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8 Major Scent Categories in Perfume and What They Mean for You

8 Major Scent Categories in Perfume and What They Mean for You

It was our melancholy friend Jaques in As You Like It who first uttered the now infamous and oft-quoted phrase ‘all the world’s a stage and the men and women merely players’. While Jaques was musing on the solemnity of mortality, the fear of the future and the seven ages of man – we try to take a less fatalistic approach. When you deconstruct it, it basically means that all actions that we take as human beings are social actions – what we say, what we wear and how we present ourselves are lines, costumes and characterization to the audiences we interact with. With the world being a stage, a question people often find themselves asking is ‘who am I to the world today’? We all know that one of the most evocative senses is smell – an avenue to the past or the future, scent allows us to journey into a specific time or place or even a feeling from nothing more than a passing whiff. Scent can say a lot about you, but what kinds of scents are there and what exactly are they saying?

Usually perfumes in general can be grouped into ‘scent categories’ and nearly every perfume in the market falls into one of eight broad categories. These categories have almost evolved to be characters of their own with idiosyncrasies, subtleties and specific ideas surrounding each one. The question you have to ask yourself is which of these characters best fits you?


A glass of freshly squeezed orange juice late in the morning in July; a cool pitcher of tart lemonade on a porch as the sun slowly sets; Citrus scents evoke a particularly refreshing feeling in those who experience it. Light, tangy and delightful, citrus perfumes are usually considered day-time perfumes that can come across as energetic, bright and enthusiastic. A citrus perfume is often associated with late spring and summer and contains notes of orange, lemon, grapefruit and bergamot.


Harking back to the old custom of having a bride carrying a bouquet on her wedding day to mask her scent (back when showers and baths weren’t necessarily a daily occurrence), flowers have become a uniquely, almost clichéd feminine scent.  However, clichés aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes having a simple floral scent is just perfect, whether it is a single dominant flower or a bouquet. These are often used when highlighting what one would consider more feminine aspects – wearing it to the theatre, a wedding or an afternoon tea. Floral scents also evoke a sense of growth and rebirth, often being most popular in spring when new flowers are blooming.


Fruity perfumes are all about personality; a burst of flavour flowing from a particularly juicy peach or berry. Fruity scents often have an air of boisterousness to them, a feeling of over-exuberance and fun. Fruity scents are for going a little wild – being associated with a familiar fragrance that we so often consumes renders the person who is wearing it to be particularly… delicious. Wear these kinds of scents in summer to display your enthusiasm, your energy and your joie de vivre.


Whereas we tend to think of many of the other scents as vaguely distilled and packaged aromas, green scents are those often-forgotten smells that keep us humble and remind us of our oneness to the earth: think freshly mown grass, a herb garden buzzing with bees or the petrichor of rain after a heat wave. These perfumes are generally everyday, day-time perfumes and tend to be thought of on the rustic side – not necessarily the scent to go to a wedding in or seduce to unless you’re dating one of the Mumford Sons. These are also generic scents that tend not to be typically gendered like floral or woody scents.


Picture a long day at the beach: the placid drone of the waves, the prickles of sweat from the sun, the faint tang of salt carrying on the sea breeze. Like green scents, the oceanic scents tend toward the natural, outdoorsy world. If green scents focus in on the micro, like gardens and grass, oceanic scents focus on the macro, like mountain ranges and oceans. It is a scent that evokes a deep understanding and an air of authority connected to the larger world. These are scents that should be used subtly at business meetings or in places where you’d really like to show yourself off as a competent, confident individual.


While the word is outdated, ‘oriental’ conjures up specific old-world images that influenced the Victorian Era perfumeries that created these scents: a hazy opium den in Shanghai, a sultan’s haram in Baghdad, an Indian maharajah’s palace deep in the jungle. While some scent types like oceanic or woody scents attempt to establish an air of solidity and firmness, oriental scents attempt to do the exact opposite. These scents evoke an air of warmth, enigma and daring – an individual who is not altogether predictable but rather impulsive, carnal and mysterious. Usually distilled from animalistic bases like ambergris and paired with scents that evoke the Far and Middle East like sandalwood and jasmine, these sensual scents appeal to most of our baser animal instincts.


Spicy scents are often warm scents, and transport us to a comfortable, cozy place. Think of a cold winter’s evening with a crackling fire, instrumental Christmas music and a steaming mug of gluwein. Spicy scents are often deep, heady aromas that stir the soul and awake the palate. These perfumes work best in winter and the sharp, rich scents of cinnamon, pepper, chai, patchouli, cloves and ginger evoke images of chilly autumn days to be warmed with cups of tea, turkey dinners and pumpkin pies. Be careful not to drool on yourself when wearing these fragrances.


Picture a winding path in the woods, or a weathered old cabin in the deep woods of New England or an well lived in wood-paneled study lined with old books and leather chairs.  Woody scents are evocative of strength, stability and wisdom with an intense connection to the natural world. Though often perceived as masculine (as these scents are often marketed to men), these scents are often unisex and conjures up a feeling of solemnity and stability when noticed. Think of woody scents like a well-aged piece of steak or a bottle of that 1992 Cabernet that hasn’t been opened yet. Woody scents are tasteful, timeless and traditional. Scents allow us to explore different characters and scenes, whether we wear a spicy fragrance on a cool autumn afternoon or an explosion of fruity character when going out to a brunch, we’re highlighting the different parts of ourselves that float to the surface. Though choosing a fragrance for yourself and the different occasions you may use them for seems daunting, at the very least you can have an idea what you will evoke when you choose one of the above scent categories.

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