Style + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle: Is Perfume Professional?

Hi Belle,

Do you think it’s appropriate to wear perfume to work? If so, would you please offer some tips for professional women? Thanks!


I advise women to never wear perfume to a job interview.  Scent can be off-putting to interviewers (or bring back memories they don’t want to be broadsided with), so just skip it.

There are two predominant schools of thought on whether to wear perfume to work: the never ever camp and the “it’s okay in moderation” camp.  The never camp argues that because so many people have allergies to perfume, it’s discourteous to wear fragrance.

I think if you ask the people in your immediate vicinity if they have a problem with it, and they do not, it’s okay.  But do choose a scent that isn’t strong enough to fell a band of Clydesdales.  I recommend choosing something subtle and applying it with a conservative hand.

I find the Fresh fragrances to be light a pretty.  I’m a big fan of their Hesperides Grapefruit and Citron de Vigne scents.



  1. Monica says:

    As someone who is extremely sensitive to perfume, and used to get terrible migraines in college when women would think it necessary to show up to class after soaking their clothes in scent, I am happy this is even a topic of conversation.

    Believe me, it is not the actual smell of your perfume that is offensive, I think some scents are quite nice, it is that I get a physical reaction to the chemicals used in these products. As soon as I am around it I get a sense of pressure on my forehead and know I have to get out of there stat. When someone can’t get out (eg in a classroom, at work) the reaction is debilitating.

    I work with mostly men, and none of them wear scent. I’m very thankful for this.

    January 20, 2015/Reply
  2. Rachel C says:

    I recommend Philosophy’s Grace line as a wonderful light scent. There are multiple options (Amazing, Living, Pure – my favorite that is just a nice, refreshing, clean smell). Plus, the various scents are available in multiple products (shower gel, perfume, lotion, a lighter spritz) so it’s easy to find a scent and product that provides you with a light, “perfumed” scent but won’t overwhelm anyone.

    January 20, 2015/Reply
  3. Anna says:

    I used to have a coworker who would spritz herself no less than 10 times before going to an event after work. I would still have a headache long after she left and would often have to open a door and window when she doused herself in the mornings just so that I could work at my desk. If you’re going to wear scent, it should only be perceptible when someone leans in close.

    January 20, 2015/Reply
  4. Melissa says:

    And then there’s the issue with people who use a dousing of fragrance to mask lunch time work out sweat. Perfume and BO. Deadly combo.

    January 20, 2015/Reply
  5. Gabby says:

    I like to wear a scent (I rotate seasonally), but I wear it VERY lightly: one spritz on a wrist, rubbed against the other wrist, then rubbed on either side of the neck. Someone else has to be pretty up close and personal to smell it, but I can get a whiff of it whenever I want to 🙂

    January 20, 2015/Reply
    • Anna says:

      That’s what I do, and I’m pretty sensitive to perfume. Either that or one spritz in the air and a walk-through, though that’s more if I’m going out combined with the wrist spritz. As it wears off throughout the day, it only becomes perceptible if I start to sweat.

      January 21, 2015/Reply
  6. Liz says:

    I think another factor is how your office is laid out – are you in your own office or in a cubicle? When my office was in the cubicle farm I very rarely wore perfume (stemming from being so annoyed with the smell of a coworker’s that gave me headaches) but now that I have my own office I do wear it more often, though still lightly (now more as a courtesy to clients who may not want to feel like my office is the perfume section of Sephora).

    On a semi-unrelated topic, my office has a ban on scented candles, diffusers and the like in the open air cubicles due to one partner’s allergies.

    January 20, 2015/Reply
  7. Very Erin says:

    I rarely wear perfume to work. I just started with a new boss this session and he actually told me during one of our first meetings that he is incredibly sensitive to smell and would prefer if I didn’t wear perfume. No perfume is definitely better than too much!

    January 20, 2015/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Agreed. And if someone says “no perfume,” definitely no perfume.

      January 20, 2015/Reply
  8. Pam says:

    I’m usually running out the door and forget this step, but I do have an opinion ;-). You shouldn’t wear so much that your scent announces your arrival before you get there, and the elevator should not smell like you after you get off. A very light scent, that only those who would get very close to you ( like a boyfriend, husband, or someone hugging you) can detect is Ok for work. But thinking of all the chemical sensitivities, perhaps the scent of our shampoo, body wash, deodorant and lotion are already enough?

    January 20, 2015/Reply
  9. Melissa says:

    When I graduated from college 22 years ago, my mother bought me “Letitia Baldridge’s Guide to Executive Manners”, an indispensable book that I still love.

    I also get migraines ALL THE TIME and cologne/perfume is a trigger.

    Letticia says that you can wear it but it should be subtle enough that the people want to be near you and they don’t quite know why. If you don’t want to buy the books, here is the section for reference

    January 20, 2015/Reply
    • Trixie says:

      Hah, I was also given a copy of that book eons ago and had the chance to tell Ms. Baldridge of the few times it saved me! Thanks for sharing and I hope everyone checks out that last paragraph — he’s got the right idea.

      January 20, 2015/Reply
  10. Nicci says:

    Please do not wear perfume. It gives a lot of people migraines (including me) and it is also extremely unhealthy and dangerous.

    January 20, 2015/Reply
  11. Christina says:

    I wear perfume on a daily basis – but I stick with one spritz in the trunk of my body (typically right underneath my bra line), tap the inside of both wrists to it, and then tap under my ears. Same one spritz, 5 points. I think it’s subtle enough I can smell it – but hopefully it’s not overwhelming to anyone I sit with. Thus far, no one has ever mentioned it unless they were hugging me (and then, only close friends).

    January 20, 2015/Reply
  12. Pancakes says:

    If you choose to wear perfume, I think it’s the least offensive if it’s no stronger than the scent from a shampoo/conditioner. Anything stronger, and you risk affecting others’ health.

    January 21, 2015/Reply
  13. Can't be near you says:

    I too get terrible headaches from perfume (and men’s cologne). If you come within two feet of me wearing it, you’ve given me a headache for the next several hours. People think that if makes a difference if they have high quality perfume or wear only a small amount – but that’s wrong. Like the person above said, it’s about the chemical composition of the stuff, and the headaches happen regardless of the quality/amount worn.

    B/c this happens EVERY TIME I SMELL PERFUME, I can’t help but detest every person who wears it around me – when getting on the elevator with you people, or riding public transport with you, or getting in a cab after you, it’s all I can do not to scream at you. b/c you’ve just ruined the next few hours of my life.

    Besides that, it’s a low brow thing, like long, tripped-out fingernails, huge earrings, hair color dyed not-natural colors, 5-inch heals, etc. Celebrities hock the stuff. Be tacky if you like, but I’d never give you a job.

    January 24, 2015/Reply
    • Belle says:

      First off, I take exception to the idea there perfume is low-brow and tacky. That may be your personal opinion, but it’s not a fact.

      Secondly, I can understand being upset with a co-worker or roommate or someone close to you wearing it if they’re aware of your allergy. But it is incredibly self-centered to demand that perfect strangers stop wearing fragrance, and hold them responsible for triggering an allergy that they have no earthly reason to know about.

      I have chemical allergies myself, and have experienced what you’re describing, usually after entering a freshly cleaned room, and it is maddening. Hotel rooms are particularly dangerous, and more than once, I’ve had to seek medical attention because a hotel was using fabric refreshers that triggered swollen eyes, hives, and more. But the judgement you’re assigning to others because you have an allergy is incredibly unfair, and I wonder if you’d feel that it was tacky if you weren’t allergic, or if you’re just looking for a justification for your anger. If someone knows you have this allergy, and they use perfume anyway, I can understand the upset. Otherwise, as frustrating and infuriating as it may be to suffer from these types of headaches, it’s no one’s fault.

      January 24, 2015/Reply