The world of fragrances is a difficult one to navigate; it can seem near impossible to find something that doesn’t smell like your grandmother’s bathroom or a high school locker room, and that doesn’t break the bank. And it’s even harder if you’re looking for a scent that’s gender neutral.
I consider myself high femme, and until a few years ago, had always purchased classically “female” fragrances. But my partner Jenn (who toes the line between femme and soft butch) and I have since had many conversations about finding a good, gender neutral scent — and I can now pass my experiences researching the subject on to you. Below are tips for finding a fragrance that fits who you are, even when you don’t fit neatly into marketers’ boxes.
Start Where You’re Comfortable
If you’re comfortable speaking with an associate at a department store fragrance counter, that’s great! When they ask you what you’re looking for, it’s helpful to drop terms like “gender-neutral,” “clean” and “low-profile.”
Alternatively, you can search out your own scents at places like Ulta and Sephora. Depending on where you go, there might be hundreds of scents on a wall in front of you — which is daunting, but also provides a very cool opportunity to sniff around. Set aside an hour so you can relax and take your time, and if a bottle catches your eye, try it! And no worries if you’re not ready to make a decision in-store; almost all fragrance sellers have test strips that you can spray scents onto and take home.
Try Before You Buy
It’s easy to walk into a store and buy a fragrance you think you like, only to realize days later that you hate it. Don’t be afraid to ask for samples; scents change as they linger on your skin, so take a test drive before you commit. Wear your fragrance around to different events and places like work, dates, and other special occasions, and see how its notes unfold.
Look for Certain Scent Profiles
Notes of amber, tobacco, tarragon and neroli make fragrances musky, while lavender, sea salt, spearmint, and tea keep things clean and fresh. Once you establish what types of scents you enjoy, online fragrance shopping becomes much easier; simply read the descriptions and make your choices from there. A lot of companies will mail you free samples to try without buying a full-size bottle — you just pay shipping.
Start with a Soap or Lotion of the Same Scent
A lot of companies will put out a series of products with the same fragrance! If you’re not ready to commit to an expensive bottle of perfume or cologne, picking up a lotion or soap (which tend to be cheaper on the shelf) in your chosen scent are a good alternative. LUSH is a great place for this, since they don’t market towards a particular gender; my favorite scent of theirs is Dirty, which is light and (counterintuitively) clean-smelling.
Search Outside the Box
Smaller boutiques won’t have the same enormous variety of fragrances as major retailers, but they will carry unique brands that the Ultas and Sephoras of the world don’t. I personally love the subtle scent profiles of brands like Na Nin and Formulary 55, but even if those don’t appeal to you, a quick Google search will put dozens of specialty shops and other niche brands at your fingertips.
At the end of the day, you want a perfume that smells like you. If you’re comfortable and confident when you’re wearing it, that’s all that matters.