your "audience".

    • NineInchNell | 23rd March 2013 18:25

      Very interesting article. It always helps me to wear lotion or cream over just one or two dabs. That's instead of over-spraying in the case of a lighter, close-to-the-skin scent. I've noticed I get more compliments that way.

      - - - Updated - - -

      Very interesting article. I try to wear lotion or cream over only one or two dabs. That's instead of over-spraying those very light, close-to-the-skin scents. I seem to get more compliments that way.

    • ascents | 24th March 2013 13:35

      Great points. Should be a must-read for all perfume wearers.

      - - - Updated - - -

      Great points.

      This should be a must-read for all fragrance wearers!

    • Maggie_Everk123 | 24th March 2013 23:05

      I agree, this is a very helpful article. I have found that roll-on perfume helps control the strength of a certain fragrance since you have more control over the places you roll-on the perfume/cologne. Lotion in a great way to highlight a scent as well if someone feels a spray would be too strong.

    • Sillage6 (article author) | 26th April 2014 23:44

      Amazing news everyone!!! Marian Bendeth and Grant Osborne picked up our sixth Editorial Award for Being Led by the Nose at the 2014 Canadian Fragrance Awards in Toronto on April 24, 2014!

      Congrats Grant on finding just the right pictures for this piece and we are both thrilled to receive this honour!

      Marian Bendeth

      Global Fragrance Expert

      Sixth Scents