I’ve always been obsessed with perfume and I love to try as many as I possibly can. But it’s not a cheap hobby. A full-size fragrance bottle can be very expensive and, if you live in a small town like me, your choices will be very limited anyway. Buying a scent unsniffed, whether in shop or online, is very tricky and you could easily end up with a pricey perfume that doesn’t smell that good on you after all.
The solution? Samples. They’re easy to get and they will give you the chance to find out how a perfume smells on you, how long it lasts on the skin and how it fares under different weather conditions. But there’s a catch. While some samples are easily available for free, others need to be purchased. But don’t worry, the prices are cheap and, even if you don’t like a scent, you can console yourself by thinking you haven’t forked out a lot of money for it.
So, how do you get your hands on perfume samples?
1. Ask for samples at your local shop
The easiest way to get a sample is to ask for one at your local shop. Here in Italy, beauty shops almost always give you a couple of fragrance samples in little vials when you make a purchase so, if you’re interested to try one in particular, just ask for it. Of course, you can ask for a sample even if you’re not buying anything. Here, SAs almost always pretend not have samples of skincare and makeup products, but they don’t mind giving little fragrance vials away at all.
Things may work differently in other countries, but generally, most shops keep a few samples for customers so try asking for one. Sephora, which has shops in 17 countries, is one of the best places for this. Just ask for a sample and the SA will decant one for you and, from what I’ve heard, they will do the same at Nordstrom too. The only downside of getting samples at your local shop or boutique is that you’ll only be able to try the newest releases from mainstream designer brands.
2. Buy samples online
There are quite a few online perfume shops that also have samples for sale, giving you the option to try a fragrance you’re interested in before purchasing the full size. Les Senteurs allows you to choose up to 4 samples, charging £3.50 for the service, plus £3.00 for delivery, while Lucky Scent has samples available at $4.00 each. Other shops specialize in selling samples, such as The Perfumed Court, Perfume Niche and The Posh Peasant.
In addition, some niche brands also offer sample kits, allowing you to try several scents from their collection without breaking the bank. Juliette Has A Gun Discovery Kit, for instance, contains 9 mini vials and costs only €10; Etat Libre D’Orange charges €49,00 for their Coffret Discovery Kit, which contains a staggering 27 samples (each of which is also available for purchase at a more purse-friendly €3,00); and Taeur instead allows you to choose 5 scents from their line and packages them in a discovery kit that retails at €25.70 (single samples are €5.00).
3. Swap decanted scents
A great way to try fragrances from exclusive niche brands is by swapping (swappers aren’t usually interested in mainstream scents you can easily get in shops so if that’s what you are after you may have a hard time finding someone willing to trade with you). The most popular places where swaps are organized are Makeup Alley and Basenotes. First you create an account, then a “swap item list” of all the scents you are willing to swap away (usually you just decadent a small sample of it in a small vial) and a wishlist of all the fragrances you’re after, and finally you start looking for someone to do an exchange with.
Before agreeing to a swap, always check out swappers’ feedback to make sure they aren’t scammers (if you’re a newbie, only swap with people with a solid reputation and offer to send your sample first), what condition the fragrance is in (some perfumes may be years old and have gone bad) and ask any other question you may have. This will ensure that you don’t receive something different from what you expected and will avoid any dispute. Also, package your sample well to prevent it from breaking during shipping. You’ll of course have to pay for shipping costs and decanting materials (unless you’re swapping a sample you already had) and so, if you swap often, you may end up spending quite a bit of money. Still, it’s a great way to try expensive fragrances that aren’t easily available where you live and you may even make some good friends along the way.
Although most of the fragrance samples in magazines come in the form of scented cards that are quite useless, from time to time you may come across one that comes with a little vial. This usually happens when some big designer brand is organizing a big fragrance launch. The last fragrance I got this way, for example, was Chanel n.5 a few months ago, when the ad with Brad Pitt came out. Of course most of these samples can be obtained at department stores but if you’re interested in the magazine or don’t like asking for samples at a counter, this could be a good option for you.
5. The Fragrance Shop Discovery Club
Beauty Boxes are all the rage now and it was only a matter of time before someone came out with one dedicated exclusively to fragrance. The idea first came to UK perfume chain The Fragrance Shop, which last month announced their Discovery Club programme. For only £5 a quarter, you’ll receive at home five fragrance samples, plus discount vouchers you can use to buy a full-size bottle at The Fragrance Shop, should you like any of them enough to do so.
However, The Fragrance Shop, which only ships within the UK, only offers samples of mainstream fragrances which you can easily get for free in any shop (although Charlotte from Lipglossiping wonders if now the sample policy at The Fragrance Shop will be restricted because of it). I like the idea of a fragrance box a lot, but I’d rather it offered samples of more unusual, hard-to-get-hold-of niche scents. Hopefully, someone will create a box like that in the future. Still, The Fragrance Shop may be worth checking out if you’re keen on trying the latest mainstream releases but can’t be bothered to go to a shop to do so.
Trying out new fragrances doesn’t have to be expensive after all. Happy sampling!
Do you know of any other ways to get perfume samples?