Know-how: The Wizard of Oz

Samples play an important role in our shared hobby: first, it’s the only way to experience perfumes that aren’t carried in stores close to where we live. But even for perfumes that we can find in B&M stores, paper test is not completely adequate even to get to the Yes/No/Maybe point – let alone form the final opinion; and skin “real estate” is too limited to get a proper wearing to more than maybe 4 perfumes during one visit even in summer time. It means that we need those precious fractions of ounces to do the testing without having to immediately share our delight, or lack thereof, with a helpful and eager SA.

I started writing this post in the second-person of view format “you should [not]” or “do <this>,” but quickly realized that I didn’t feel comfortable giving advice while I know that most of my readers could write all that themselves. Besides, I do not undertake step-by-step instructions but rather want to share my experience and thoughts on the subject. So I’ll stick to a first-person narration.

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I try to buy as few samples as possible. On the onset of this hobby I went through the “initiation” phase when I wanted to test all the best perfumes created by that time and then try everything new. But as I reached some saturation point, on one hand, and the industry exploded on us, on the other, I realized that it didn’t make sense to keep paying to test more and more new perfumes while neglecting those for which I previously paid, sometimes even twice – first to try and then to add them to my perfume wardrobe. Besides, with my “success rate” (I like about 10-15% of new perfumes I try) I would be just wasting 85-90% of the costs that add up really quickly.

So, whenever possible, I sniff perfumes for free in stores. If I see any free manufacturer samples offered, I grab them and do not waste time on trying those perfumes in the store, unless there is nothing else to try at that time. I also try to resist temptation to “re-visiting” perfumes that I already know and/or have samples of, unless I want to try something sprayed (vs. a dab sample at home), or if I’m trying to decide on whether to buy it, or there is nothing else to try at that time.




Since I’m not trying to be the first to write about some new perfume (heh, I’m not writing much about any perfume), I never buy samples because perfume is not available yet in the store near me. I know that it will be there before I notice, and, most likely, I won’t like it anyway.

It helps to know stores’ policies and “habits” regarding perfume samples. Do they allow making your own samples (Nordstrom)? Will they make you several free samples whenever you ask (Sephora)? Do they have at least sometimes and give away samples or can make them if you ask (Neiman Marcus, Barneys)? Will they sic on you mental health social workers if you ask for a sample even with a purchase (Macy’s)? If there is anything of interest, and I know that the place, in principle, gives away samples, I always ask for them with confidence – and often get them.




The next best thing to getting samples for free is to obtain them almost for free: swapping. Costs: shipping and maybe some supplies if I want to make samples from my bottles (and the cost of perfume though it’s immaterial since I won’t use up all of those 1.7/3.4 oz bottles anyway). But it’s a tiny cost compared to other avenues for procuring samples. I prefer to exchange samples with people to whom I wouldn’t mind sending those samples “just because” even without the actual exchange (it takes away the pressure of negotiations), but I did some more formal swapping as well.

Not too often but from time to time I realize that if I want to try particular perfume, I have to buy a sample. First I check if a brand itself offers samples from their website, especially if it’s a small company: even if the price of a sample is the same as elsewhere, I want to cut off the middleman.




If the brand doesn’t sell samples, I look for a split on NST or one of the FB groups because for slightly more money than it would cost to buy a small sample from a decanter site, in a friendly split I can get a small decant. And since splits are usually done for new or very popular scents, even if I end up not liking that perfume, it’ll be easier to swap it for something else.

When all that fails, I’m trying to buy samples from real perfume stores that sell samples online – Luckyscent, Twisted Lily, Tiger Lily, Aedes, Osswald, etc. I prefer places that specialize in selling perfumes, not samples.

As a last resort, I go to The Perfumed Court or Surrender to Chance. I’m grateful that there are such businesses: without them I wouldn’t have been able to try at least several perfumes when I needed to (“needed” as in tried to decide, on a couple of occasions, if I wanted to buy perfume that I liked in the store but didn’t get a sample: as the result, I bought one of such and voted down the other one). But since it is their business, and they need to make money doing it, it is the least economically sound way of getting new perfumes to try.


Rusty and Samples


How do you sample? What was the last sample that you’ve bought?

Me? Naomi Goodsir Or du Serail. After smelling it in Tiger Lily perfumery first, I decided to buy a sample to try it on skin. So, it looks like I do not blind buy even samples any longer.


Images: my own

Know-how: Storing Your Perfume Samples

Cat in a boxAt some point my life was simpler: I had my perfumes in original bottles (and most of them in original boxes); samples that I owned were manufacturers’ ones, easy to store in those paper jackets and all fifteen or twenty of those could easily fit into a single drawer. And then it all started: ordering samples from the usual suspects, getting them at Nordstrom and swapping with other perfume addic enthusiasts…

While I was ordering samples or getting them only for those perfumes about which I knew, I could still keep a track of them and remember where I had what, which perfumes I’d tried and which I hadn’t. But then with some batch purchases, extras from swaps, random drawing winnings and my own decanting for traveling my samples box kept filling up and I didn’t feel in control any more. Everything that I got to wear would still be entered into the database and accounted for but many samples were ignored for months just because I forgot I had them or I couldn’t find them fast enough when I wanted to test one of them. It’s not easy to find the one 1 ml vial in a pile of a hundred of those, is it?

Using ammo boxes for the storage wasn’t my idea: I read about it on one of the blogs (NST, I think) in the topic on the perfume storage. But when I tried to look into that option I found quickly that I had no idea which size I needed. So I dropped the idea for a while. And then I realized I had a friend who was a member of a gun club. I brought him vials of the most common sizes and he helped me to choose the correct box size.

Ammo boxLast week instead of testing new perfumes, writing about them or reading your blog entries the day they were published (I got to most of them eventually), I was organizing my samples. At some point I might change the way I sort them and do it by note, perfumer or type, but for now I’ve just organized them by size first, then by brand and then by name. On the picture above, box on the left (B1) can hold fifty 1 ml short vials or 1.5 ml dab and spray vials or skinny 2 ml dab and spray vials. Box on the right (B2) can hold fifty wider 2 ml spray vials or 2.5 ml spray vials or, I’m not sure about the size, standard Nordstrom sample plastic spray vials.

My cat Rusty thought I went through the exercise just to empty the nice box for him to use – which he did immediately after I vacated it. Well, he tried to play The Prince(ss) and The Pea even before I took the last vial out of it but I didn’t allow him. Once he got in he slept there for a couple of hours. And then I reclaimed it for the next batch of samples that will be in there soon, I’m positive.

If you want to use that solution, here are links to the sizes of boxes I use:

B1: 50 ct (the one on my picture is this one, but my friend says it’s the same one), 100 ct.

B2: 50 ct, (100 ct)

I plan to investigate a proper size for 3-5 ml spray vials and when I find those I’ll post an update.

How do you store 8-10 ml decants in tall bottles that aren’t too stable on their own?

As always, feel free to post a link to your blog’s post(s) related to the topic.

Images: my own