Perfume 101: A Comprehensive Guide to Fragrance Types and Styles

Perfume 101: A Comprehensive Guide to Fragrance Types and Styles 1

Picture this: you’re getting ready for a fancy, socially distanced dinner and a nighttime walk through the park with your significant other. You spend hours ruminating on what to wear and what impression you want to send. Do you want to seem available or distant but worshipable?

The last thing you do before you get ready to grab your keys and go is to add a little splash of perfume. Choose your fragrance types well, and your partner is putty beneath your hands. Choose the wrong one, and the atmosphere gets tinged with awkwardness and an overpowering scent.

How do you know which perfumes or fragrances to choose from when there are so many options available? This guide will help you sort it out by the type of perfume and the scent of perfume.

Fragrance Types and Styles

Establishing a Background

Before we dig into the nitty-gritty of finding your best fragrance match, let’s have a bit of backstory. Perfumery is an ancient art and science that dates all the way back to Ancient Egypt. It started as a practice used for religious services, alongside incense and other scented products.

As with many things religious, it didn’t take long for people to figure out how it could be used on a more personal, intimate level. Soon thereafter, scenting oneself with perfume became common for romance, lovemaking, and symbolizing wealth and status.

Fragrances have evolved over the years, but the basics behind essential oils and some aerosolizing agents, remain the same. Now, let’s examine the different perfume types in more detail.

Types of Perfume

If you’ve seen any perfume advertisement, you’ve likely heard them use the term “Eau de parfum” or “parfum.” When shopping for perfume in a store, you’ve seen “eau de toilette” or “eau de cologne.”

What does all this mean for you, the consumer? How can you tell the difference between all of them? Here’s a detailed breakdown:


Parfum, literally the French word for perfume, is the strongest of the bunch. You might also see it marketed as “pure perfume” or “Extrait de parfum.”

Most parfum will contain between 15 to 40% fragrance elements. Standard concentrations for parfum rest between 20 and 30%. Since they have the highest fragrance percentage, they are the most expensive of the lot.

The average wear time for parfum is 6-8 hours. This is, by far, the longest-lasting fragrance option.

It would help if you also kept in mind that since parfum doesn’t contain as much alcohol as weaker blends, those with sensitive skin might respond better to it.

Eau de Parfum

Eau de parfum, or essentially, “water of perfume,” is the slightly weaker fragrance cousin of pure perfume. It contains between 15 and 20% fragrance elements and waters that down with alcohol, water, or a mix of the two.

The average wear time for Eau de parfum is around 4-5 hours. It will have a weaker scent than pure perfume but a much stronger one than any products below.

Eau de Toilette

Eau de toilette, despite its name, does not, in fact, mean “water of the toilet.” The phrase comes from the French phrase “faire sa toilette” or “getting ready.” Since most preparation for the day takes place in a bathroom or powder room, it doesn’t take much imagination to see where the phrase’s turn came from.

Eau de toilette is much weaker than Eau de parfum, with fragrance concentrations between 5 and 15%. It will only last for about 2-3 hours and is generally considered a daywear fragrance. If you want an example of a bright, fresh eau de toilette, you can buy Davidoff cool water here.

Eau de Cologne

Cologne is a standard word for men’s fragrances nowadays, but eau de cologne is different. Eau de cologne has an incredibly high alcohol-to-fragrance ratio. Fragrant elements only compose 2-3% of the whole bottle, which is usually quite large.

It’s among the cheapest perfume types, but its scent will only last about 2 hours thanks to its fast-evaporating contents.

Eau Fraiche

Eau Fraiche, literally from the French for “freshwater,” has fragrance between 1-2%. The rest is water rather than alcohol. Eau Fraiche scents will only last for 2 hours at most, so they’re best used when you need something light or temporary.

Scented Fragrance Types

Now that we know about the different perfume types and their concentrations let’s delve into different fragrance types. If you’ve ever received a perfume from someone, and the scent did not work well for you at all, you know how important finding the right fragrance type for your preferences and body can be.

Fragrance speaks to our sense of smell and crafts the strongest memories, so having the right one for the occasion and the person can make a night really special. Here are some of the most common fragrance types and who they might work for:


Fresh scents encompass many hats in the fragrance world. Fresh can mean bright and fruity citrus, like lemon or orange. It can mean the hint of a salty sea breeze. It can mean crisp notes of mint, rosemary, or lavender.

The best way to know if a fragrance is fresh or not is if it feels like it awakens and enlivens you when you smell it. If it’s a scent you could smell and feel energized but not confronted, chances are, it’s in the fresh scent family.

Thus, fragrances with fresh scents make great daywear choices and work well if your body chemistry plays nicely with more bracing scents.


Floral fragrance types are among the most common in perfumes marketed to women. As the name suggests, floral fragrances contain oils and scents from flowers. Floral scents can run the gamut of light, sweet, and feminine to intense and complex, depending on the flowers used.


This somewhat racially insensitive fragrance family could more reasonably be called “exotic” or “striking.” This scent family capitalizes on strong, earthy, animalistic scents like incense, ambergris, or musk. If you’re looking for a perfume that sends out bedroom eyes, this is the fragrance family to go for.


Woody, as with fresh, covers a wide range of scents. Typically, those who like the smells of nature and the forest will enjoy woody fragrance notes. Since wood smells tend to be gendered towards men, notes of cedarwood, vetiver, oakmoss and other woody scents are common elements of colognes and aftershaves.

However, woody base notes are making a resurgence in female perfumes as well. Just ask your local perfumery and see what you can find!


This is the most bracing of the scent families, even more so than fresh fragrance types. Done poorly, this can leave you smelling like you just walked out of a bakery. Done well, notes of fiery ginger, pepper, and cinnamon can serve as an extra zing for any fragrance you’re wearing.

What Do You Mean By Notes?

If you’ve been confused by our mention of notes until now, don’t worry. Fragrance notes can be a tricky concept to explain, but you’ll know what they are by experience. If you’ve ever purchased a perfume you loved the initial smell of but hated as the day wore on, you’ve been suckered in by an alluring top note, only for the base notes to betray you.

So, what are these notes, and what do they do for your fragrance?

Top Notes

The top notes are a fragrance’s first impression. They have the strongest scents of the bunch and only last for about an hour before fading into the middle and lower notes. The initial scent you get when you sample perfume in a store? Those are your top notes.

Middle Notes

The middle notes, sometimes called the heart notes, are the body of the fragrance. Most perfumes get designed around the middle note they wish to highlight since the main scent lingers.

Middle notes are not as forward as the top notes and have more well-rounded scents. Rose and lavender are some commonly used floral middle notes.

Base Notes

Base notes are the last gasps of the fragrance before it evaporates. They will be the scent’s most earthy or woody elements and form the backbone on which the rest of the fragrance gets built. If the base note clashes with the upper notes or dislikes the base note, the fragrance will not work for you.

Now, to Make “Scents” of All This

Decoding fragrance types can be difficult, but hopefully, the guide above helped you better understand the differences. Now you know better than grab an eau de toilette for an all-night affair or use something exotic or spicy for daily wear.

If you loved learning about perfume fragrances and want to read more trendy fashion content, feel free to browse our blog today!

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