How to Select a Signature Fragrance

By: Alia Hoyt
Choosing a personal scent is not something that should be done on a whim or a whiff!
Choosing a personal scent is not something that should be done on a whim or a whiff!
Jeffrey Hamilton/Photodisc/Getty Images

The sense of smell is critically important to human beings. We may not have the same olfactory senses that animals do, but we often tie experiences and emotions to particular scents, which is why a simple whiff of baking cookies can make you feel as though you've been transported back in time to childhood visits at Grandma's house. Some people take scent association a step further by selecting a signature fragrance.

But before you permanently cause people to associate you with Chanel No. 5 or Britney Spears' personalized scent, there are a couple of tidbits to take under advisement when choosing a fragrance. First, whatever you do, apply your scent with a light hand! Quantity varies by person, but typically, a dab or small spray to your pulse points (throat, wrists, temple and anywhere else you can feel your heartbeat) is enough for anyone. You don't want to be the cause of other people's watery eyes, do you?


Second, it's important to know the various types of signature fragrances, which include cologne, perfume, oils, aftershave, eau de toilette and really anything else that changes your scent.

To find your ideal fragrance, first consider the following factors:

  • Personality type: If you're outdoorsy by nature, for example, pick a woodsy scent!
  • Body chemistry: The same brand of perfume may not smell the same on every person, thanks to our own natural scents.
  • Lifestyle: Consider your day-to-day activities. For example, boardroom professionals probably don't want overly fruity fragrances wafting off of them.
  • Time of year and location: You might want one signature fragrance for hot, humid summer months and another for cool winter days.
  • Cost: Obviously, certain fragrances are going to cost more than others (Chanel versus Britney Spears' line of perfumes, for example). A scent doesn't necessarily have to be designer to suit you and your expectations, but don't sell yourself short, either.

If you're overwhelmed by the sheer number of options out there, just take a deep breath and have fun with the selection process! You know those people who are always waving scent cards in your face at the mall? Walk around and get a few small sample bottles to take home. Then, use one for a few days in varying circumstances (at work, out with friends, around the house) and quantities. Switch to a new sample, and be sure to get input from others. If you're feeling extra adventurous, you might even try your hand at layering a couple of different colognes or perfumes to create a completely unique scent. Just make sure you don't have anywhere important to be right away, in case the experiment bombs and a shower becomes necessary.


Know Your Fragrance Family

Most people have no problem nixing many of the 14 fragrance families based on personal preference alone. To narrow it down even further, consider that all of these families are grouped into four main categories: floral, fresh, oriental and woody. Many scents are unisex, including some citrus, oriental and woody fragrances, but make sure to check the bottle, as some are specifically designed for men or women.

Fragrance expert Michael Edwards developed a helpful wheel that classifies the more than 4,700 scents available for purchase. Here's your cheat sheet:



  • Floral family: Certainly the largest and most popular category, florals are lovely blends of -- you guessed it -- flowers. Example: 1876 by Histoires de Parfums.
  • Soft floral: This is a combination of florals and aldehydes, which are a component of rose and citrus oils. Example: 212 by Carolina Herrera.
  • Floral oriental: Also part of the oriental group, this family is spicier and fruitier than other florals. Example: 273 Rodeo Drive by Fred Hayman.


  • Oriental: The heaviest family in this category, oriental fragrances combine musks, resins, vanilla and florals to create a rich scent. Example: World of Your Own by Grassroots.
  • Floral oriental: These are flower-heavy oriental scents. Example: ZAHRA by Fashion Fair.
  • Soft oriental: They incorporate incense, amber and spices to create a lighter version of the traditional oriental fragrance. Example: Youth-dew by Estée Lauder.
  • Woody oriental: Patchouli and sandalwood are added to the mix, giving this type of scent a more outdoorsy feel than your standard oriental. Example: 1 Million by Paco Rabanne.


  • Woods: Smells that generally mix the scents of pine, cedar, sandalwood and other common woods found in nature. Example: 1681 by Carthusia.
  • Mossy woods: Also known as citrus chypre, this family incorporates mossy tones. Example: 1000 by Jean Patou.
  • Dry woods: These smells are different from mossy-woody fragrances because they also include a hint of tobacco, cedar or burnt wood. Example: 154 by Jo Malone.
  • Aromatic Fougère: Beloved by men and women, this family is a combination of the fresh, woody, floral and oriental groups. Example: ZIRH by Zirh.


  • Citrus: Scents that are derived from a blend of oils found in grapefruit, oranges, lemons and other citrus fruits. Example: 10:10 AM in Sicilia 2011 by Kenzo.
  • Water: A newer family that evokes the scent of the sea. Example: Z ZEGNA by Ermenegildo Zegna.
  • Green: Scents that are akin to freshly cut grass or hand-picked flowers. Example: Yerbamate by Lorenzo Villoresi.
  • Fruity: Combinations of aromas found in peaches, plums, apples and tropical fruits. Example: Wrapped With Love by Hilary Duff.

Once you've selected your signature fragrance you'll probably be able to use a single bottle for quite some time. If you're concerned that the manufacturer will nix the scent, however, consider stocking up.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Averill, Farah. "Choose Your Signature Fragrance." 2012. (May 15, 2012).
  • Bellasugar. "Own it: How to Shop for Your Signature Scent." April 27, 2012. (May 15, 2012).
  • Fragrances of the World. "Top 100 Perfume Questions." 2012. (May 15, 2012).
  • Fragrances of the World. "Wheel Index." 2012. (May 15, 2012).
  • Parfums Raffey. "Fragrance Guide." 2012. (May 15, 2012).