In cosmetic shops or department stores there is nearly always a perfume and fragrance section where you can browse all the most popular perfumes available. With there being so many for you to choose from it is often hard deciding on the one you want to buy, it can only be put down to personal preference as perfumes smell slightly different on each person.
When shopping for perfume, take your time. With so many scents and perfume tester sprays, the receptors in your nose will shut off, so that the scents you are testing will not be as distinctive, or several scents could blend into one. This could cause you to come home with a scent you do not like. Many shops will allow you to test the fragrances, either on a piece of your skin (usually the underside of the wrist) or a piece of card. This allows you to 'road test' the fragrances, so you may sample them in different atmospheres, and around different smells. It also allows your nose to 'reset', so that you can smell normally. Take plenty of breaks in order to give your nose chance to rest. Taking a break and leaving a store allows your palate to be cleansed. In the same way that a wine taster would eat bread between wines, you should go outside to cleanse the palate with fresh air.
There are a number of 'families' of fragrance, each classed into a theme, or accord:
Floral - Where the dominating scent is that of one or more types of flower. When only one flower is used, the perfume is called a soliflore.
Chypre - Fragrances created using a base of bergamo, oakmoss and labdanum. The accord is named after the French word for Cyprus, where the base was inspired. This fragrance family is characterised by scents of apricot and custard.
Aldehydic - Fragrances incorporating the family of chemicals known as aldehydes. Chanel No.5 was the first Aldehydic perfume; and perfumes in this family have a distinct "piquante" note.
Fougère - Where the base of the fragrance is lavender, coumarin or oakmoss. Many men's fragrances belong to this family, characterized by its sharp herbaceous and woody scent.
Leather - A family of fragrances featuring the scents of honey, tobacco, wood and wood tars in its base or middle notes, creating a scent which alludes to leather.
Woody - Fragrances dominated by wooden scents, typically of sandalwood and cedar. Patchouli can also be frequently found in these perfumes.
Orientals (or Ambers) - A large fragrance class, featuring the scents of vanilla and animal scents together with flowers and wood. Frequently enhanced by camphorous oils and incense resins.
Citrus - An old fragrance family, which usually consisted of 'freshening' Eau de colognes due to the low tenacity of citrus scents. Development of newer fragrance compounds has allowed for the creation of primarily citrus fragrances.
A perfume contains a mix of alcohol and water, which is used as a solvent for the aromatics in the fragrance. When the perfume is applied to skin, the heat from the body causes the solvent to disperse, allowing the fragrance to be released over a period of several hours. The rate of evaporation, and the odour strength of the perfume determine the tenacity of the compound and thus its perfume note classification.
Top Notes - Scents that are perceived immediately upon application of the perfume. Top notes create the scents that form a persons initial impression of a perfume, and as a result are very important during the selling of a perfume. The scents of these notes are normally described as 'fresh', 'assertive' or 'sharp'. The compounds which contribute to these top notes are strong in scent, though are very volatile and tend to evaporate quickly. Citrus and ginger scents are common top note scents.
Middle Notes (or Heart Notes) - This is the scent of a perfume which emerges once the top notes have dissipated. The middle note compounds from the 'heart' or main body of a perfume, and acts to mask the often unpleasant initial impression of the base notes, helping it to become more pleasant over time. As a result, fragrances in the middle notes tend to be more mellow and rounded, and can appear any time between 2 minutes and an hour after the application of the perfume. Lavender and rose accents are typical middle notes.
Perfume Base Notes - The scent of a perfume which appears after the departure of the top scents. The base and middle notes are the main scents in a perfume, with the base scents bringing depth and solidness to the perfume. Compounds in this class are often used to hold and boost the strength of the top and heart notes, and are usually rich and deep. The base note scents are usually perceived about 30 minutes after the application of the perfume. Musk, vetiver and plant resin scents are often used as base notes.