A fragrance expert shares her secrets for finding the perfect perfume

We talked to fragrance consultant Marian Bendeth to get her top tips on buying the right scent for you and your lifestyle. Hint: it's not what your best friend wears.
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Is there a woman in your office who smells like she bathed in patchouli? Or a woman on the subway whose rose-scented cloud followed you around for days? 

Don't be those ladies. 

With offices cracking down on perfume-wearers — sometimes because of a scent allergy, but other times because one person's scent overpowers the whole office — there's no better time to find the perfume that suits both you and the environment you work in. Think, if only you can smell it and enjoy it, the less you're likely to tick off your scent-averse office mates. 

We talked to fragrance consultant Marian Bendeth of Toronto-based Sixth Scents consulting firm to get her top tips on buying the right scent for you and your lifestyle. Hint: it's not what your best friend wears.

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Start with what you know

Only you know which scents smell best on your skin. When you visit a perfume shop, bring a list of the fragrances you already wear and love. This list will help a salesperson guide you through scents you're most drawn to. 

Think: When and where?

Decide on what time of day you'll wear the perfume and where. "There ain't one fragrance for every occasion," said Bendeth. For instance, when choosing a scent you'll wear at the office, go for something lighter. That should decrease the chance it'll drive your co-workers crazy — in a bad way. 

Mix it up

There's no longer such a thing as a "signature scent." Give yourself freedom to curate a "wardrobe of fragrances," choosing different scents for different occasions. 

Disregard the bottle

You'll be wearing the scent, not carrying the bottle. Don't get sucked in by pretty packaging.

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Fall in love

"If you find yourself saying the words: 'I like it,' 'It's nice,' or 'It's pretty' — forget it! It's not good enough," said Bendeth, "you literally have to fall in love." A scent needs to make you feel something powerful — be it sexy, empowered or calm. It needs to be more than a tool to elicit compliments about how "nice" you smell. 

Don't covet friends' scents

Does your friend wear a scent you adore? Just because it mixes well with her body chemistry doesn't mean it'll work for you. 

Don't be quick to judge

You smelled it and you hated it — it might still be the perfume for you. "You have to allow it to evolve," said Bendeth, explaining that perfume goes through three stages on the skin. In the first stage, you'll smell the top note. In the second, you'll register the heart note, perhaps a fruity or flowery scent. Finally, you'll finish off with a base note, such as vanilla, musk or spice. "Keep smelling it," Bendeth encourages.

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Test it correctly

Shoppers who smell the atomizer — the part of the bottle where the spray comes out — drive Bendeth crazy. Sniffing the atomizer will only give you access to the top note. The best way to get a quickly test a perfume is to spray a strip of blotter paper and let it dry. Don't smell it right away, or you'll be inhaling notes of alcohol.

Give yourself time

When you're ready to test a scent on your skin, spray it on your wrist, allow it to air-dry and do not rub your wrists together. Wear it for at least 30 minutes — a full day if you truly want to smell all the notes. "If you can't stop smelling your wrist... that's the one," said Bendeth. 

Don't overdo it

You've chosen your scent, now it's time to exercise good judgement. If you're wearing the fragrance to the office, spritz a conservative amount on your pulse points, including your neck and your wrists. Aim for a welcoming scent that lingers around you, not one that announces you.

Katrina Clarke is a Toronto-based journalist who writes about relationships, health, technology and social trends. Find her on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.