How to Know if a Fragrance is FBW (Full-Bottle-Worthy)

Let’s face it, for most people, fragrances are expensive. Even if you’re not hugely into perfume and just want to buy something to make you smell good to others, it can be overwhelming in a market that’s as saturated as the perfume industry. Starting prices for most half-decent scents still start at around 100 USD today, which is no small sum to most. So in this post I’m going to suggest criteria you can use to help you decide if you should buy a full bottle of that amazing scent you’ve recently sampled.

Now I’m someone who wants to smell everything, and of course I would love a bottle of everything I like. But in my case, I’m constrained by cost, physical space for display and storage, and also by the desire to keep my life relatively simply. This means I’m more suited to having a curated perfume collection, and I suspect that many fume heads out there are in the same boat. Or maybe you are not scent-obsessed, and merely want to avoid purchase regret. Either way, there are 5 criteria I use to decide whether I should buy a perfume and these could help you. These criteria are based on a broader list I’ve created to a more rigorous fragrance evaluation. And they are, in the simplest of terms, smell, performance, versatility, like-ability, and price.

1) Smell

This simply refers to the degree to which you like it. This is obvious, but really – be sure: If you’re about to drop a sum of money that is, to you, mind-blowing, then the fragrance, too, has to be equally mind-blowing. Here I am not referring to what others think – just you. You should be in love, regardless of how cheap or expensive the ingredients are, regardless of the degree to which the fragrance is complex or linear, regardless of how special or unique it is, regardless of how it is packaged or presented, regardless of the brand or perfumer. You must love it!

2) Performance

To me this means longevity, projection, and sillage, as well as how the scent might develop on the skin and/or on clothing over time. For me, no matter how much I might love a scent, if the performance is sub-par, I will not buy the fragrance… though, there have been exceptions that I don’t regret. But generally, if I love it but it underperforms, I might keep a sample or decant, but that’s the extent of it. Now, the thing is, in order to understand performance, you’re really going to somehow have to test out a scent, either through a couple of sprays in a retail environment, or by using a sample, or probably better – by trying a few times with a small travel spray or decant or at least 5 ml or by picking up a 3 or more samples. Especially if the perfume’s expensive, my standard is to be able to smell it on myself eight hours later without sniffing my wrist. For most fragrances, that’s actually a pretty tall order, especially when I consider that fragrance doesn’t tend to last on my dry skin and that I easily become anosmic sometimes. So, in practise I do settle for less.

3) Versatility

Can you where the scent day and night, winter and summer, casually and formally? No, one fragrance certainly does not have to be all of these things, but you’ll certainly get a lot more use out of it if it is. This is something to think about if you don’t have or don’t want an expansive fragrance collection.

4) Like-ability

Now you might be someone who really doesn’t care what other people think. You don’t wear perfume to seduce a man or woman, impress your boss, please a crowd, placate an audience – you wear it for yourself, right? I personally claim to be that kind of person, but in reality, I really shouldn’t wear my strongest oud (oudh, aoud, agarwood) or patchouli scent to the office. It’s not an environment where I don’t care if I potentially offend someone or cause an allergic reaction. Sidenote – I’ll be honest here, sometimes perfume can be a useful tool to keep certain individuals in the workplace at bay. I also attest to having worn oud in Japan to guarantee I get more space on pubic transportation (no, oud is not popular here). Then, of course, there are those of you who genuinely do care what others think or do solely wear fragrance as part of your prowling repertoire. In this case, you might need to solicit the opinions of other individuals before making a purchase.

5) Price 

This last point is perhaps the second most important after loving the fragrance. Obviously, there are some fragrances that are simply just going to be out of range. Do you really want to be paying 20 dollar a spray? If you’re in love with a perfume you really cannot afford, don’t buy it – do some research into finding similar fragrances. Because since the market is indeed spilling over with options, perfumes that are both popular and expensive will tend to have copycats, some being exact dupes. At the end of the day, only YOU might know that you’re not wearing the Real McCoy, and your wallet will thank you for it.

Now, does the fragrance you are eyeing need to meet all of these criteria? Absolutely not. In the end, you’re looking for some sort of balance, and that’s something that only you can determine,  but do try to avoid justifying something that might result in buyer’s regret down the line.

I think like-ability is the least important of my 5 criteria – you can always get another fragrance for work, obviously. Speaking of work, this is my justification for purchasing and repurchasing mainstream designer scents that I like, but don’t particularly find unique or mind-blowing in any way. I especially like to hunt down these fragrances in thrift stores and in online peer-to-peer markets, where they can be found at super discounted prices. Not only are they cheap, but I use them up – not buyer’s remorse.

If you do end splurging, but realize to your lament, that your precious juice is going to be gone in weeks, another tip I have is to go out and buy a dupe as well – then you can wear the “fake” one for day-to-day wear, and save the original for special occasions. I’m currently doing this with Portrait of a Lady by Frederick Malle. This fragrance is a masterpiece, with a price that a masterpiece typically commands. I can’t afford to keep buying it, especially when there are other fragrances out there begging me to spend money on them. I now have a small decant of the real deal, which I use for reference purposes and special occasions, and the rest of the time I use the smell-a-like.


  • Smell: degree to which YOU like it
  • Performance: longevity? sillage?
  • Versatility: seasons? occasions?
  • Like-ability: crowd-pleaser? polarizing?
  • Price: value? dupes?

Do you agree with these points, or do you have different criteria? Comment below!


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