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We like to think of perfume as the cherry on top of the sundae—that final finishing touch that pulls your look together. But there’s no denying that shopping for a new scent can be a challenging (not to mention headache-inducing) experience. To help guide your search, it’s a good idea to think of fragrances according to different categories—floral, fruity, woodsy, or clean—as most people innately gravitate towards one of those. That will help you narrow down the options… at least somewhat. But to really make it easy, we’ve done the hard work for you, sorting and sniffing our way through the options out there to select the best of the best in each of these categories—some of which happen to be our personal favorites here at Byrdie HQ.
Whether you’re in the market for a new signature scent or are looking to build out your fragrance wardrobe, check out our picks of the best perfumes for women below.
Best Unisex: Le Labo Santal 33 Eau De Parfum
A favorite among team Byrdie, this is a gender-neutral must-have. Rich and woody, it combines smoky and woody accords with a touch of spicy cardamom for a blend that is truly intoxicating and extremely memorable.
What Our Editors Say
"Every time I wear it, I get a compliment. I've actually had Uber drivers ask me to write it down for them so they can buy it for their wives. The fragrance is actually considered unisex, so everyone can wear it. Le Labo describes it as 'at once gentle, smoky, and leathery,' and I agree. The fragrance has so much depth that the more you breathe it in, the more it changes. I'm a Le Labo Santal wearer for life." —Kelly Gallagher, former Senior Social Media Editor
Type: Eau de parfum | Size: 0.5 ounces | Top Notes: Violet, cardamom | Byrdie Clean?: No | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
Best Unisex, Runner-Up: Byredo Bibliothéque Eau de Parfum
A library-inspired scent may sound strange, but trust us, it works. Originally one of the brand’s best-selling candles, it was shoppers’ demand that inspired the fragrance version. Peach, plum, peony, and violet are at the forefront, though the base notes of leather and patchouli are strong enough to make it totally unisex, as is the clean and minimalistic packaging.
Type: Eau de parfum | Size: 1.7 ounces | Top Notes: Peach, plum | Byrdie Clean?: No | Cruelty-Free?: No
Best Classic Floral: Gucci Bloom
This full-on floral is classic without ever veering into grandma territory, blending jasmine and tuberose with Rangoon creeper, a south Indian plant with a slightly powdery finish that rounds everything out. The fragrance is strong and long-lasting—as many Sephora shoppers point out—though in a good way, and also wears nicely, fading slowly and gradually.
Type: Eau de parfum | Size: 1.0 ounces | Top Notes: Rangoon creeper | Byrdie Clean?: No | Cruelty-Free?: No
Best Woody Floral: Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540
Notes of amber and cedarwood balance out the jasmine that’s out the forefront of the fragrance, making for a well-balanced, woody floral. It’s sophisticated and complex, an unexpected pairing that blends beautifully and is sure to appeal to those who like either woody or floral scents alike.
What Our Editors Say
"The brand would say it has notes of jasmine, saffron, and cedarwood, but for me, it just truly smells like nothing else I've ever come across in the best possible way," she says. "Every time I spray it on, I immediately feel like a more luxurious version of myself. It's not cheap, so I do try to save it for more special occasions rather than everyday wear—though sometimes I spray it on myself when I'm not even leaving the house, just for the joy of it." —Karli Bendlin, Senior Editor
Type: Eau de parfum | Size: 2.4 ounces | Top Notes: Jasmine, saffron | Byrdie Clean?: No | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
Best Modern Floral: Decorté Kimono Yui
The top notes of this fragrance are citrusy—lemon, mandarin, orange—along with a touch of pink pepper, while the middle notes are where the florals come in. A combo of neroli, orange flower, and rose to add that floral hit, though the initial citrus effect, coupled with a musky dry down, make this an extremely modern and fresh take on the classic floral.
"Kimono Yui is floral, citrusy, and peppery. It's one of my favorite perfumes of all time for the way it smells delicate and feminine while keeping its edge. It lasts a long time without feeling heavy." —Kathryn Vandervalk, Editorial & Strategy Director
Type: Eau de parfum | Size: 1.7 ounces | Top Notes: Lemon, mandarin, orange | Byrdie Clean?: No | Cruelty-Free?: No
Best Earthy: A.N. Other WD/2018
Fragrance expert and founder of Formulary 55 Cordelia Smith says she’s “obsessed with this brand.” This is one of her current favorites, a gender-neutral option that combines touches of fruit and floral to round out earthier notes of cardamom, sandalwood, and velvet Madagascar. Bonus points for the fact that all of the ingredients used are clean and ethically sourced.
Type: Eau de parfum | Size: 1.7 ounces | Top Notes: Pear sparkle, cardamom spice, violet leaves | Byrdie Clean?: Yes | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
Best Crisp & Clean: Jo Malone London Earl Grey & Cucumber Cologne
The best perfume for those in search of a fresh, minimalistic scent, this fragrance is straightforward, with an emphasis on clean and crisp cucumber and bergamot, offset with the teeniest touch of musk. Plus, all of the fragrances from this brand can be easily mixed and matched and layered if you want to play perfumer.
Type: Eau de parfum | Size: 3.4 ounces | Top Notes: Bergamot | Byrdie Clean?: No | Cruelty-Free?: No
Best Soft Woody: Chloé Atelier des Fleurs Papyrus
Dry, smoky, and woody, the top of papyrus reign supreme here. Still, because they’re complemented with touches of fresh and green notes, the result isn’t too heavy but rather light enough to wear even during the day.
Type: Eau de parfum | Size: 1.7 ounces | Top Notes: Papyrus | Byrdie Clean?: No | Cruelty-Free?: No
Best Fruity: Burberry Her Eau de Parfum
Black currant, raspberry, and blueberry make up the top notes of this fruity gourmand scent, hitting you with a punch of sweetness. Floral jasmine and violet keep it feminine and flirty, though, like all the Burberry scents, it still has a touch of the brand’s signature amber and musk.
Type: Eau de parfum | Size: 1.0 ounces | Top Notes: Red and dark berries | Byrdie Clean?: No | Cruelty-Free?: No
Best for Non-Perfume Lovers: Juliette Has a Gun Not A Perfume
The name really does say it all. This perfume is formulated entirely differently than any other perfume, ensuring it smells like no other perfume and is sure to please even those who don’t like wearing fragrances. Rather than having top, middle, and base notes, it’s made of just one note—cetalox, a woody and earthy scent that’s usually used as the base in most fragrances. It’s hard to explain, but it makes this a perfume that really doesn’t smell like a perfume. It just makes you smell great, and isn’t that the ultimate goal after all?
Type: Eau de parfum | Size: 3.3 ounces | Top Notes: Cetalox | Byrdie Clean?: No | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
Best Set: Maison Louis Marie Perfume Oil Discovery Set
“More and more brands are coming with discovery sets, featuring a variety of scents and notes for all preferences,” says Smith. It gives you the option to experiment before fully committing, she adds, noting that this is one of her favorite sets. It comes with five of the brand’s best-selling perfume oils, a mix of different woody, tropical, and earthy fragrances.
Type: Perfume oil | Size: 5 x 0.5 ounces vials | Top Notes: Varies | Byrdie Clean?: Yes | Cruelty-Free?: Yes
Best Subscription: Luxury Scent Box Discover Your Scent
For those who aren’t quite sure what they like, Luxury Scent Box offers an easy way to try a wide variety of options. How it works: Every month you get a 0.3-ounce sampler size of a fragrance (either selected by you or on recommendation from one of the brand’s fragrance specialists). There are both mainstream brands to choose from, as well as smaller, more niche options. Find one that you love? You can then buy the full-size bottle at a discounted price.
Type: Varies | Size: 0.3 ounces monthly | Top Notes: Varies | Byrdie Clean?: Varies | Cruelty-Free?: Varies
The best perfume for women largely boils down to individual preferences. Do you prefer floral notes? Woody? Clean? Fruity? The options are endless, making it even harder to choose a favorite. Team Byrdie stands by Le Labo Santal 33 Eau De Parfum (view at Nordstrom) as one of the best perfumes of all time for men and women alike. Le Labo describes it as "at once gentle, smoky, and leathery," and it's guaranteed to score you compliments. Another great unisex pick is Byredo Bibliothéque Eau de Parfum (view at Nordstrom), which boasts peach, plum, peony, and violet notes. You could share both of these with significant others, partners, and friends, but chances are you'll want to keep it all to yourself.
What to Look for in Perfumes for Women
Whatever You Like
In short, there really is no right or wrong answer here. Fragrance is a totally personal thing, so the best thing to do when choosing is to find one that you (and you alone) really can’t get enough of, says Smith.
How do you choose a perfume for women?
Again, while it is totally personal, the key thing is to make sure you try it on yourself first. “The way a fragrance smells can vary based on body chemistry, so it’s important to make sure you like it while actually wearing it before committing to the full bottle,” suggests Smith.
How do you apply perfume for women?
Smith suggests spritzing it onto your pulse points: the wrists, neck, and crook of the arm. (This will help intensify and diffuse the scent.) But, if you’re spraying it on your wrists, don’t then rub them together, as so many people do. “This generates heat, which can end up altering the scent,” explains Smith.
When does perfume for women expire?
There’s no set answer here, but if your fragrance is properly stored, it can last for years and years on end, says Smith. Make sure to keep all your bottles in a cool, dry environment; if and when the fragrance starts to change or smell ‘off,’ that’s when it’s time to replace it, she says.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Her perfume tastes fall on the clean, fresh, and green end of the spectrum, and once she finds a fragrance she loves she sticks with it. Case in point: She’s been wearing the Jo Malone and Juliette Has a Gun perfume on this list for years.
Meet the Expert
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough perfumes from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will evaluate the product ASAP.