Whether you’re dressing up for an evening at the theater or a night on the town, there’s one essential element of a great outfit, attitude and personality that you can’t miss: a unique perfume. Perfume helps you to smell your best and feel more confident about yourself, announce your entrance to a room or club, leave a trace of yourself after you exit it, and attract other people to you. It helps to explain your personality in a few seconds to a total stranger. For so many reasons, you need to know how to select, identify and buy perfume.

1. What is a signature scent?

Before you go to buy perfume, you need to know what a signature scent is. This is the unique chemical makeup of your own body, and nobody else has the exact same signature scent as you. There’s a lot of “ingredients” that determine what you smell like: your lifestyle, any medications you take, what you eat, your skin type, and so on. This means that a fragrance that smells fantastic on someone you know may smell very different on you. The lesson to take away is that you should never buy perfume based on how it smells from the bottle or on someone else.

2. What elements are in a perfume scent?

There are three main elements in the smell of a perfume: its theme, notes, and concentration. When you’re shopping for perfumes, these terms are fairly universal and you can see many perfume descriptions alluding to them or outright talking about each element of the perfume. Therefore, knowing these terms well definitely helps you to buy perfume that’s right for you.

The theme, or “accord” (less commonly used) depends on the perfume’s base: citrus, earth, musk, or floral. A citrus base means it will smell fresh and light, like an orange or lemon. An earth base means the perfume will smell mysterious, like cinnamon, vanilla, or honey. A musk base is infamous for being sexy and appealing to lovers, of course. Finally, the floral base is sweet and strong, clingy, and particularly common in women’s perfumes, of course.

3. What are the perfume notes?

As you try on different scents while going to buy perfume, you’ll notice that it doesn’t always smell exactly the same. This is because perfumes evaporate, leaving three stages of “notes” – impressions left behind in some sort of lingering scent. The top note is the immediate scent you’ll notice when you smell the perfume at first, and it doesn’t last long. The next note is the heart note, the “essence” of the perfume that helps people understand what the perfume is about. Finally, the base note is the last stage – this one gives the main fragrant message.

4. What is the perfume concentration?

The final element to consider when you buy perfume is the concentration. The most concentrated, perfume extracts, shouldn’t be overused; eau de parfum and eau de toilette can be used all over the body, and eau de cologne is the least concentrated of all.

You don’t have to be scared when you buy perfume! Keep these things in mind and you’ll have a much better understanding of all the subtleties that accompany fragrances.