5 Creative Ways to Give the Perfect Perfume or Cologne Gift

Collage of a pink gift or present box wrapped with gold ribbon and a number of pink flowers and desserts.

Previously, I’ve written about why you shouldn’t give perfume or cologne as a gift.

But let’s say you’ve read that article and are unfazed. You still really, really want to gift your loved one a nice new bottle of fragrance.

Go you! The largest indicator of unsuccessful fragrance gifts, I’ve found, is a careless, cavalier “eh-give-them-anything” mindset on the part of the giver. If you’ve thought this through carefully and still want to go forth with a fragrance gift, you’ve probably planned it such that you’re reasonably confident your lucky recipient will love it.

A pile of assorted fruit, including a pineapple, pomegranate, apple, grapes, and mangoes.

Even so, there are ways to increase the likelihood that your gift is well received, some of which you may not have considered. There are many more ways to give fragrance than simply surprising someone with a random perfume or cologne bottle. In this article, I’ve compiled five such options.

Without further ado, here are five ways you can make sure your friend or family member will love that new perfume or cologne you’re giving them this year:

Know Their Tastes

This should probably be obvious: make sure you’re giving a fragrance based on what you know the recipient actually likes.

The best thing is to learn what fragrances they currently own, like, and wear. Pay attention to any of your own perfumes or colognes they’ve complimented as well. Giving them a copy of your exact fragrance might or might not be weird, but at the very least you can learn about the sorts of scents they like.

If they don’t currently wear fragrance, you’ll have to get a little more creative. Pay attention to their candles and scented home products, their skincare and hair products, the everyday sorts of scents around them that they love. Try reading my guide on finding your first fragrance while imagining that you’re in your friend’s shoes, taking inventory of scents you love.

You can also ask them questions at various levels of opacity. Simply asking can be the easiest way to find these things out and often saves you a lot of awkward shower product snooping.

A bouquet of purple wisteria flowers, white flowers like roses or jasmine, and green sprigs and leaves.

Let Them Choose

The riskiest part of gifting a fragrance is that it’s hard to predict what people will like. Thankfully, there are a number of different gift options that allow you to let the recipient choose for themselves between a number of different options. Sample sets, gift cards, and subscriptions to decant services can make perfect and thoughtful gifts for fragrance aficionados and novices alike.

Gifting a set of samples or decants is a great way to up the odds that the recipient will like at least something in your gift. It’s a numbers game, really: the more different perfumes are combined in your gift, the more likely it is that your friend or family member will find something perfect within.

Most brands and perfume houses, as well as some large retailers like Sephora, sell their own sample sets. Most of these are designed to provide a wide sampling (ha ha) of the seller’s fragrant offerings.

A glass bottle shaped like a maple leaf with a black cap filled with golden amber-colored maple syrup, backlit by sun.

If you’re particularly short on time or you really don’t know anything about what this person might like, a simple gift card can be a phenomenal choice. Most online sample retailers provide them, as do many perfume boutiques and beauty stores.

Or, if you’d prefer a more personal touch, you can pick out a number of samples or decants yourself. There are a number of great online sample retailers that allow you to try lots of different perfumes and colognes on a budget. Hand-picking a handful of samples is a really thoughtful gift for a friend who is difficult to please, whose tastes you don’t know well, or who just really loves trying new things and adventure. I’ll list some sample retailers I’ve bought from and love at the end of this article.

Finally, a subscription to a fragrance decant subscription service can be a perfect option between a gift card and a sample set. These services send subscribers monthly decants so that they can try and enjoy a number of different fragrances. You can pick the first one, and then your gift recipient can enjoy picking perfumes and colognes for themselves for each month thereafter.

Forgo the Surprise

It seems that an element of surprise is essential to the consumerist magic fairytale of gift-giving.

But we all know the story of O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi, don’t we? Surprise gifts can lead to laughable mishaps and genuine disappointments (but what really matters is caring for one another, not material possessions).

Seven makeup contacts filled with crushed and broken pink powder of various shapes and sizes.

Sure, we all love the tale of the perfect surprise gift opened under the tree to great universal delight. But when has that ever happened? Have you ever had the experience of receiving the perfect surprise gift that you genuinely adored, that was just what you wanted, without dropping heavy hints or flat-out telling someone what you want it?

I certainly haven’t.

After all, when has intentionally obscuring communication about anything led to better results? We wouldn’t expect surprise to be a smart move in conveying thoughts and feelings or making plans, so why do we expect it to work out well for gifts?

Therefore, if you really want to give a fragrance, consider forgoing the element of surprise and giving your recipient a heads-up.

It might feel awkward. Taking the surprise out of the equation forces us to stare the essence of modern gift-giving straight in the eye: buying each other stuff based on hazy ideas of what people might like, on hazy and over-stretched budgets, so that we may feel benevolent giving them and appreciated in receiving similarly random items in kind.

Economically speaking, gift-giving habits are incredibly inefficient, adding significant deadweight loss to the economy as we all spend too much money on things we’re not sure people want so that we can receive things we don’t really want in kind. Seriously, academic papers have been written about the phenomenon.

As a society, we miss out on a significant portion of the good we could have gotten out of our money by giving each other surprise gifts, especially when they’re for people we barely know such as distant relatives or participants in a game like White Elephant.

A stack of shiny silver coins.

Amid all this late capitalist silliness, the least you can do is make sure your gift is something the recipient actually wants.

So run it by them. Why not? You can pretend to be subtle and ask too-specific questions about what kind of scents they might hypothetically like to receive, or you can ask them point blank. See if they’re excited about the idea of receiving a fragrance at all.

If the response you get is favorable, by all means, proceed. If not? Congratulations. We’ve all been saved a hefty bottle of deadweight loss.

Let Them Return It

Like the previous point, this is another one of those pragmatic ideas that some would say ruins the magic of gift-giving. But it never hurts to include a gift receipt and clear return or exchange instructions when you’re giving as risky a gift as perfume.

Sure, most places won’t take a fragrance back once it’s been opened and sampled, but this measure at least provides some protection. It’s possible that the fragrance you’re gifting is one that the recipient has heard of or smelled before and disliked, or that they read the ad copy and see it filled with notes they cannot stand, or they simply smell the fragrance through the packaging and don’t care for it.

Two gold rings, as are customary for wedding rings in some cultures.

In such cases, a gift receipt can be worth more than its (admittedly light) weight in gold. It can provide both you and the receiver infinitely valuable peace of mind, and it’s free.

Make It Yourself

What’s more meaningful than a good old-fashioned homemade gift?

Sure, a full-blown original perfume composition isn’t exactly a piece of elbow macaroni art. But if you’re really into fragrance and have been for a while, you’ve probably thought about composing perfumes yourself before, and you might have more experience and creativity to apply in the field than you think.

A leather-bound book with yellowing pages flipped open to a page near the end, with a pair of glasses sitting on top of it.

Fragrance-making can be a dizzyingly vast hobby to be sure, but consider that just a few simple essential oils can be blended into an intoxicating scent, and there are lots of simple beginner recipes available at your local library and online. I can promise that a personal, homemade fragrance gift (even if it’s something like a homemade candle or skin product!) is a gift your lucky recipient will never forget.

If you like the idea of bespoke perfumery but feel you don’t have the experience to come up with something great yourself, there are plenty of companies and agencies out there that compose bespoke perfumes and colognes on demand. That’s the way perfumers mostly operated in the olden days: composing bespoke compositions for wealthy and noble individuals. With your notes on your loved one’s likes and dislikes, you could commission them the perfect scent and make them feel like royalty.

Ready to Gift?

Armed with these ideas for thoughtful perfume and cologne gifts, you’ll want to find a great deal.

When you’re not sure exactly what someone wants, a set of samples or decants can make a great gift. Some companies that sell samples and decants of various perfumes are Scent Decant and Scent Split. They also have gift cards.

Or, if you’re ready to buy a full bottle, there are lots of places you can look, including Scent Decant, HottPerfume, Scent Split, The Perfume Spot, and StrawberryNet. Many of these companies have gift cards as well.

Finally, consider gifting a subscription to ScentBird, a monthly decant subscription service. It’s a great, creative way to give a fragrance gift while still allowing the receiver to make selections based on what they like.

These are affiliate links. If you click on them and buy something, the seller pays me a commission, at no extra cost to you. You can learn more about them here.

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