Well, if you’re like me, you probably want to get your nose on absolutely everything there is out there, but unless your pockets are extremely deep, that will unlikely happen, especially when you consider that the market throws out hundreds of new fragrances every year!

The best way to try a scent, short of going to a department or specialty store every day to try on that one scent to get familiar with it, is to procure a sample. Free is best, of course, and if you live near a store like Sephora or Nordstrom, that is indeed possible, but limiting if you’re into less commercial delights. Other brick and mortar stores in your area, such as Bloomingdales or Neiman Marcus, might occasionally have a carded sample upon request, but it’s generally not policy. I’ve never seen anything for free here in fancy Tokyo department stores, sadly.

In my opinion, you do need time to get to know a fragrance well enough to properly decide if it is something you want to invest in, and a typical sample size is sometimes not big enough to get the job done, but you can always get more than one. A sample size vial (between .03oz – .08oz (average 1.5 ml) of fragrance) is enough for one day, or two days at a stretch, depending on the scent’s longevity. Luckily, there are lots of online options to whet your nose’s appetite. A decant is when fragrance is sprayed, poured, or pipette-ed from its original larger bottle into a smaller bottle or vial. Few online retailers practice this, and interestingly the practice has been banned on eBay. I guess there is an issue of quality control and/or trust?

Many brands bypass the bottle concept altogether and offer samples in paper packets, though I find this potentially messy, and obviously only good for a one shot. The same goes for fashion magazine samples – the old “open, rub, and sniff” concept. Both of these sampling concepts are limited to fashion fragrances. If you already know you want a full bottle of something, head over to the online retailers page to explore some options, but in the meantime I’ve compiled these sites for your sampling pleasure. You have my apologies in advance if you find faulty or outdated links. There’s a lot to keep up with, so kindly let me know if a link doesn’t work!

Subscription services

With the popularity of subscription services rising in recent years, it was bound to happen with scent. With a fragrance subscription service (see my post on the topic), you get to sample scents from a wide range of companies without any hassle, and therefore is my favorite method of procuring trial size vials of perfume. The main subscription services offering sample sizes that are currently active are Scent Trunk (I used for a while) Olfactif (niche) and Perfumes for a Buck (designer). A New York company called Scent Bird offered larger 8 ml sizes, which would appeal to those who want more time to get to know a perfume.

Websites specializing in sample sizes and decants

Just like larger retailers, several of these offer shopping incentives, such as reward programs, coupon cards, reduced shipping, and seasonal specials.

  • Aedes (7 samples for $15, 7 free with order of larger item)
  • Decant Shop (US, niche decants, good shipping deals for North America)
  • Fragrance Vials (US, individually priced)
  • My Perfume Samples (US, designer scent decants, miniatures and sets available, individually priced)
  • Scent Samples (UK, decants of designer and some niche scents, gift sets, wedding and party favors)
  • Scent Split (US, hand-decanted niche samples, free international shipping over US$150)
  • Surrender to Chance (US, individually priced)
  • The Perfume Society (US, curated exploration boxes, publications, subscriptions for discounts)
  • The Perfumed Court (US, niche decants, individually priced, incremental discounts, rewards)
  • The Posh Peasant (US, decants and sampler sets, individually priced)

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Online fragrance boutiques offering samples

These stores generally send carded samples when in stock, and if not, you may get a decanted sample vial. A few of those listed below actually specialize in making their own wee decants. Many stores may ask that you provide one or two alternates in case they don’t have your requested fragrance(s). I’ve included the country in which the retailers are based, but most below will provide international shipping.

General cosmetics and beauty boutiques offering samples

This list represents the bigger beauty brand companies whose focus is more general. Perfume samples are to be had!

Survey sites

This is one of those sites where you get pressie for doing a survey, although I’m not sure which comes first. This one seems legitimate (don’t trust my word, though). Watch out for so-called freebie websites that promise something for nothing – that nothing may turn out to be a whole lot of spam and a whole lot of hassle!

eBay & Amazon

Though I admit I don’t use it often, I’ve had good luck on eBay, and this is considering that many retailers will not ship to my country of residence. I imagine this is a great option particularly for those who are US-based, although there are many who would prefer to purchase through a “proper” store, not feeling safe in their retail experience. Sure enough, scams and the like have occurred and do still exist, but they are rare. I think it’s a shame decanting is no longer allowed. Amazon is also a good source for niche scents, especially since individuals can now sell through this mega store.

Houses that respond to requests

Although the websites of these brands have no obvious sample policy, they will offer samples, but only if you sound like you intend to buy when you call or email them. Frederic Malle Phone the NY store, and they will send you three samples of your choice for a handling fee of 20 USD. Serge Lutens If you email, write, or phone them, they will send you a Petit Livre des Salons (a pamphlet of their wax samples) and possibly a spray sample of a current scent. Robert Piguet If you email them, they will send you any samples of your choice for $3 each + $15 shipping. HermesSend them a thoughtful email, and they may send you any sample you ask for, though this may depend on the representative with whom you speak.

Brands or houses selling sample sizes directly from their site

This makes good business scents (ha!) for brands who often do not have big marketing expense accounts and as a result the huge potential market of consumers. Yet many of the perfume houses below also have a tendency to use more expensive materials, and add to this their relatively higher overhead, you can understand why the end product ends up being a bigger investment for the consumer. They may also produce more unique scents that are not for every nose. Selling samples is a great way to tease would-be customers into falling in love and coming back for a bigger bottle. It has worked for me! This list is long, growing, but far from complete. A lot of these ship internationally, but there are also probably a lot that don’t.

Sample swap & split groups

From what I can gather from perfumista online activity, many people actively participate in swapping decants of their own stock with others via a variety of venues, the ones I know of being the forum-based Basenotes and Makeup Alley – the largest online swapping platform. You can also try Facebook Fragrance Friends, which has thousands of members. There are benefits to this activity in addition to the obvious, such as community building and sharing. Check out the post from Now Smell This on swapping for more “how-to” information. I don’t and probably will never participate in this kind of activity, and here is why:

  1. First and foremost, for me it’s the shipping costs (also why I rarely purchase from eBay or Amazon, as mentioned). Living in a country where there is not an active perfume community (in my language, to boot), voids the endeavor, as I can likely get samples more cheaply from sources listed above.
  2. It takes time and energy to find the swaps you’re looking for and get connections going, and personally I’d rather be blogging.
  3. I don’t anticipate that the quantity of people dying to have whatever I’m willing to part with (which incidentally is not that much compared to many fume heads out there) is not that large, or people may not have anything I want (though that is less likely).
  4. I think it would be ultimately very difficult to ascertain what, exactly, is a fair swap! Research (=time) is needed. See #2.
  5. Sadly, there is also the quality control issue, as mentioned with eBay.
  6. It is actually illegal to send alcohol-based perfumes by mail, although it is very obvious that both individuals and companies indeed do this. Companies (like Strawberry Net) seemed to have found loopholes for dealing with this, but individuals can get caught. I was! I sent a Christmas package home one year containing some perfume and it came back to me a few days later. The mail carrier actually came to my door with the package, and watched me take out the perfume. Yes, I did label “perfume” on the package, as international packages sent to Canada have very strict laws requiring senders to do so. I could have purposefully “forgotten” to write the full contents of the parcel, but I have had packages opened by Canadian customs before. I wouldn’t want to risk confiscation, which I have also experienced, albeit at airport customs.

Do you know of any other means of procuring samples? Anything I forgot to list? Share in a comment!