Sunday, November 30, 2014

Episode Six: It is Effing Hard to Pick Something When I Don't Know What You're Talking About (or Terminology)

Everything has to be so damn difficult, grrr. I am trying to build a post queue so that I can avoid more posting delays, but it doesn't really work when I am wearing three or more scents in one day. I will keep working on a solution, in the future there may be more home fragrance, or text posts when scheduled posts are MIA.

But I know everyone has been waiting so impatiently (ha ha) so I am going to give you the next installment of my three-part, shopping for fragrance gifts series. This week I want to introduce you to some of the more commonly used terms in fragrance; these terms describe the size, scent and type of fragrance. There is no point in babbling on, so let's dive in.


Most perfume and cologne sprays come in 1.7 and 3.4 fluid ounce sizes. You may also see 1.0 fl oz and 1.8 fl oz (usually in men's cologne). In milliliters, the most common sizes are 30 mL (a little more that 1 fl oz), 60mL (about 2 fl oz) or 100 mL (about 3.3 fl oz). In my experience there is no particular distinction that leads distributors to offer different sizes, although perfumes made outside the US are obviously more likely to be measured in mL. Pricing remains fairly consistent regardless of whether or not metric sizing is used. In all cases smaller sizes are less expensive, but larger sizes are usually a better deal. These are not all the sizes sold in every scent, however, so if you aren't sure how much product you are getting it is best to use a conversion chart. What concentration of perfume oil you are purchasing will also play a part in the sizing and pricing of the scent.


You can buy several different levels of perfume concentration and the more concentrated the perfume oil, the more expensive it will be. Also keep in mind that concentration affects the scent, and something that may smell wonderful, lightly concentrated, will make you gag at a higher concentration. Commercial perfumes are usually carried by ethanol - this is the vessel that gets the perfume oil to your skin. Independent perfumes often use a carrier oil, such as coconut or jojoba. This will make the scent more concentrated, because these oils won't evaporate like alcohol will, but it can also alter the scent. A few independent perfumers will offer the choice of alcohol or oil, but it isn't prevalent.
Some of the concentrations of perfume oil are as follows:
  • Perfume mist, body mist, body spray - essentially the same thing, these scents offer a very low concentration of the perfume oil(s) and have a very light scent that evaporates quickly. Usually inexpensive and easy to find.
  • Cologne - also called Eau de Cologne, or (rarely) abbreviated as EDC, cologne is a low concentration of perfume oil that originated in Cologne, Germany and typically concentrated below 5%. "Cologne" as a generic term is often used to describe fragrances made for men. The only perfumer I can think of who consistently sells Eau de Cologne is Jo Malone. It has little longevity and low to moderate scent sillage.
  • Eau de Toilette - also referred to by it's initials EDT, this is the most common fragrance concentration. Nearly all commercial scents, especially mid-market, are available in EDT. This usually has concentrations of around 10%, can be as much as 15% of the perfume oil(s). Moderate lasting time, and usually a moderately decent sillage.
  • Eau de Parfum - Can be referred to as EDP. The second most likely concentration on the shelves. Many higher end fragrances offer both EDT and EDP. Eau de Parfum usually carries a scent concentration of around 15%, up to about 20%. Usually has a good lasting time and sillage.
  • Parfum Extrait - "Perfume Extract", this is the highest concentration of scent offered by most perfumers. The scent can be as much as 40% of the perfume, although it is typically around 20%. Parfum Extrait is usually only offered by luxury and niche perfume houses, and it enormously expensive. However, most perfume lovers will agree that it is well worth the cost. A better way to buy a perfume extract is to buy from an independent perfumer, whose blends can have a much higher concentration at a much lower cost.
  • Solid perfume - Although less popular and therefore harder to find than scents carried in liquid form, a solid perfume makes a good alternative for gifting. They are usually less expensive than their liquid counterparts, but because they are denser and carried in waxy compounds that hold the notes on the skin longer, solid perfumes last longer than a traditional liquid scent. Solid perfumes have a shorter longevity and less sillage than liquid scents, however, and won't work for someone who would find themselves constantly re-applying.
Please keep in mind that when I say perfume "oil", I don't necessarily mean an actual oil. Just the liquid extraction of the scent compound that is mixed with the carrier and/or other ingredients. I say this because I will in the future refer to perfume oils that are actual perfume compounds mixed with oils, and I don't want there to be any confusion.


Many different terms get bandied about when talking about perfumes, so here are some of the most common.
Types of scent (Called "families")
  • Floral - Have dominant floral scents, either single or a bouquet. Otherwise, is just as it sounds.
  • Citrus - Use citrus scents as dominant, sometimes very strong, notes.
  • Fruity - Dominant scents are fruits other than citrus. Har har.
  • Chypre - Fresh, herbal, outdoors-y scents. Can include the scents that fall under the "green" scent type, which are fresher with grass, crushed leaves and vegetable (tomato leaf, cucumber) notes.
  • Woody - Strong woody scents, especially in the base, such as sandalwood and cedar. Patchouli is often considered a "woody" note.
  • Oriental - Many fragrances are some variety of oriental, as these contain many of the popular base notes such as vanilla and tonka bean. They also contain the more incense-type notes and spicy resins.
  • Aquatic - Clean, cool often masculine or non-gender specific scents. Sometimes called "ozone" scents/notes which always confuses me, because when I think of ozone, I think of burning rubber. But these are not.
  • Fougère - A really difficult term for herbal-ly, clean, woody, sexy scents. Fougères are usually men's scents and one of the most popular is the classic Drakkar Noir.
  • Gourmand - Fairly new scent type, these are your delicious food-y, sweet, edible type scents. Often similar to oriental fragrances, but gourmands are more edible as opposed to spicy.
Discussing scents
  • Longevity - How long your perfume lasts on your skin. Everyone has different desires, but I expect a perfume with moderate longevity to last 4-6 hours.
  • Top Notes - Sometimes called "head" notes. The very first thing you smell when you spray the perfume, usually the most fragrant, and expand then disappear quickly.
  • Mid or Middle Notes - The "heart" of the perfume, these notes are also called "the heart" or "heart notes". They are the part of the scent that make up the bulk of its' type.
  • Base or Bottom Notes - The deepest notes used to anchor and add longevity to the scent. These tend to last the longest, but will also hold closest to the skin.
  • Dry Down - The final phase of the perfumes longevity, where the top, and most mid notes have evaporated and the base notes are revealed. Can make or break a fragrance, because it is here where the scent really hangs on.
  • Sillage - How far the scent reaches from your skin, and the scent "trail" that is left behind you. Low sillage holds very tight to the skin and is best for those who work in close confines, or have allergies. High sillage leaves a very distinct trail, and is a marker for those who want a "signature scent".
  • Nose - Another term for the one who creates the fragrance. I prefer the term "perfumer", but they can be used interchangeably.
  • Powder - Not a note in and of itself, but the scent effect when different notes are blended together, such as a woody note with a green note. Can be good, or bad, as some people think the powder scent is musty. I like it.
  • Note - The individual scents that combine to make a fragrance. Designed with the knowledge that they will evaporate over time, each note is chosen for the part that it will play in the final scent.
  • Accord - The notes combine into a fragrance accord. An accord may not be a complete fragrance, but a new scent created out of the notes used. So... note =/= accord, accord =/= perfume, but accord = note AND perfume = accord... weird, right?
I hope this was in some way helpful, and if there is something I didn't cover, or something you feel needs more clarity please let me know in the comments! For now, I am off to add another post to the queue, so happy shopping, and pleasant journeys~

*** I made every effort to create this blog post from my own memory and experience. However, there were a few instances when I needed to refer to Wikipedia for verification. I didn't want to present you any faulty information. You can find the detailed article on perfume here.

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