Eau d’Economics – When is a Perfume Expensive?

Paulette Goddard


There’s one thing I know about us fumeheads, every single one of us has defined what is too much for a perfume.  We know when something becomes expensive…and then we deny it 🙂

With myself, I’ve noticed that my “expensive spectrum” changes. It changes with the standard of living. I remember back in the day, around 2005, I thought that $100 was really expensive for perfume.  Anything more than that was insane and I wouldn’t even sample it. I was a student and yeah, I didn’t buy many bottles of perfume. And I rarely bought anything over $75. That would mean eating beans and rice for 4 months (hey, I was already doing that!) Now my definition is different. My “cap” has doubled, $300 is my new $150. But has my expensive changed? A little. I now have a silly “Victoria” system.  I rationalize prices, determining if they are expensive: a luxury or an outrageous joke. My system can make a perfume that retails for $180 “affordable” or it can make a cheap perfume laughably expensive. And in my world “affordable” is the word, I’m looking for. Here’s a look at my “perfume economics” or my perfume price denial system:

First, I choose my full-bottle price cap. On this date, that price is $300. I will not pay over $300 for perfume. This is a personal rule for me. I’m sure this varies from person to person. And here’s my little story of why…I won’t pay over $300 for most things for myself unless it is technology or home furnishings. I do consider perfumes ranging from $100-$300 dollars expensive, but you will see how I rationalize this. Over $300+ and they become “absurd”. I will  buy perfumes ranging from $100-$150 but I think about it, try to get it with free shipping or when a generous SA is working, etc. I think long and hard about any fragrance over $150, often thinking about it for 6-12 months. To this date, I have never paid $300 for perfume, not even $200.

My economics needs examples. I will be using CB I Hate Perfume Russian Caravan Tea, which in real dollars equals $90. And Guerlain Tonka Imperiale that equals $235 real dollars.

Lasting power & sillage: You automatically get unneeded dollars added if you don’t last. If you are a perfume that lasts, then you get dollars taken away. For example, I feel that the recent CB I Hate Perfume Russian Caravan Tea didn’t last. Therefore, I was mad and associated it with poor quality. So, it gets $50 added. The Guerlain lasts and lasts on me. For some reason, I associate this with luxury and high quality; a good value. It gets $50 taken off.

The CB I Hate Perfume is now $140.

The Guerlain is now $180.

“Cost per use” : I’m very weird about this concept with everything I buy. I will spend much more on the staples, shoes (my 2nd weakness), and well-made “lifers” because I will use them again and again. White linen pants in Seattle? Um…no. Even if they are $25, that is not a good deal. Will I drop over $300 on a pair of boots? Yes, I will wear them forever if they are well-made and wonderful. I apply this concept to fragrance. Being a fragrance tester/blogger, I keep record of what I wear daily. I rarely ever wear citrus, “clean”, or fresh fragrances. Why because these are “summer” scents and I rarely wear summer perfumes. These are like a bathing suit or a sarong to me. So, add $50 to CB. Realistically, I would wear this like once a year. I usually  wear non-edible gourmands, incense/woods scents and leather/tobacco fragrances. Why? These are winter/fall scents. In my climate, it’s always fall…and I love autumn. So, the Guerlain would get worn frequently like a good pair of boots or a cashmere cardigan.

The CB is now $190.

The Guerlain is now $130.

Packaging – Most of the time I ignore packaging, but we are talking full bottle purchase here. The packaging now matters. If the packaging is horrible, like you know “cheap” looking I add $50. This is something I consider not luxury. I know it when I see it. There is nothing worse than picking up a fragrance that retails for over $100 and feeling how cheap the bottle is and seeing how ugly the sticker is on it. If there is an atomizer, I add $25. I love the glam look but I know they are silly/impractical and my juice will evaporate quickly. Atomizers are not a good value. If the bottle is stunning, I take away $50. It is good looking, but not stunning, I subtract $25. I’m neutral about most bottles, so usually nothing is added or subtracted.

The CB stays at $190.

The Guerlain is $155.

Samples: If I use up the sample, I subtract $50. If I’d have a sample that is still full or half full, I need to be real. I probably won’t use the full bottle. I add $50. *There are exceptions, for example, the scent is limited edition and I know that I will love it, so I better get it now while I can. Or I hear a rumor that it is being reformulated and I better act now and keep what I  have in the sample vial as a reference. If it is limited edition, hard-to-find, etc., I will subtract $50. I think of these as “investments”.

The CB is now $240.

The Guerlain is now $105.

So, for me, the Guerlain is worth buying despite its original price tag. Hey, I have now successfully justified my purchase 😉 Give me a round of applause! The CB technically meet my initial technical requirements as “affordable” since it retails for under $100, is now very “expensive” since I don’t feel it is a good value and it isn’t a good choice for me. So, yeah, that’s my sick way of justifying my habit and defining “expensive”. And I know it isn’t a fair comparison because one is a perfume I really, really want and one is a perfume that I don’t want.

So  here are my questions for you:

What is your range of “expensive” for perfumes? My answer: $100-$300. These cross that “impulse” threshold. Perfumes at this price require me to wait and think.

When do you think the price crosses over into the “absurd” category? My answer: $300+

And my last question: What is the most expensive full bottle of perfume that you have ever purchased? My answer is $190. And looking back, I should have waited on that one.

*Awesome pic of Paulette Goddard is from

49 thoughts on “Eau d’Economics – When is a Perfume Expensive?

  1. Oh, your first sentence had me laughing out loud. 😀 so true.

    And I actually like your system, I should probably apply it as well, I like how the Guerlain bottle ended so much cheaper than CB. That is true art. 😛
    Honestly though, I don’t have a system of justification, but I think the most expensive bottle I bought was around 200$. That said, the problem with me is not that I buy sometimes an expensive perfume, the problem is that when I enter a niche store I usually come out with more than one… 😎

    1. See, I’m a master at justifying my purchases! 😉

      That’s a good point. Sometimes it isn’t about that 1 bottle but how much 1 spend in one setting. It’s like “calories”. I only ate one thing, but it was a large slice of ganache cake. Or I only ate a “few” things…a cookie, half a brownie, a “junior” size scoop of ice cream, a diet Pepsi hehe. We can do the same “expensive” damage all at once.

      But, I’m sure yours were all wonderful “values” and they would pass my system!

    1. It sure is something to think about. With lipsticks being $50 and I know even more if your looking at Serge Lutens. $30 seems to be the new base for luxury lipsticks.

      I often spend more on staples in my makeup. I’ll pay more for a color that I will wear more frequently or for something like a brow pencil that I use daily. I often pay less for bright blue eye shadow or something like that. But, it’s those darn limited editions that “get” me every time 😉 I can’t stop drooling over the Guerlain 2011 Holiday Collection!

  2. You can pay $50 for a tube of lipstick these days? holy crap.

    I think value is more important than price. That CB Russian Caravan sounds like an overpriced toy; the Guerlain is a truly high-quality product. You can find overpriced crap in every industry, and true value in many “expensive” items.

    I personally think perfume over $100 is expensive, period–you’d have to do a lot to convince me that the ingredients really cost that much. Even so, I’ve bought a few $100+ bottles and have never regretted those purchases because I thought long and hard about them for many months. (It was after I completely emptied the second sample of Dior Eau Noire that it went onto my “must buy” list. Granted now I have a 4.2oz bottle that should last me about 150 years…) I think the only things I’ll buy without a ton of thought are things below $25 (small decants, samples, minis, etc.) but those even have some thought behind them.

    I am tired of some companies trying to pass their products off as “luxury” – with obviously cheap packaging or a weak fragrance that doesn’t last. Just pricing your product like real luxury goods doesn’t give it real value.

    For a completely different comparison from a different industry – I am a theme park geek. Disney announces a price increase to their Disney World tickets every summer. Not to be outdone (or considered somehow “inferior”) Universal always matches their price increase about a week later. A single day ticket to either Disney or Universal is now pushing $80–the Disney ticket is actually a really good value, but I personally think the Universal ticket at the same price is a ripoff.

    1. Yep, Tom Ford retails for that much. And Serge Lutens lipstick goes for $75. Makes fragrance look like a good deal, doesn’t it?

      It is about value and for me, it is really about quality. Quality rules all of my purchases. My furniture is real wood or hand-crafted. My dishes were union made in the U.S. I own 2 purses, but they are high-quality purses. One retailed for under $100 and the other for over $500. It’s all about the quality for me (not the brand) and that gives it value. I don’t want to be surrounded by inferior items. I’d rather live without than with crap. We lived without a bed for 2.5 years because we wanted quality and bought it when we could afford it. No shit, we slept on the floor.

      I wrote this, but I don’t own many “expensive” fragrances. Most of my fragrances are decants, I’m a flirt. Or they are Carons, Estee Lauders, Guerlains that I purchased for under $100. Like you, when I buy something over $100, I’ve thought about it for a long time. It’s not really the financial end as much as it is about being surrounded by crap. I want to love my luxuries. If it takes up space, it better be something that I love, not lusted for because of shiny packaging or 1000 positive blogger reviews.

      And those lines sell because people are in love with exclusivity. Most of those bottles sell because of lack of exposure to better things that just so happen to be cheaper.

      But, listen, Brian, we’re just jaded perfumistas. You should know that.

  3. I work hard and have no kids, so I can afford to waste a little on frivolities. So my “expensive” is $150+, my “absurd” is $400+, and my spendiest purchase thus far (by the drop) is puredistance M, which was $200 for 17.5 ml. I’m still trying to talk myself into the amazing but $210 Chanel Eau de Cologne.

    1. I understand. This is how I feel. I’m childless by choice and what else am I going to treat myself to? We’re all grown-ups and we know what we want to do with our money. We also know what we can afford. We all have something. My husband spends all his money on expensive, high-quality foods and beverages.

      Oh, by drop! Forgot to justify my purchases by that way too, damn. But, really, I don’t care about the quantity of the fragrance. I’ll never use it all up anyways. But, it makes a good “cost per use” argument.

      Use my economics and that $210 Chanel will be under $100 in Victoria Perfume Dollars.

      1. This is why I love decants. Being practical, I’m never going to use up 2.5 oz! Unless, I want to be generous and share with other fumeheads. That’s the only way that things get used up these days.

  4. This post is hilarious. With the Tonka Imperiale, it comes with a bulb atomizer AND a regular spray atomizer to screw in, so you can take that money off there again. 😉 I love Tonka Imperiale and plan on getting a bottle. I love the packaging of that line, too, I have Iris Ganache and I love looking at that bottle with the gold plate on one side.

    Expensive is $300 to me as well. Anything over that price and I think about doing a split. I recently went in on a split for Mona di Orio Oud, which is about $550 for a bottle. All I have to say is, thank goodness for splits. I would buy a bottle of Amouage Opus V (just over $300, I think), but that’s an exception. To me, it’s special, unique and of extremely high quality.
    Carrie Meredith recently posted..The rose that stayed for dinner: En Voyage Perfumes L’Emblem Rouge EDP [and a draw!]

    1. You are very correct, Carrie, but I tried to make myself not look biased, you know 😉 After Borneo 1834, there is Tonka Imperiale. This is my list.

      Yes, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t purchase a $300+ perfume….that is what splits are for. I feel like eventually I’ll be at a point where I may spend on something like Opus when my collection is completed. There are plenty of Estee Lauders and Serge Lutens that my collection needs 1st. I’m starting at the lowest prices and moving on up 🙂

      Is that split “over”? I know somebody that wants to join if it isn’t.

  5. This is like a compound economic theorum. I love it. The way my sampling list is going I may never find the time to use FB’s. I think I would have to think very hard about spending $300. $150-$200 would be my limit. I did just buy a FB VW Boudoir (super price however), and must have a FB of LdDm. I do have a selection of FB’s prior to finding ‘Niche’, average price of these would be $95. (Paloma, Amarige, Cinema, Cashmere Mist, The One, Prada Amber etc…).

    1. That’s where I am at too. I don’t have a “signature” scent. At this stage, I’m not ready to settle. I want to keep trying new things and I don’t need FBs to do that!

      However, there are a few on my list. (Aren’t there always?) But, I’m thinking about them. I typically don’t purchase anything on my list until 6+months that it has been on the list.

      I will “splurge” on under $40 bottles when I get that whim. I love minis!

  6. Brilliant! Victoria, I love your perfume economics system (price denial)!

    It’s a funny thing about price, because I bought an Amouage full-price, and I didn’t think it was too much money, yet I often have a hard time paying full-price for something at half that price. There’s a funny zone for me, and it’s the stuff that isn’t bargain basement (under $100), and isn’t aspirationally priced (over $200). I think I have subconsciously been using some version of your system!

    Cost per wear is something I apply throughout my life, and it’s a valid measure. Like you say, white pants at $20 is a ripoff, because they’ll never get worn! But my Coclico boots? At $500, they seem absurdly expensive, but I’ve already worn them probably 50 times in the one season I’ve owned them, and I’ll probably wear them another 450 times throughout their lifespan! Even if they need resoling, they’ll still be a bargain over time.

    I really loved this post— thank you for it!
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    1. I think you are using my “system” or at least a version of it. It’s all about quality! The Amouage didn’t seem so “absurd” because you love it, it’s high-quality materials and it’s unique. Other stuff may charge $200 but be BORING or resemble something you can get for under $70.

      Cost per wear. That thought dominates my life. And boots, one always gets their money worth with boots 🙂 I have a pair of Frye harness boots that I have had for over 5 years. They still look new and I have worn them 500+ times.

  7. I LOVE this post! Your system is very rational and a practical way to determine the true value/cost of diving into that full bottle. Right now I think over $200 is when I go ouch although I haven’t purchased anything even over $100. I am going crazy with decants/samples at the moment and when I feel ready (mentally & financially) to take the dive into more extravagant full bottles I will be taking this post to heart.
    Perilously Pale recently posted..Hourglass Visionaire Eye Shadow Duo in Exhibition – Swatches and Review

    1. Like I said, I rarely purchase bottles over $100. When they go over this price, I think long and hard about it.

      Decants and samples are wonderful things. There are so many fragrances to love in this world. I feel that I’ll never get my use out of a full bottle. A 10 ml decant is really all I need. But, it is nice to have a new, full bottle of perfume. Especially one in a beautiful bottle! Going crazy buying samples is one thing, going crazy and buying full bottles is another 🙂

  8. You must be the queen of rationalization! LOL. I guess for me if it is under 200 euros and has made me dream of getting the parcel from the post, opening the box and spraying it on me, I buy it.
    The most I have paid is 3,8 euros/ml for a 30ml bottle of a Paradiso, a limited edition perfume created for Paradiso dance group of Amsterdam by the creator of Nasomatto fragrances.
    Memory of Scent recently posted..Pierce My Heart Again – more words of wisdom from a box

    1. Yes, it’s an art form 😉

      That is one expensive perfume. I’m sure it is wonderful. Did you regret your purchase? Or did you love your purchase? I find that I’m super critical of my more expensive purchases and I don’t know why. Need to work on the rationalization some more 😉

  9. Like everyone else I’m enamored of your system. 🙂 I have personally never paid more than $100 for a bottle of perfume. If I want something that costs more than $100 per bottle, I’ll: a) ask for it as a present, rendering it guilt-free b) buy a decant c) try to do a split or swap or d) search/wait around for some kind of deal. This system has worked out pretty well for me so far.

    On the other hand, if something is under $50, I have a hard time not buying it on the spot. Hence I have dozens of cheapo full bottles in my collection. The nice thing about these is I’m never stingy with how much I apply or how often I wear them, and I’m generous with giving out samples too.
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    1. Decants are like a perfume savior or something. Between gifts, decants and samples, it’s like perfume holy trinity.

      I have the same under $50 (well under $40 for me) impulse purchase issue. So far, I haven’t regretted those purchases. If I don’t like them, I can usually swap.

      I’m super generous with my perfumes. All of the bloggers I know are. We’re a great group 🙂

  10. It’s funny how a CdG is a great value for me. Serge is no longer considered expensive in my mind when I see Armani Privee, TFPC, TDC, Bond #9, Heeley, Cartier, and more in the $180 plus range. Anything above $200 is never an impulse purchase. While I am madly in love with FM Portrait of a Lady an Amouage Jubilation XXV, I haven’t been able to justify it…that’s my threshold.

    1. Oh, I love CdG and I do consider there perfumes a wonderful value. And Serge, for $120 it’s a great line. I remember back in the day SL was “expensive”. But, look at what the industry has done to us! All these other brands come out with $180+ perfumes that aren’t at an equal quality (most of the time) to cheaper things. So, I’m like you there.

      I’ve fallen for a few FM, Portrait of a Lady being one, and By Kilians. I *may* splurge on the travel sizes, but I’m still thinking about that. It’s difficult to justify, even for me 🙂

      1. (Because I love blanket statements) – while I’m not a fan of all of the SLs (especially the more recent ones) I think it’s safe to say SL is one of the best *values* in niche perfumery.

        Malle is another line that I don’t think was mentioned yet – just getting into it; have not been disappointed by *anything* yet and would consider a FB despite the stratospheric prices.

        1. There are some real duds in the SL line, no doubt, but the majority are good values. I support your blanket statement.

          Oh, the Malles. I don’t know what to do! I’ve enjoyed all the ones I have tried. They aren’t all “me” but the line seems to have some quality backing it up. Like every other fumehead with a computer, I love Musc Ravageur and I’ve been contemplating buying it for what, 3 years now? I also love Portrait of a Lady, Iris Poudre, En Passant…so, I’m considering spending the $100 on those tiny travel refills. Oh, and Carnal Flower, love that one too.

          1. “I support your blanket statement” haha

            I really like MR, but lately I’ve been testing Vetiver Extraordinaire again (because the world needs yet another Vetiver.) It’s *GREAT* – like old-school Guerlain Vetiver (I have a mini reference I can compare it against.)

            It’s really, really great.

            I don’t care for Sycomore because it’s too dry; the Malle is Just Right. Which is unfortunate because it’s Just Spendy.

            (wow, this is going way off topic. 🙂

          2. Maybe not off topic if I can justify the purchase for you 🙂

            A vetiver that isn’t dry, salty and feels like a saltine cracker up your nose, isn’t easy to find. Guerlain has reformulated it’s Vetiver. It’s still good, but we know it isn’t the same.

            Do you need another vetiver? Probably not. Do I need another patchouli? Probably not. But, I want them. And that’s what I like to wear. Maybe this is a decant fragrance for you. I see this one getting some wear, I really do.

  11. The point about not lasting is a big one for me. I love Fire and Cream and L’invisible from Strange Invisible Perfumes, but they don’t last more than three hours on me (and I hate the opening notes of the SIPS, so that makes about… two hours of joy. Sigh.)

    Same problem with Aftelier, except for Fig and Amber. But they don’t develop the same way that Tonka Imperiale does– heck, like a lot of the old Guerlains where the progression by the hour is totally entrancing, and four to six hours later it’s morphed into a different creature. How and how much a perfume evolves on my skin can make or break the decision to buy.

    And even though it’s really easy to get decants of the Chanel Exclusifs, I love the bottles: old-school elegant, heavy glass, the rectangular shape that’s easy to hold, the magnetic top, the beautifully simple label.

    1. Naturals are an entirely different game. They don’t wear like other perfumes. I love Fire & Cream too but I find that I only like it after about 2-3 hours of wear. The opening is a bit jumbled. It does last on me, but it ends up being an earthy patchouli base. Not really “worth” it to me despite liking it.

      And is it fair to compare anything to old Guerlains? 😉 I agree with you completely.

      Les Exclusifs – I think these are a good value. They aren’t charging too much for what you get. And I like that the smaller bottles are available now. I don’t own any FBs, only decants, but I see myself purchasing a few in the future. And they are timeless in scent and in appearance.

  12. ❓ Need help please!!! Was wearing Tova’s Original Signature fragrance (not what she is selling now) and can’t find anything similar to it. If anyone has worn the ORIGINAL before, can you suggest something close to it? I’m so desperate for it. Please help!

    1. It’s been years since I have sniffed Tova Signature, but I remember it being a beautiful, shimmering jasmine. Is that right? I can’t really remember it and I have none at hand, so I feel my recommendations will be off. However, I’ll try 🙂 Maybe Dolce & Gabbana The One (worried the vanilla may be too sweet though), Bvlgari Pour Femme, Kilian Love & Tears or Versace Versense. I hope a reader has some better suggestions!

      I *heard* that it isn’t being discontinued but the bottles are changing so that’s why it has been difficult to find. They aren’t introducing any new stock to market until the old bottles are gone. That being said, I hope they aren’t reformulating the perfume. You know how the industry is, they always feel this need to create something new but we want the good old stuff!

  13. I’m kind of astounded that anyone would pay $100 for about $8 worth of scent, let alone that they would think it was reasonable. Kind of shows why there are so many angry terrorists around – $100 would probably feed someone for a year in Afghanistan.

    1. I understand where you are coming from and I understand that perfume isn’t a necessity. I see why you are astounded. But, the truth is that the world is filled with crazy marked up items – clothes, handbags, electronics, cosmetics/skincare.

  14. Old post, but made me laugh, and still relevant today! Rationalizing the economics of my purchasing is something that of course I think about quite a lot.

    My most expensive bottle in dollars (but not ml/$) purchased while in the USA was Brume d’Hiver by Volnay, which I got at discount on eBay for $189 & $6 shipping, so really $195. I wasn’t uncomfortable with that price because it retails for $225, and I missed the bottle for $145 on eBay earlier in the year (big sad face.) I decided over a period of a year that I really wanted it, and so when I had the money, and that particular bottle was still for sale, I snapped it up.

    My most expensive bottle purchased while not at home was the “EdP” (wears more like an EdT) of Liu at the Guerlain boutique in Paris last summer. 205 Euros, and that’s about what I had budgeted for a Paris-perfume-souvenir. (I actually wanted to spend 200 Euros, but who’s arguing at that point? Not me.)

    Incidentally, I think making a budget per bottle/scent is the most helpful thing I’ve created for myself this year.

    Also…drumroll.. the *actual* most expensive bottle on a per ml basis, was a stupid blind buy of Sultan Pasha’s Ame Sombre Grade-1 attar for $86 with the exchange rate at the time, including shipping. I didn’t love it, and it was only 1 bloody ml. So per ml, that was my most expensive (and stupid) purchase ever. I just sold it for $60 and I’m glad to be well-shot of it. It wasn’t as described, nor was it worth it. I hate overblown, hyperbolic perfume writing. I’ve learned How Not To Be A Lemming this year. (SMH).

    All that said, $150 is my usual cap. At $160 I get uncomfortable, and I don’t buy. The three examples I gave were quite extreme situations.

    I received Jeke ($160) as the result of a Christmas gift (requested), and I would like to have Embers by Rouge Bunny Rouge, but again, it costs more than that magical number, and if I ever add it to my collection this year, it will be because of a gift request.

    Beyond that, I typically purchase vintage scents, so I do a lot of per/ml math and look at what’s available on eBay. Typically I am ok buying at $2/ml, and most often, not higher than $3/ml.
    (Sidenote, long tangent: Anything past $2.3 a ml is pushing it, which explains why I can’t throw down for, say, Musc Ravageur. If I did buy it, it would be the larger bottle, for two reasons: I love the scent, so I would be spraying a lot, and the difference in price per ml justifies the larger expense, since I’d use it. BUT – I think all of the FM scents are overpriced, so I can’t really justify purchasing any of them. They’re all rather smooth and boring, even MR.)

    I then look at the bottle condition – if it has the baudruchage intact, I’ll consider it more valuable, especially with a high level and proper juice color. If the bottle/juice/seller looks iffy, I simply pass. Sometimes it’s actually cheaper to purchase minis than it is to purchase larger bottles when buying vintage on eBay, so there you go.

    I just inventoried all of the scents that I own, how many ml I have of each, and how much I spent on frags in 2015 & 2016. It was the helluva lot more than I thought I spent, and so now I’ve knocked my budget down to a few hundred dollars, and I have a list of a few specific bottles to purchase in 2017. Total. I have more juice than I can wear in 10 years, so I’m attempting to stop purchasing for the foreseeable future (minus those specific bottles). I curated a collection that I absolutely adore, am able to rotate through without getting bored or burning out on a scent.

    Ha ha, that’s a book! More than anyone ever needed to know about how I purchase perfume. But I loved your post, super amusing, and it made me think about how I spend. Thanks!
    Larkin recently posted..Not So Fancy Nights with Jessica Simpson

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