How To Buy Perfume As A Gift

by Jessica Willingham

If you're shopping for your mother, friend, or in-law, there is no classier gift than perfume. If you pick one they love, you'll have brownie points all year long. But scents are tricky, so here's how to buy perfume as a gift.

Perfumes are tricky because they're pretty personal. Different scents evoke different memories for different people, and sometimes what smells great on you might not smell great on your sister. As you shop around, you may become distraught trying to decipher if your mother-in-law is more "woodsy bergamot with a hint of vanilla" or a "breezy elements of citrus with a strong rose floral base." After you've sniffed 75 bottles in the department store and inspired a migraine, you may feel like giving up.

Luckily, there's a simple science to picking out the perfect scent for someone special. No matter who you're shopping for, you can be creative and fearless at the fragrance counter. Don't be shy! Your pick doesn't have to be a bottled representation of a person's very soul — it can be something fun and different for a night out, or an occasional pick-me-up to be layered with her signature lotion.

Here's how to shop perfume for each lady on your list, according to Marynell Maddox, National Beauty Director for Nordstrom.

For Your Baby Sister

Ariana Grande Sweet Like Candy, $46, Amazon

If you have a baby sis to shop for this season, perfume is a great gift. "Teens tend to be interested in fragrances that they see their favorite celeb wearing, or that are being talked about through social media,"says Maddox."Ask about best sellers of the moment that are getting a lot of exposure."

Scroll through your feeds and check out YouTube beauty vloggers to see what the hottest, latest scent is.

For Your Big Sister

MAC ShadeScents in Lady Danger, $57, Nordstrom

If your sister is older, try banking on the information you already know about her. "You can take a look at the kind of fragrance the person wears now, or even the kinds of scents they are drawn to, like citrus or florals," Maddox tells me. "Give all of this information to your fragrance expert and they can help guide you into what’s new or super popular in these categories."

For Your BFF

Derek Lam 10 Crosby Fragrance Collection, $75, Sephora

Don't be afraid to push your friend outside of her comfort zone! If she has a signature scent but is looking to turn over a new leaf in the new year, help her out by introducing new fragrances. "At this time of year, several brands offer mini fragrance collections to give the recipient several different choices, and a chance to try something new," says Maddox.

You can also check out the Fragrance Finder on to shop. You can stick with her signature trend, like fruity or musk, but introduce a new scent in that fragrance family.

For Your Mom

Ralph Lauren Tender Romance Gift Set, $110, Macy's

If your mom is anything like mine, she has some classic scents she sticks to no matter the occasion. Maddox suggests playing that up by rounding out her fragrance library with different formulations of her go-to scent. "You can buy beautifully scented lotions, gels, or soaps. This is a great way to give fragrance as you can usually layer these with any perfume the gift recipient currently wears."

For Your MIL Or Grandmother

Roses De Chloe Eau de Toilette, $53, Amazon

Uh oh. This might be the trickiest of them all. If you nail this, you're golden. If you're way off, she may associate you with a bad smell and that's never good. "Unless you know that your gift recipient really loves newness and variety, choosing the perfect fragrance for your MIL or grandmother may require a little homework," says Maddox. "Find out what their favorite fragrance is now, and then your fragrance expert can guide you into the latest choices in that category."

If you're at a complete loss, I suggest a rose scent. It's classic.

For Someone Who Doesn't Wear Perfume

NEST Fragrances Holiday Reed Diffuser, $44, Amazon

"Choose home fragrance instead," suggests Maddox. "Beautiful candles, diffusers and home fragrance sprays are the perfect way to bring the gift of fragrance into your home."

The most important part about giving the gift of fragrance? Including a gift receipt. Even if they exchange your gift for another scent, it's really the thought that counts. You did good, honey!

Images: Nordstrom