perfume bottles - how to buy vintage perfume

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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Quick Q&A

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

retro clock - vintage perfume

In this section of the ultimate retro perfumery guide, we will cover the following topics:

  1. Deciding should you buy old perfume bottles
  2. Where to buy them
  3. 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:

  1. It can get expensive very fast
  2. 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:

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:

EBAY
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.

FACEBOOK GROUPS
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.

The groups which I’m also a part of and would recommend for you to join Fragcomm Bangladesh, Gents Scents Fragrance Family, and The Fragrance Guru Nation.

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

perfume store - vintage perfume

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.

3. Color

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:

  1. Bottles with spray atomizers
  2. Roller ball bottles
  3. Miniatures

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.

ROLLERBALL BOTTLES
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.

MINIATURES
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.

With modern perfumes, and websites such as Check Fresh and Check Cosmetics where you can easily find the batch code at least, with rare vintage stuff that ain’t the case.

The answer is – you can’t really know if you are getting a real thing or not. Research, reading blogs such as mine or others, and perfume books will help you immensely.

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.

Conclusion

chanel no 5 - vintage perfume

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:

REVIEWS

TOP LISTS

SCENT GRAIL LEARNING CENTER

Until next time, have a great time and keep smelling like a million bucks!

Best, Marin!
#scentgrail #scentgrailtribe

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Your number one resource for Holy Grail Signature Scents.

– Marin Kristic

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16 Comments

  1. Hello,
    I have a parfume unbottled Chanel Allure Home sport cologne for more than 10 years.
    Could you help me with your beat information if this parfume has expired. Is it possible to sell it and where can I sell it?
    thank you in advance!
    best regards
    Ermal

    1. Hi Ermal. Fragrances rarely go sour if you keep them in a dark and cool place without any sunlight. Since your bottle is over 10 years old, I suggest keeping it for your self and enjoying the older formulation. Best from Croatia. Marin 🙂

  2. Hi, thanks for this valuable article! My favorite vintage fragrance is Carrera Pour Homme which was made in France (pre 2002). Its opening is ok (but weak), middle notes not sure about them (maybe burned due to aging), drydown is amazing. Drydown is a bit smoky (due to natural oakmoss I guess), spicy floral, fresh and unique! Its longevity is super. Its not easy to find this version and if you find it you’ll lucky for the drydown. You can still find the original formula in some nice Italian bottles, but there are some new bottles that are lighter and you can’t tell the year from the box/bottle. Please email me and I’ll help you in case you wanna try a bottle. I’ll tell you from where you can get it though its my hidden gem lol.

    1. Hi Mohannad. I’m yet to try Carrera Pour Homme, but as I can see from the reviews, it got overall positive feedback. If I get a chance, I’ll try to sample it in the future. Thank you for sharing your vintage fragrance gem. Best from Croatia. Marin

    1. Hi Amanda. Thank you for your comment. I have seen Coty Tribe on Amazon, and Malibu Musk on eBay available right now. I suggest you check them there since you can never know when they’ll be available for purchase. Best, Marin

  3. Thank you for a wonderful article. I am a person that keeps to a few favored scents, and I find that I am particularly drawn to old vintage ones like 1000 by Jean Patou and First by van cleef and arpels. I used to have another favorite perfume that has sadly beed discontinued. It is the original formulation of Nina by Nina Ricci. I still found it until the 1990s but they must have changed the formula, and in the 2000’s the scent of Nina was totally different, although they kept the name. In 2012, I found a half bottle of the original scent. I have been saving it ever since. I must content myself with just a few sniffs every so often 😊 Ah so frustrating when scents are discontinued 😢

    1. Hi Catherine. Thank you for your kind feedback. What is your experience with older vintage bottles, especially with the aged liquid inside? I used to own recently a couple of discontinued superstars such as YSL M7 and Gucci Pour Homme 1 and found that the top notes have burned off but made base notes much more intense. Cheers! 🙂

  4. I’m trying to find out of a bottle of Cobb n Co volume 2 colonge is worth anything I can’t find anything online …

  5. Hello, I enjoyed your article. What can u tell me about Evening in paris from early 1900s to discontinuation in 1969 please?

    1. Hi. Unfortunately, I haven’t sampled Soir de Paris yet, but as I have seen, it is close to L’Heure Bleue from Guerlain which I would recommend sampling. Soir de Paris is currently available on eBay from a couple of sellers for a little more than 100 EUR which could be potentially a good deal depending on what kind of fragrances you like. Best, Marin

  6. I’m hoping to get my hands original, vintage Bijan, and also the same for Samsara, both parfum. I have seen listings for exorbitant prices. Perhaps I need to jump in. The listing are EBay and Etsy.

    1. Hi Michelle. If there was only one piece of advice that should be taken from this article then it is that one about buying only sealed vintage formulations of fragrances no matter whether you purchase them from the seller directly or from eBay. As for fragrances that have been discontinued in the last decade, it is usually safe to get them even if there have been previously used. This is because no one can guarantee how a perfume was stored, have the top notes “burned”, and other factors. Best, Marin

  7. Hello Marin, thank you for your informative article. I have a question if you have time. My mother wore Arpege – we’re talking the 60’s and 70’s and I believe they changed the formula so the current one doesn’t smell like hers did.
    I saw at an auction 2 small bottles of vintage Arpege and decided I must buy them, however, the Arpege came with two other perfumes which I had to buy as well, Jean Patou Joy – 7ml Parfum Joy and after looking at the Raiders of the Lost Scent page I have determined it to be from May 1988. Also a bottle of Christian Dior Miss Dior 4oz eau de toilette atomiseur which I have determined to be prior to 1980 (can’t get any closer to the date than that yet). Both these bottles are still sealed in original packaging, cellophane etc. This cost me a lot of money just to get the Arpege (so worth it though).
    The Arpege is perfect, I love it, it is the same scent my mother wore.
    I don’t wear Miss Dior or Joy so thought about selling those two but it’s a minefield in so much as I don’t want to sell something that might have spoiled. I also don’t want to open them as people seem to like unopened bottles?
    What do you think the best thing to do is? Offer a refund if the perfume is spoiled? I’ve looked on Etsy and there are so many vintage perfumes for sale (many with the wrong date now that I have found out how to date them).
    Any advice would be much appreciated.
    Thank you,
    Mardi

    1. Hi Mardi. That’s a tough question when it comes to fragrances that have potentially gone bad. This is just my opinion, but I would open them, check to see if they are still in good condition, and then sell them if I don’t plan to wear them. Although this will probably lower the selling price, this way, you will be sure of what you are selling. Best, Marin

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