Here’s a hard truth about buying vintage perfume bottles you need to hear. No matter how well you have done your research or how much well you remember your favorite perfume from the past, there is always a chance of getting a dud.
Angela from NTS had explained this the best: “For me, vintage perfume is both a dream and a nightmare. On one hand, smelling a scent that isn’t made anymore feels gloriously forbidden, like tricking time…On the other hand, vintage fragrances can be hard to find, expensive if you do find them, and heartbreaking when they run out.”
As for me, I have dabbled my fingers into the vintage perfume game a couple of times and had burned my nose(not literally) here and there.
This is why I have decided to create this ultimate guide about how to buy vintage perfumes to minimize mistakes. Like fashion, the perfume trends change as well, but there is a catch with the perfume that makes buying older bottles quite interesting.
The IFRA restrictions didn’t exist, and in recent times, these restrictions weren’t as severe as they are today. So, in a way, buying a vintage perfume is like time traveling, but with your scent senses. Amazing, right?
This article was created for all those how are just getting into vintage fragrance shopping, and perfumistas who want to learn more about their hobby.
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WHAT IS A VINTAGE PERFUME?
Vintage scents are older formulations of perfumes that had gone under reformulations through the years. Generally, a perfume that is older than 10 years is considered vintage. This applies both to discontinued and currently in production perfumes.
ARE OLD PERFUME BOTTLES VALUABLE?
Old perfume bottles are usually collectibles by people that enjoy scents from the past which makes them valuable in case you are “holding” a special old batch of that particular perfume, or something that is highly sought after and long gone and discontinued. Keep in mind that while something might be old and discontinued, it doesn’t immediately mean it’s highly valuable as well.
IS IT SAFE TO BUY VINTAGE FRAGRANCES?
Buying vintage is almost always a tricky game in which luck plays a big part. Always get informed about what you are buying before actually purchasing it. Personally, if I had to choose to buy a retro perfume, I would opt in to buy it from someone reputable or someone I know, online or in real life.
ARE VINTAGE FRAGRANCES STILL GOOD?
If stored properly, a fragrance can last “forever”. Some may age like fine wine, while others go bad just in a couple of years. It all depends on how you take care of your precious bottles. Before buying a vintage bottle, it’s good to contact the seller and talk about the storing conditions the bottle went through.
CAN YOU USE VINTAGE FRAGRANCE?
Some may disagree with IFRA’s restrictions, and how much they have changed the perfume industry with various raw ingredient bans and such, but in reality, they are the only reason why we still have perfumes on the store shelves. Many raw materials like oakmoss and musk were used in vintage perfumery back in the ’70s and ’80s and could have potentially caused allergies and other unwanted skin reactions. To conclude. Yes, buying vintage scents is safe in case they haven’t “turned” and/or, your skin tolerates natural ingredients.
Perfume Guide & Helpful Tips
In this section of the ultimate retro perfumery guide, we will cover the following topics:
- Deciding should you buy old perfume bottles
- Where to buy them
- How to tell the production date of your vintage fragrance bottles
Just like the retro clock picture above, after reading this article and doing your research, you’ll ensure that your scented time travel is done the right way without wasting time.
Should You Buy Older Perfume Bottles?
Before taking your first step into the hunt for that “unicorn” from the past, you should ask yourself this most-important question – Should I buy old perfume bottles?
You should do this because of these two main reasons:
- It can get expensive very fast
- The success rate is 50 – 50 without sampling the fragrance first
But that’s not all. Even if you can afford to risk buying a perfume that’s gone bad or the money is not an issue, you may come to the realization that retro perfumery doesn’t suit your fragrance preferences.
What’s even better, often the previous formulations of your favorite perfume aren’t that different from the current ones. For example, my bottle of Musc Ravageur after just sitting for a year on the shelf had already taken the shape and scent profile from the 10-year old formulation I had tried before.
I have compiled a couple of helpful articles regarding these topics that I recommend reading first before blind buying a fragrance from the 60s or 70s:
- How To Start A Perfume Collection
- Designer Vs Niche Fragrances
- Fragrance Strengths & Perfume Concentrations
- Fragrance Families & Fragrance Wheel
Coming back to the question you should have asked yourself and hopefully answered the way you feel about your current part of the fragrance journey, I recommend vintage perfumery to passionate perfume collectors, and as for beginners, stay safe and don’t purchase perfume bottles older than 10 years.
Where To Buy Vintage Perfume?
There are many places you could buy vintage perfume bottles, but only a couple that is safe which I’ll include here. These are the following I recommend:
This mega-popular online platform has some of the biggest vintage fragrance sellers in the market. What’s great about eBay is the buyer’s insurance so even if you buy a spoiled perfume, you’ll get your money back.
Thus, you will find the biggest variety of vintage bottles on that platform while it’s always good to stay away from the “deals” that are way too good to be true, and contact the seller prior to purchase to talk about things as storing conditions, additional photos, fragrance color, and how old is the bottle.
The seller should have at least 99% positive feedback, a Top Rated Seller ribbon, and keep an eye for scammers.
One of the many great things about perfumery is the age of the internet and the numerous possibilities that came with it.
If you have not yet joined any of the fragrance groups on Facebook already, I highly recommend you do, because it is not rare to find great vintage fragrance deals from great people, and the personal interaction is much greater than for example on eBay or Esty.
FLEA MARKETS, ANTIQUE AND THRIFT STORES
Each town has them, and it is not rare to find a cheap gem from someone that is selling the stuff they don’t need anymore or don’t know what they have.
This is probably the safest way to buy vintage fragrances since you can test and see the bottle in real person.
How To Date Vintage Fragrance Bottles?
Knowing the production date of a vintage fragrance can be a little tricky, but there is a way to estimate the production date even if the bottle doesn’t have a batch code.
Besides talking with vintage fragrance consultants, I recommend visiting perfume history museums or taking a look at perfume reference books.
In the modern-day and age, perfume brands have become more open to these discussions about the production dates of your old perfume bottles, so don’t be shy to contact them directly via their official website.
Also, these three websites are gold mines about dating vintage perfumery:
Keep in mind that previous to World War II, most of the perfumes were made in the extrait versions, so if you see a label saying Eau de Toilette or Eau de Parfum, it means that they were most likely done after that period.
Tips & Tricks To Look For When Buying Vintage Bottles
We have learned so far the essential information about vintage perfumery and how to approach this interesting niche of perfume game.
Now, it’s time to give you further tips & tricks that will help you alongside this journey, and some of the other truths you might not know about.
1. How To Properly Store Fragrances
Let me tell you a little secret. No matter what laws or brands are trying to say to you, perfumes don’t expire the same way as bread, meat, or milk.
So, even if labels say best used for 24 or 36 months, if stores properly, fragrance can last almost forever.
This is because perfume essential oils don’t contain fatty acids which means there is a low chance of rancidity. The only real enemies of perfumes are exposure to air, light, high temperature, and time.
The best way perfume should be stored is in its original box, a place with a constant and cooler temperature, and somewhere dark. This is the number one question you should ask a vintage perfume seller.
2. Perfume Freshness
Of everything you will find in this ultimate guide, this one is probably the only one of the “do or die” types of decisions one will make.
All perfumes age, stored properly or not, opened or still unsealed. After a long time of being produced, it will eventually change. This especially hits old citrus-based fragrances, where the top notes are almost 90% certainly will “burn off” after a couple of decades.
The citruses are the most volatile molecules, especially if the natural ingredients were used. The same goes with spices that become somewhat flat, and herbs that go sour.
It’s not all bad in case you get a fragrance like this since most likely, the base notes will be much amplified and heavenly smelling.
Last but not least, there are some fragrances such as Karl Lagerfeld Classic and Lalique Encre Noire A L’Extreme that age like a fine wine in a bottle, while others don’t. Keep an eye for that as well, since this happens more rarely than in the cognac and wine world.
The color and “flakes” are usually a dead giveaway if something is not right with the perfume. Keep this information with a grain of salt since a much darker color or even flakes inside since this is not the case in 100% of situations.
Sometimes the color change comes from natural ingredients(florals, citruses, and vanilla) that macerate and produce a dark color.
But yeah, I’m not the biggest fan of chemical changes that could have gone wrong and would avoid purchasing discolored perfumes.
Keep in mind that evaporation of alcohol and oils is a natural process that happens over time, and I would be more cautious of buying a sealed fragrance from the ’60s completely full than the same unopened bottle with 75% left. Scammers usually refill those perfumes with new formulations or water.
4. Health & Safety
If you remember me mentioning the IFRA organization at the start of this guide, this is where we should be thankful they exist.
I’m not the biggest fan of reformulations but have accepted that there is a good reason why this has to be done, otherwise, there would be no more perfumes on the market.
The issue of allergens and chemical toxicities is a real deal, and some people had major skin reactions to some natural ingredients. This also makes vintage fragrance hunting even more fun, since you know you are getting the original formula and the way it was meant to be experienced.
So, in the end, it is safe to wear vintage scents just like you would a modern one, but start with one spray on the hand just to be sure.
5. Start By Buying Only Three Perfumes
Some perfumes associate us with our childhood, while others take us back to that special vacation with our loved ones.
Pick a couple of perfumes you like before, but can’t find them anyone, and do your research. Many of these are still available in modern formulations, and this is where should you start.
Try not to spend your hard-earned money on everything you see online labeled as “Ultra Rare”, and get your nose on the things you already know first.
This is how you’ll appreciate old formulations, and how the perfume has changed with time and trends. I recommend tracking vintage formulations of these perfumes:
6. Types Of Bottles
Have you already decided what types of vintage perfume bottles you want in your collection? If not, these are the top three types to sought after:
- Bottles with spray atomizers
- Roller ball bottles
BOTTLES WITH SPRAY ATOMIZERS
Of all three bottle types, bottles with spray atomizers are your safest bet that you will get the freshest scent. These bottles are industrially sealed which guarantees the best protection from the air and evaporation.
I would buy roller ball or dabbing bottles only if they are unopened. This is because of health reasons and fragrance freshness. Each time this type of perfume is used, there is a chance of introducing dirt, dead skin cells, and other stuff that shouldn’t be there into perfume.
This will make perfume contaminated and not suited for further usage. Buy at your own risk, or only if it’s still factory sealed.
I have a special place in my heart for perfume miniatures that look 100% cuter than in their original form. Fragrance miniatures were often sold as a gift to the “real thing” instead of tester vials.
If you are struggling with having not enough space to store your “big” perfume bottles, start with collecting miniatures. They are often inexpensive and a better way to buy vintages without costly blind buying mistakes.
Apply the same health warnings with miniatures as with rollerball bottles if unsealed.
7. How To Know If You Are Getting A Real Thing
I have left this purposefully as the last part of this chapter to first let you know that there is a charm like no other with vintage fragrances, but yes, there is a catch.
Most likely, you will have to take a leap of faith and take the bite that becomes easier the more you buy, read, and research.
Packed with all the useful information from this ultimate guide about buying vintage fragrances, you are ready to start doing further research about your favorite old perfume and start shopping.
What is your favorite vintage fragrance? Let me know in the comment section below, and let’s start a conversation.
In case you are in considering should you start buying retro and vintage fragrances, it’s always good to take a look at Scent Grail’s S.P.A. Signature Factor Guide.
It is easy to use and the most relevant perfume buying guide on the web. This way, you can check out if a particular fragrance is worth checking out, and potentially find your signature perfume.
Find out more Scent Grail articles about perfumery, check out top lists, and other helpful reviews via links below:
- Guerlain Shalimar
- Hermes Concentre D’Orange Verte
- Histoires De Parfums Fidelis
- Yves Saint Laurent Kouros
- Acqua di Parma Colonia Essenza
- Best Spring Fragrances For Women
- Best Spring Fragrances For Men
- Best Perfumes For Women Of All Time
- Sexiest Men’s Fragrances
- Best Cheap Perfumes For Men
- Best Men’s Fragrances Of All Time
SCENT GRAIL LEARNING CENTER
- My 11 Most Important Fragrances
- History Of Perfume
- Fragrance Addiction
- Hyped Fragrances I Won’t Be Buying Again
- Youtube Fragrance Reviewers That I Still Watch
- How To Find Your Signature Scent
Until next time, have a great time and keep smelling like a million bucks!
Your number one resource for Holy Grail Signature Scents.– Marin Kristic