Skip The Perfume Counter And Find A Cooler Scent Online

Think buying a perfume without smelling it first is risky? You're right! But these three sites make it less of a gamble.

I always entertain the idea of being a girl with a signature scent, a girl who leaves a familiar trail, whose ex-boyfriends sigh when they smell her perfume on another woman.

But you know what? That just ain't my style.

I can't narrow down my collection of scent to one or two bottles. What if I wake up one day and feel a desperate need to smell like a Barbie? Then I want the original Juicy Couture. What if I am seeing my ex and want to make him miss me? I'll wear Atelier Cologne’s Vanille Insensee, which I wore most often while we were dating.

Fragrance is a wonderful thing. It's evocative, nostalgic, empowering. I don't go out without a splash of something on my skin. I love that I can change my persona with just a spritz or two. Therefore, I collect. I'm always on the lookout for the latest "me" fragrance, and I find them everywhere.

But you know what's kind of a bummer? Buying perfume at the department store. It's a fairly generic selection. Oh, try these new Gucci Flora flankers! They're mediocre rehashings of an existing bestseller! Justin Bieber has a new perfume, would you like to try that? No, no I would not.

Sephora's online selection is great, but buying a full bottle of a perfume you've never sniffed is risky no matter the return policy. (And Sephora's return policy is first-rate!)

What if you want something different, a perfume that no other chick at the party will be wearing?

LUCKYSCENT.COM

If you're in the market for something new, I always recommend spending some time on the brilliant LuckyScent. At LuckyScent, one can find a wild assortment of "niche" perfumes from brands like Amouage, Le Labo, Serge Lutens and Odin--and that's just scratching the surface.

You're like, "OK Kara, that's all very well and good. But you just said buying a bottle unsniffed, no matter how gushing the reviews and lush the description, is a bad idea." Ah yes, but LuckyScent is one step ahead of you. They offer small samples ranging from about $3-7 of most of their fragrances. Therefore, you can grab several and spend some time getting to know them.

Advice: Read reviews. I love perfume blogs, and the perfume community is full of knowledgable folks who've been there, smelled that. They give great advice.

Maybe you'll find The One, or maybe you'll just find a few you like enough to carry along in your bag on vacation without springing for the full bottle. You can easily sort out which notes you like and which ones aren't your favorite, and therefore keep progressing on your perfume journey.

If you're lost in the woods, LuckyScent can help you out. They have a wonderful "Top Picks" page highlighting top sellers in various categories, from Unisex to Sweet to Hidden Gems. I have samples of Kai, Black Gardenia oil (Stevie Nicks wears that! SOLD) and Le Labo Ylang 49 on their way to me right now.

OLFACTIF

I used to get so excited about my Birchbox every month. It was like a little present that came dependably once a month, like my period but way better because sometimes I got full bottles of Essie polish. But truth be told, my boxes kept getting less and less interesting; too many granola bars and too few facial scrubs, perhaps. I cancelled a few months ago.

When I learned about Olfactif it took me about five seconds to subscribe. For $18 a month, you receive three large, sprayable samples of perfume AND get an $18 credit for a full bottle every month in case you fall madly in love. So basically, it's Birchbox for perfume with rewards. Olfactif stresses the art form behind niche perfumes and they put a great deal of thought into their presentation.

When you get your stylish little box, they include information about the perfumer behind the featured scent to fill you in on their creative process. Olfactif wants you to appreciate perfume, and each monthly collection has a theme. July's was "On Holiday," featuring a perfume for "lying on the beach" (Perfect Coconut Milk by Sarah Horowitz), "dancing until dawn" (Bombay Bling by Neela Vermeire Creations) and "reuniting with nature." (White Classic Edition by Undergreen.)

Olfactif aims to take you on a journey with their mini-collections, and that's why I love it. Plus, if a perfume included doesn't appeal to me personally, it might to a friend or coworker.

Subscribing AND unsubscribing is super easy. You're billed on the 20th of the month so your collection arrives around the first day of the next, similar to Birchbox and its contemporaries.

THE PERFUMED COURT

My dream perfume is Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle. I like a loud white floral, filled with sexy tuberose that clings to my skin and blooms in the heat. Carnal Flower is perfect. It's similar to Fracas, but greener with some coconut snuck in to make it feel dizzyingly powerful, feminine and fatal all at the same time.

I really, really love it, but as the Frederic Malle line is an artisan range created by perfumes like Dominique Ropion at the top of their craft, it's expensive. (For reference, Ropion has done Thierry Mugler Alien, several Lancomes and Malles and even Jennifer Lopez Live. He's got talent.) I can't justify buying a full bottle on my shopgirl salary.

That's where the Perfumed Court comes in. They sell decants (read: they pour from a bottle into a smaller container and sell it) of fragrances from all over the world. I buy Carnal Flower from them; I know it might be flawed logic, but I feel better spending $25 on a 2.5 ML spray vial of my treasured perfume and hoarding it "for special" than blowing $200 on a full size. What if, God forbid, I get tired of it?

The Perfumed Court sells a variety of niche, exclusive and designer fragrances (and when I say designer I mean Guerlain, not the crap that's come from Dolce & Gabbana lately) but also does a large trade in hard-to-find vintage perfumes. So if your grandmother wore a certain fragrance that isn't made anymore and you'd love to have just a tiny bit to remember her by, you may have some luck at the Perfumed Court. It's crazy; a vintage bottle of a perfume that has since been unfortunately reformulated can cause perfume freaks to go into frenzies on eBay.

The Perfumed Court also appeals to my delusions of grandeur. I, too, can be a fancy lady like Catherine Deneuve and wear Guerlain l'Heure Bleue. I mean, for $3 I can try to be like her by wearing her scent.

It's almost impossible to smell these classic perfumes in department stores anymore, let alone get a sample; that's why we're lucky the Perfumed Court exists. Plus the modern perfume palate has been somewhat changed by the fruity-floral fragrances, making “classic” scents like Shalimar and Chanel No. 5 smell “old” to a modern nose. (My advice: Wear Shalimar for a full day. See how many middle-aged men compliment you. It’s weird.)

Do you guys have a signature scent, or are you a crazy perfume hoarder like me? What are you loving now? I'm not a snob; I just bought a bottle of Britney Spears Believe for $8 at Marshall's!