Buying a fragrance is an investment, and not just financially. You’re picking something that matches your personality, that suits special occasions—or everyday occasions—and that leaves a positive impression on anyone in your radius. Or rather, all of that is the challenge, and you’ve got to wade through all of the best fragrances for men (and many of the worst ones) to land on the perfect match.
But instead of ordering the same scent that your coworker wears, you want to find something unique. And while going to the fragrance counter at the department store can be a fun weekend activity (seriously, try it!), you can’t fully test anything from the store; that’s because you’re only able to wear it for one day or evening—not to mention, they want to shower you with 100 different options, and the scents start to layer and blur.
To really know if a scent is for you, you should wear it multiple times, in multiple settings, around multiple friends. And doing that requires an at-home, multi-use sample—a low investment that helps you make a more informed decision.
Enter scent samplers and subscription-service fragrance brands. It’s extremely easy to test fragrances from home, whether you’re rounding out a small range of fragrances (for those multitudes you contain), or taking your sweet time to find a new signature scent. Below are our favorite ways to find the best fragrances for men—those try-before-you-buy methods that help you discover something great, but with low investment and high return.
Think of Scentbird as the Netflix of fragrance samplers—but the original Netflix, back when you had a rental queue and would order DVDs to your door. You can take a quiz to help discover scents that you never knew you might like, or you can populate your queue with those scents you’ve been eager to try. For $15/month, they’ll send you a generous 0.27-ounce vial of that month’s sample, which should get you a month’s worth of frequent wear. And with brands like Prada, Acqua di Parma, and Arquiste, you’re destined to find a top-tier favorite or four.
Luckyscent is not only one of the best places to find full-size niche and designer fragrances online; it is hands down the best place to find samples of those scents, too. You can order them a la carte, for roughly $4 per sample (it varies by brand, but most fall around $4-6). They have thousands to choose from, and while it’ll be a small vial—a true sample size—it’s the most efficient way to customize your discovery process and try a handful of scents at a low cost, but also in rapid time. You can also have them build you a custom sample set based on your tastes and needs, or shop a variety of brand-culled sampler sets, like Gallivant, Escentric Molecules, and Imaginary Authors.
[luckyscent.com; approximately $4 per sample]
Luxury Scent Box
Like Scentbird, Luxury Scent Box sends you one large sample per month, at $15 (though their samples are slightly larger yet, at 0.3 ounces). The “Luxury” in its name is no underestimate, either: It’s a terrific niche selection, including a bunch of premium fragrances you can sample for an additional $5/month, and you can apply a member discount toward the full-size fragrance you decide to make your own. And with picks from Amouage, Carner Barcelona, Calvin Klein, and Bvlgari, there’s a trove to discover.
If there’s a particular brand you want to sample—and better yet, if it’s a niche brand you may not necessarily find at your department store—then check the brand’s site. (Or, browse sites like Sephora, or the aforementioned Luckyscent.) Chances are, you’ll find that they offer a sampler pack, with tiny vials that provide a few days’ worth of juice. Etat Libre D’Orange, 19-69, and Maison Margiela are all terrific examples. There’s almost always a way to obtain a sample of the fragrance you’re most curious about, and cheaply. So dig!
Brand Travel/Discover Sets
Another way to sample your favorite brands is to get a Discovery Set. Nomenclature varies from one brand to the next, but we’re specifically referring to the travel-friendly ‘samples’ in larger vials—of the 0.3-ounce range. These also suit the guy who wants to wear a different scent for various occasions, and who trusts the reputation of a gold-star brand. These sets are an investment yet, often as much as a single bottle of fragrance. But given the quantity of parfum you’re getting with your purchase, it is a full bottle in the long run, spread across a collection set. And, think of it this way: A $50 vial is a decent trial, for a full-size fragrance that might cost upwards of $300. Maison d’Etto, Diptyque, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, and Roja Dove (with its individual Discovery vials) are excellent brands to explore here.