How To Find Your Signature Scent On The Cheap

If you're not feeling what's at your local perfume counter, Etsy is here for you.
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If you're not feeling what's at your local perfume counter, Etsy is here for you.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been frequently let down by mainstream perfumes. Once upon a time, I dreamt of having a Signature Scent, and have thus spent many disheartening hours wandering through the perfume aisles of one Sephora after another, spraying and rolling on fragrance sample after fragrance sample, certain that surely this would be The One! 

I eventually started to believe there was something about my body chemistry that made every perfume smell like Fading Starlet or Dryer Sheet on me. Also, as a lifelong cheapskate, looking at a $100+ bottle of perfume gives me anxiety hives. That’s like 10 pizzas, guys. I love smelling good, but... I have priorities.

It was beginning to seem that perfume and I weren’t really destined for one another, until I stumbled through an internet rabbit hole and found myself on the Etsy site of a company called For Strange Women. They’re an independent perfumerie that, as their name would suggest, specializes in smells that are a little off the beaten path. 

I was fascinated by their offerings, and this lead me to realize that maybe, during all my time spent browsing jewelry and art, Etsy had been holding out on me! What other mystical, unusual perfume secrets did it hold? Turns out, quite a few. 

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I confess my naivete; I’m sure plenty of you savvy, wonderful-smelling humans were way ahead of me on this. But I’m a bit of a beauty baby. I didn’t even own concealer until I was 20 years old, and my perfume knowledge was largely based on TV commercials. Expanding my horizons, one step at a time! 

Since emerging from my scent-ignorance, I’ve become a little bit of a nut for Etsy perfume shops. So many choices! So inexpensive! I can wear a different one every day if I feel like it! As my fragrance stash continues to pile up, I thought I’d share some of my absolute favorites thus far. Bonus points: they’re all vegan, as well as paraben-, phthalate-, and alcohol-free! 

 1. Winter Kitty by For Strange Women ($40 for 7.3ml) 

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At the beginning of this adventure, I decided to order a sample pack from For Strange Women to get a feel for what they had to offer. On their page, they claim that this vetiver, vanilla, and fir-based blend is “an artisan rendition of the sweet, slightly musky smell of a kitty who went out for a winter walk and came back with chimney smoke and brisk air lingering in his fur." 

"Sure," I thought. "There’s no way it actually smells like that." Then I got the handsomely wrapped little package in the mail and dabbed this baby on. And holy crap, you guys, that is 100% what it smells like. I have no idea how they do this, but I'm pretty sure there’s witchcraft involved. It's woodsy and comforting and totally unusual in the best way. 

 2. Vixen by Alkemia ($12 for 5ml)

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Alkemia is, I think, the single biggest treasure trove I’ve encountered. They have over 100 different scents, friends, and I have yet to be disappointed by one of their offerings. To make the deal even sweeter, their perfumes are amazingly cheap, AND they send two free sample vials of your choice along with every order that includes a full-size bottle. Consider my bargain-hunting heart sated. 

Interestingly, my very favorite Alkemia scent so far is one I didn’t even pick. I placed an order and forgot to write my sample choices in the “Notes to Seller” box, so they surprised me! By description alone, I thought Vixen would be totally wrong for me. It’s a jasmine, musk, and amber-based scent, and I’ve never much liked any of those notes by themselves. 

But! Vixen has undertones of sugar pumpkin and apple, and oh my goodness is it sexy. It’s such a warm smell; sweet but not cloying, floral but not overpowering. It sticks around all day: It manages to be girl-next-door in the morning and true-to-its-name at night.

 3. Girlfriend by Soapopotamus ($8 for one rollerball; actual volume not listed)

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Soapopotamus’ main draw is their adorable food-shaped (and scented!) goat milk soaps, but the shop also has a little perfume nook. Girlfriend is made from notes of “slightly sugary deep lemon and citrus, [and] saturated cake frosting”. 

I have a particular predilection for perfumes that smell like food I’d want to eat. And let me tell you, this oil smells freaking delicious--like the kind of citrusy teacake that would be at home in Oscar Wilde play. Want to smell like you’re the treat tray at a fancy garden party? Right here, sister. Soapopotamus has you covered. (You can get this scent as a soap, too!) 

 4. Irresistible by Alkemia ($12 for 5ml) 

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Alkemia again! (What can I say, they’re crushing it in my Etsy rankings.) In similar fashion to Girlfriend, Irresistible smells good enough to eat. Look, I love the smell of a good, rich vanilla. I once read a story about Jennifer Love Hewitt using straight vanilla extract as perfume and thought, "I like where your head’s at, girl." 

Irresistible manages to pack in vanilla, nutmeg, almond, and caramel. It makes me smell like a caramel-glazed macaroon, and wearing it makes me super hungry. I mean that as a compliment. 

 These are my favorites so far, but I’m just getting started! 

Do you have some cool indie perfumes you’d like to share with the class?