I rarely write shopping guides, mostly because I have no idea where to start or whom to target. Many of my regular readers and I can probably outshop most sane human beings, but that isn't very helpful if we can't tell the clueless where to go and what to get there. My friend Lawrence in Ohio has identified the shopper who needs the most help: A man shopping for a woman and buying (or attempting to buy) fragrance for the very first time. Indeed. Here's what Lawrence suggests:
"The Holiday Season" especially in the United States, is oncoming with all the subtlety of an express freight train. It is also a time when men do strange things, like attempt to buy the women in their lives presents. Before we go any further, an item with an electrical cord or batteries is not a great gift, no matter what the manufacturer or store tries to tell you.
However, if you do get her a microwave, food processor, (or worse, a vacuum cleaner,) you had better jolly well get her something in addition without a cord. Something romantic or sentimental, or just plain personal, if you are a husband or serious boyfriend, or would-be serious boyfriend. If you're an adult son, you're not entirely off the hook either, buster. Mother was a woman for a decent span of time before she became your Mom, Ma, Mummy, or Mother.
Many, if not most, if not all women love fragrance and nice things. There are times when the most practical of women want frivolity and joy, and not the baby powder she might use every day. Research is GOOD. Research means going to her bathroom or dressing table when she is not there, and with a piece of paper and a pen, writing down the names of the fragrances that are already there. Why? Fragrances come in general categories, "families," if you will, and it helps the unfortunate SA to know what she already likes and wears. It helps the SA help YOU. If she likes big big fragrances like Shalimar, it would not be a good fit if you got her "Jasmine Handwash" from a store with "body works" in it's name. In fact, do not make any store with "body works" in its name your first stop, unless it is for your 9 year old daughter or niece. Real (that is grown-up) women deserve real department store items. If you have a RECENT photograph of her, consider taking it along. A GOOD Sales Associate can tell a fair bit from a photograph. Really. Answer any questions the SA might have. She or he is trying to help you.
Another thing the fragrance challenged man should know is that fragrance comes in various concentrations. The most concentrated, the most expensive, and the tiniest bottles are usually called "Perfume", "Parfum" or "Extrait de Parfum". Do not faint when the SA says that 1/4 ounce of the perfume is over 150.00. The next level down, is sometimes called "Eau de Parfum." It's less concentrated (more alcohol,) and comes in bigger bottles. "Eau de parfum," is still expensive, but less so. The one below, is "Eau de Toilette." In this case, "toilette" does not mean what you think it means. "Toilette," means "dressing table and its associated items". Eau de Cologne is often the least concentrated form of fragrance, and is generally the least expensive, and usually lasts the shortest time on her skin. However, EdC can be very refreshing in summertime.
It's a nice idea, if you can't afford perfume or "eau de parfume," to buy the "eau de toilette," and another product in the line. Does she shower with shower gel? If there's a shower gel, get that! Or, if there's a scented candle, and she's fond of them, get the scented candle, if offered. If there's a "purse sized spray," consider that. Have you ever heard her say something about "dry skin?" In this case, "dry" is not the opposite of "wet." The hand and body lotion was made for dry skin. You can gain big points by rubbing a small amount of the hand and body lotion onto her poor tired feet. A foot rub can improve a woman's mood a lot in a short time, and a foot rub with one of her favorite fragrances is even better.
Classic fragrances like Chanel Number Five are classics for a reason, but if the SA suggests something else, take a sniff. Use the blotter papers that should be there at the counter. Don't go by first impression of the "top notes" alone, unless it is 5 pm on December 24. Ideally, when exposed to a new-to-you fragrance, you should sniff at the five minute mark, the fifteen minute mark, and the thirty minute mark, because good fragrances develop, and what might seem very appealing at the top, might be less appealing as time passes.
Happy Holidays! Happy Hunting, and Good Luck!
Lawrence in OhioIndeed. If you have any tips for the novice perfume shopper please share them in your comments, as well as war stories from the first time you bought scented gifts to your loved ones.
Photo credit: Getty Images.