Monday Question – Let’s Talk Perfume Etiquette!

Have you ever asked a stranger what perfume they are wearing?

In which social situations is it okay for you to inquire?

Are you afraid your query could be misinterpreted as flirting?

“Perfume etiquette is a minefield!” says my friend Lila, who inspired today’s question.

What do you think?


My Answer:

If I am really entranced by a stranger’s perfume (which happens seldom enough), I do ask him or her what it is.

I wouldn’t do that at a funeral or in church though…

The last person I asked was a young man at a formal dinner – he was wearing Penhaligon’s Sartorial – and since my husband was sitting right next to me, I don’t think he took it as a flirt attempt. 😉

Generally, in my experience that people are very flattered when asked about their fragrant choices and often a nice conversation develops.

What are your experiences in that area?


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75 Responses to Monday Question – Let’s Talk Perfume Etiquette!

  1. I always shamelessly ask people what they are wearing! I’ve received weird stares on occasion but for the most part people feel flattered.

  2. I, like Smelly will shamelessly ask people what they are wearing. As most people wear what they like, I never really get a recoil from the question. However, I don’t find that there is much out there that prompts my question. Last week I asked this woman at work what she was wearing because I swore it smelled like Serge Luten’s Ambre Sultan and it turned out that she was wearing some sandalwood oil that she picked up at some kiosk that was made locally. She said it was $5 a bottle!

  3. puhfume says:

    I’m quite shy when it comes to talking to strangers so I rarely approach people. Having said that, it’s rare that I smell something so nice that it warrants asking for the perfume’s name. Most perfumes I smell these days are the dewy, fresh floral or the fresh ozonic lavender on men.

    The only exception I can remember was when I was crossing the street. Someone in front of me was wafting a fruitchouli and it was really heavenly. It smelled like Coco Mademoiselle or the new Miss Dior. I never really confirmed with the person what it was since the street was very crowded. But the perfume’s sillage was magnificent.

  4. Tatiana says:

    It’s funny that you posed this question today, as I was out shopping with the DH this afternoon and he asked me whether I ever approached anyone and asked where they bought an article of clothing or what perfume they are wearing. I told him I only ask if it is something I feel I have to have for myself. I once followed a woman all the way around the grocery store because I was taken by her perfume and I had never smelled anything like it before. When I asked she looked at me like I was the strangest person in the world and then said it was Hermes 24 Faubourg, then proceeded to walk away from me very quickly. Yesterday I also asked a fellow rider in my lesson what perfume she was wearing and she worried that she had applied too much since I could smell it from more than a meter away. She was wearing Chanel Coco perfume. I guess I will keep asking and risking strange looks from others.

  5. Lady Jane Grey says:

    I would ask whatever and whereever (except funerals). Happening very seldomly though…

  6. annemariec says:

    Never unless it’s someone I know. In the supermarket yesterday I smelled what I thought was Emeraude on a middle aged woman, and I hovered near her for a few seconds to get a better sniff. No way would I have asked her though. She made me feel rather unimaginative and boringly up to date in my NR for Her. I made up for it today by wearing Laura Biagiotti Roma.

  7. Sandra says:

    I am so shy and would feel like I was intruding. Have never asked. Need to work up my courage.

  8. Ines says:

    I’m with you on this one. I no longer feel bad asking people what they wear, even people I don’t know if the situation is conductive to such questions (church and funeral wouldn’t be like you said).
    As I feel happy when people ask me, I can’t help but think it’s a compliment to ask someone what they are wearing because they smell great. 🙂

  9. Sabine says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever asked a stranger about their perfume. Which is weird because I have no trouble asking about the clothes they wear and even compliment them on their make up. I don’t know what’s stopping me. May be I think perfume is too intimate? As for being asked: Imagine you’re wearing “The Sexiest Scent on the Planet.IMHO” by 4160 Tuesdays….
    You can miss a few trains while explaining that one.

  10. lucasai says:

    I never asked asked a stranger and never been asked about the perfume.
    I think this would be quite weird and knowing our Polish mentality many would consider it as flirting

  11. poodle says:

    I ask and sometimes I ask even when I think it’s awful just out of curiousity. Of course I never tell the wearer I think they stink to high heaven though. Usually I don’t have much opportunity because I don’t work with many fragrant folk. The few I do encounter tend to wear the same scent all the time so I already know what they are wafting.

  12. haefennasiel says:

    This is a bit indirectly connected to perfume, but I once had this annoying coworker who used this muscle relaxant spray after exercising. Unfortunately, its main ingredient was a very, very strong ginger and that coworker’s cubicle positively reeked of it and was very close to mine! I “fought back” by dousing my cubicle and myself with some perfume, of course!

  13. Vanessa says:

    For some reason, I am really squeamish about doing this to complete strangers in the street, yet I really want to sometimes when I catch a whiff of a tantalisingly good scent. Your post has emboldened me to be less backwards in coming forwards in this regard!

  14. Tara says:

    I do admire those, like you B, asking strangers about their perfume. I am too stupidly shy and like Sabine, it feels like a personal question. No one even makes eye contact in London so I guess that doesn’t help. I’m sure I’d get the funny stares.

    It doesn’t happen often but next time i hope I can work up the courage.

  15. Jordan River says:

    Always and often and then I redirect them to something more appropiriate! Ha, yes always and often but I never redirect them. Usually I ask because it is so bad I want to know what it is so I can avoid it.
    At the local stationers I asked the 16-year-old what she was wearing. It was White Diamonds! At her age!
    We have a lot of Red Door wearers here, followed by Angel. Sometimes I can smell Samsara which is a pleasant change.

  16. Jennie says:

    I am never ashamed to politely ask people what they are wearing, or even come up and ask them is that…..? They are usually really pleased that I have recognized their perfume) I will never forget the look of pleasure on a young mans face, when I recognized an Andy Tauer scent, while we were waiting for an incoming flight one evening at the airport. I once had a lady run after me, and pleaded with me to tell her the name of my fragrance. I was wearing Chanel Coromandel at the time). We love fragrances, so I don’t see any harm in asking!

  17. Yes, I do ask, and preface the question by saying, “I hope you don’t mind being asked,,,,” Most people like to be noticed and are pleased that someone appreciates their scent. I went to an event once with my brother, my fragrance-loving partner, and he asked me what I was wearing because I had on too much of it. It was “YSL’s” NU. I learned to be more careful with it. The scent that gets the most compliments is Calèche by Hermes. The ones that I notice are usually the spicy, mysterious ones like Mona’s Vanille.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Most people are pleased to be asked, I agree, Anita.
      Ah, Caléche, no wonder you are getting compliments, it is a great perfume (at least it was before being reformulated into the ground 😦 )

  18. ringthing says:

    I live in farm country and I’m well north of fifty – I have a face like anyone’s mom – so people tend to talk to me about pretty much anything. I’m more likely to just tell someone they smell nice rather than ask what they’re wearing but I don’t hesitate to ask if I want to know. I am often asked what I’m wearing and, since my perfume life is lived online, I truthfully answer “some fancy French perfume I can’t pronounce” 🙂

  19. Missionista says:

    I’ll happily ask anyone about perfume, clothes, etc. Most people take it as a compliment (as it is meant) and on those occasions when someone asks me, I’m always flattered.

  20. Undina says:

    I always ask people about their perfumes if I think they smell nice – even if I won’t want to wear it myself. I’m doing that as a positive re-enforcement so that people keep wearing nice perfumes.

    “Your perfume smells very nice. What are you wearing?” Or sometimes I recognize the perfume and ask if I guessed correctly. I often do. Two days ago I recognized Angel on a woman in the wine tasting room. I like Angel but, if you ask me, it’s one of the wrongest perfumes to wear to a wine tasting (though, in her defense, she was just picking up wine, not tasting).

  21. Claudia Bloemendal says:

    I wouldn’t ask a random stranger in the street but I have no problem asking a coworker for instance.

  22. AnneD says:

    I usually feel more comfortable asking a fellow customer in the cosmetic or fragrance department what fragrance they are wearing or which one they like. I do like to do this though and it is a cheap thrill. I always compliment the person even if I don’t like a particular scent. Many women have asked me where I got my shoes or purse, and no one ever asks me about my perfume. Of course, I am a one spray or two dabs girl! I would feel quite flattered if someone asked me, but I would probably deliver a 20 minute spill on perfume and they would run away frightened!

  23. Fragrance rocks! says:

    Perfect timing to read this blog. I was at an art gallery yesterday and the most wonderful fragrance was wafting down the hallway. It was a young woman in front of me and I really wanted to know what she was wearing! as it has such an incredible sillage. She was pretty focused on taking photos of the art with the IPhone, so I thought I would not disturb her. I walked around around a bit more and then saw her again, at the end of the hallway, she had stopped, again looking intently at her phone. I thought I would ask her at that moment, but some inner voice said not to. I listened to the inner voice, but now feel like I will never know what the gorgeous scent was. Still, it was a fragrant experience that I really enjoyed.

  24. lila says:

    I have yet to ask a stranger what scent they’re wearing. I need time to work up the courage and by the time I do, they’re gone. I can think of only 4 x’s when I’ve been tempted to ask, but it’s enough to get me to work my nerve up in advance so I’m prepared for my next chance encounter.

  25. Laurels says:

    I’ve occasionally asked, when someone smelled good, but it never occurred to me it might be considered flirting. Possibly because it usually goes over my head when anyone flirts with me.

  26. Martha says:

    I’ve asked only once, and it led to myself and the perfume-wearer rudely dominating the dinner-table conversation with perfume talk for the entirety of a “thank the donors” event where the conversation should, of course, have been about the Good Cause. It was great. For some reason, I’ve never dared to repeat it.

  27. Azar says:

    I simply don’t look like the type who flirts (a petit grandmotherly type) and for that very reason I can get away with a lot more than most. That being said, if I smell something gorgeous I will ask about it (if the wearer of the scent looks approachable, that is). What usually happens is that we strike up a great conversation and I find a new fragrance to love if not a new friend! I’ve realized that I can’t afford to be shy at my age.

  28. Glad you asked the question Birgit! As I mentioned to you, when I asked the guy on the train – who by the way was rather dashing, so it made it much harder – he told me he was wearing ‘Tom Ford Rose something’. Since the only one I know is Cafe Rose, I asked him if it was that and he said ‘yes’. When I went to Harrods to smell it, it was completely different. Nice, but different. What he was wearing was a very sweet rose with raspberry ketone and the very slightest hint of cumin. Ah well, it was a pleasant journey.
    Hello to the other person called Lila on this forum – two people interested in perfume called Lila. Not bad!

  29. I agree I am quite flattered if someone asks me about the perfume I am wearing. I am generally shy but when it comes to perfumes, curiosity always takes over and I do muster up the courage to ask and yes it usually turns out to be good conversation.

  30. A few weeks ago I asked a woman on the train if she was wearing Shalimar. She looked like she was offended and said loudly, “NO, It’s MUSC RAVAGEUR by LOUIS MALLE!” Then she walked away from me!

    I didn’t have the heart to tell her that A) it’s NOT LOUIS MALLE and B) Musc Ravageur basically IS Shalimar.

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