How to Buy a Fragrance for Someone Else

Perfume Bottle

Photo: Getty Images

Fragrance is such a personal preference that it makes an amazing gift for the holidays. Knowing that someone’s personality fits best with a musky wooden scent or floral fragrance shows how well you know the person. But finding a flattering fragrance for a loved one isn’t easy. We sought the help of Patti Kapla, the V.P. of business development at, for key questions to keep in mind when buying for the men and women in your life.

Perfume For Women

1. Does she already wear perfume?
The first thing to consider is whether this is her first time dabbling in the fragrance world. “If your intended recipient is a newcomer to the perfume world or if you don’t quite know what she’d enjoy, then pull back on the potency and go for an eau de cologne or eau de toilette,” says Kapla. “These scents are less powerful than eau de perfumes and pure perfume extracts, which generally are favored by those who know exactly what they like.”

If she already wears fragrance, use the scents on her vanity as a guide, whether they be fruity, flowery or musky, and then work from the same family of scents.

2. What’s her intention?
To find the right perfume, you should consider her lifestyle, habits and personality. “Beguiling, mesmerizing orientals may be a hit in the bedroom, but are not always wise for the boardroom where something more sophisticated and tame would be appreciated. Think of what situation she is most likely to wear the perfume, and let this guide your nose.”

3. What size will work best?
If your grandmother’s signature scent has been Chanel No 5 since the 60s, go ahead and buy a big two liter. But if you’re unsure with your choice, Kapla recommends going smaller. “You can then invest the money you’ve saved in a matching perfumed body lotion that she can use to accompany her scent. By layering the two products, it will last longer, or she can choose to wear just the lotion on days when the perfume itself is not needed.”

And remember: “Just because it smells good on you does not necessarily mean it will smell good on her. Furnishing your friend with a fragrance identical to your own is just as bad as wearing the same dress on Oscar night. (Ok, maybe not that bad.) But, use your intuition and nose to make perfume choices that will bring out her best assets.”

Cologne For Men

1. What’s the purpose?
Knowing why a man wears cologne is an important factor in finding the right scent. “Does he wear cologne to please himself? Attract a partner? Or just as part of his daily shaving ritual?” Kapla recommends purchasing an aftershave splash, moisturizing balm or light eau de cologne if he strictly uses it after shaving. “But if he’s single and looking for fun, a sexy, masculine, mysterious eau de toilette or eau de parfum could be just the ticket.”

2. What’s his personality?
Just like a woman, you want to find a cologne that will match his personality. “If he’s artistic and devoutly independent, look for a unique niche scent that will set him apart from the crowd. If he has a good sense of humor, even the fragrance name, bottle and packaging can play a role in the choices you might consider.”

3. What’s his lifestyle?
Also consider his lifestyle and where he’d likely wear the scent. “A young athletic guy might prefer something citrusy, fresh and sporty over something heavy, spicy and conservative. A businessman would likely enjoy something bold, confident and commanding, while a doctor or undertaker—something low-key, hushed and unassuming. A hard-hitting woody/musky stinkbomb may not go down well at work or on a date, but something well-mannered, refined and sophisticated might.”

Know the difference between a splash and a spray. “A splash-on scent has been designed to apply to the face from the jawline up; and a spray, from the jawline down. Aftershave splashes act as a tonic for skin after shaving, and eau de toilette sprays are for perfuming oneself.”

Read more: Fall’s Best-Smelling New Fragrances