Try Before You Buy: Getting Perfume Samples And Decants
The price of a bottle of fragrance in an upscale department store is enough to put anyone off of perfume, period. For a lot of people, it's not worth the financial commitment—especially if it's something you might be tired of in six months. But not buying expensive bottles doesn't preclude you from experimenting with scent, and the bottomless pleasures that the world of fragrances can bring. You can dig into this rich world of smells and experiences without spending a lot. The secret is samples.
Asking for perfume samples can be intimidating, especially in a commissions-driven environment, but the key is knowing that you are entitled to them. Sampling is written into the structure of the industry, and the whole romantic myth of it: perfume smells different on everyone, which is why it is your prerogative to try every scent for yourself, and see how it fits into your life. Any reasonable salesperson should understand that, and help facilitate it.
The best place to get free samples, in my experience, is Sephora: their beauty experts give out up to three generous samples per visit. If you have access to more than one Sephora, then you're golden. And even if you don't, most department stores and drugstore beauty counters have samples tucked away somewhere. Try to resist the urge to buy something just because you can't say no the human being selling it to you (I've made this mistake too many times to count). Ask to try a sample first. And if they don't have any, ask for what they do have, and start your exploration there.
If you don't have access to a lot of perfume brands, or you're looking for something niche and specific, you probably have to spend a few dollars on a sample. The good news is, they're fairly affordable, and the internet has helped make thousands of small niche brands accessible to people all over the world. There are dozens of online retailers that ship samples and decants worldwide—here are a few tried-and-true favourites.
Where: Los Angeles, California.
How much: Depends on the perfume. $3—$20 / 0.7ml glass vial.
Good to know: They also make discovery sets (exploring a certain brand), sample packs (recommendations based on a theme), and a collection of their top-sellers.
Where: Brooklyn, New York.
How much: Pick 5 x 0.7ml vials for $18, or ten for $36. You can also get individual samples.
Good to know: Like Luckyscent, you can get perfumer discovery sets here, but they also offer thoughtfully-curated sample packs like Office Apropos and Killer Flowers.
Surrender to Chance
Where: Denver, Colorado / Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.
How much: Depends on the perfume. A department store perfume will cost you $3/ml. The niche perfumers cost a bit more (e.g. Tom Ford Private Blend, $8/ml).
Good to know: You can buy a decant of any perfume in a variety of sizes—from as little as a 1/2 ml vial to a 30ml glass spray bottle (although at that point, you might as well buy the full bottle.)
The Perfumed Court
Where: Marietta, Georgia
How much: Depends on the perfume. If you know what you want, it's good to price compare against Surrender to Chance. (For the record, Tom Ford Private Blend is cheaper here, at $6.22/ml.)
Good to know: Subscribe to the newsletter. TPC has frequent discounts on select perfume brands, and regularly send out promo codes on purchases above a certain amount.
Aedes de Venustas
Where: Manhattan, New York
How much: $25 for any 7 fragrance samples.
Good to know: This sample service is only offered online. But, if you visit the store in person, they often give away samples for free.
Compared to American perfume retailers, Canadian stores only offer a fraction of the options available. However, if you're living in Canada, it's worth checking these websites first, if only to save on USD/CAD conversion and shipping.
Where: Toronto, Ontario.
How much: Depends on the perfume. $6—$15 / 3ml spray bottle.
Brands of interest: Amouage, Initio, Parfums MCDI, Puredistance, Zoologist.
Where: Montreal, Quebec.
How much: $4-$5 / 0.7ml vial. If you order 4 or more, they offer free shipping.
Brands of interest: Arquiste, Heeley, Imaginary Authors, Monsillage, Nishane.
The Perfume Shoppe
Where: Vancouver, British Columbia.
How much: $25 for your choice of 5 samples, shipping included.
Brands of interest: Jovoy, Mancera, Montale, Parfums Dusita, Parfumerie Generale.