Thursday, 4 March 2021

Perfume: a guide for selecting a good fragrance as a transgender woman

 I'm wearing a new perfume I've recently bought, "Forever" by Laura Biagiotti. Deliciously feminine and very heady, it needs only a light application from the gorgeous bottle to last all day.

It's now my perfume of choice, replacing Versace Crystal Noir in the top spot. 


Rivals for my olfactions: Versace Crystal Noir (left) vs Laura Biagiotti Forever (right)

My last bottle of Crystal Noir has disappointed me, for some reason; it seems to lack the staying power it once had. Perhaps they have changed the formula (a regular trick in the industry). 

So Laura Biagiotti wins through in 2021. The glossy marketing blurb in English is here: Laura Biagiotti Forever

I was recently discussing perfumes, their uses and abuses, with other trans friends. Having done quite a lot of work for the fashion industry over the years (see, for instance, my 2015 post Working in fashion and other good stuff), including perfume companies such as Acqua di Parma, I thought I would share some tips on selecting a good perfume. There are so many pitfalls, especially for MtF trans people, but the right perfume can be the perfect compliment to your outfit, makeup and jewellery.

Vitally important tip

The main thing to consider is that a perfume works not by giving you a smell but by combining with your own natural odour. Therefore, the same perfume smells differently on different people and what works for one may be a dud on another.

This has important implications for any MtF trans person who is not taking female hormones - your own odour will be more masculine, and this means that many perfumes blended to work with women's natural odours won't smell good on you. This reduces your choice.

Related to this is the fact that perfumes are not a substitute for cleanliness and won't hide BO. Go take a shower, you dirty pup!


Perfumes have three main layers of aroma, known as notes. The top notes are those most active in the few minutes after application, the middle or heart notes emerge after half an hour or so, and the base notes represent the perfume's staying power. The top notes are chiefly what you smell in the shop when the assistant offers you a sample and are therefore only a partial guide to the blend, unless you stick around for a few minutes. It is the middle and bottom notes that really matter as these are the ones that blend longest with your own odour. 

Do try the little free samples in magazines, dropped on the doormat or given out in perfume retailers. 


This week's free samples: Narciso Rodriguez For Her in Elle magazine, Sisley Eau de Soir tiny spray bottle from the perfume shop, and classic Acqua di Parma wipe for men that gives an idea of how a citrussy cologne can act as a guide for chosing a MtF female perfume

You can wear these for a day at home and see if they work for you and, more importantly, for those around you. Don't be afraid to ask honest opinions. If your loved one tells you that you now smell like a dead horse, then don't be offended - that's actually a win as that perfume isn't for you. It saves you wasting a lot of money.

Scent families

So, what scents work for MtF trans people?

There are four main families of scents: the floral (or sweet), the citrus (or fruity or fresh), the spicy (or oriental) and the woody (or chypre).

Floral is obviously local things like rose or violet; citrus obviously things like lemon; spicy is more exotic, things like sandalwood, vanilla or musk; and woody is mosses, patchouli, agarwood, etc.

Given what I have said about the blend of odours between you and the fragrance, an MtF trans person not on hormones should be looking for a perfume that has middle and base notes that resemble those found in aftershaves/men's cologne. That doesn't mean you will still smell like Ron Burgundy or Henry Cooper (thankfully) but you won't get a clash that ultrafeminine fragrances like Chanel no 5 can create. Avoid anything too fruity or floral as you might end up smelling like rotting melon or, worse, rotting meat.

How strong a pong?

There are five strengths of fragrance. There are the (usually cheap and synthetic) body sprays which will give you a bit of oomph for an hour at most.  

Eau de cologne is a pleasant blend with lots of water that usually gives a soft aroma for an hour or two. You can apply liberally.  

Eau de toilette is stronger and is a good choice for those starting out using perfumes.

Eau de parfum and you know you're in business! Apply very sparingly as you want to enhance your allure when people are near you, not knock out the whole room!

You can also get pure parfum but this is harder to find on the average perfume counter and you really need to know what you're doing (and be rich). Good as a base for women alchemists who may want to create their own strength from pure essences.

Where to apply your perfume

Pulse points, inside joints (elbows, even knees, but not armpits!), behind the ear, back of neck (but beware of chemical interactions with sythetic wigs and wig/hair products), base of throat. I favour the collarbones as these are often under clothes and therefore release the perfume very slowly and it's delightful to get another burst of fragrance after getting undressed and into bed at night.

Some other thoughts and tips

Different perfumes are appropriate for different seasons, times of day and even events. Summer outdoors favours fruity, floral, citrus notes; the cosy interiors of winter are better for musky, close perfumes. Some claim that our sense of smell is heightened as the day wears on so a statement perfume for an evening out can really be noted; apply sparingly! 

Despite what I said about perfume under clothes, its best not to spray directly onto clothing as perfume can stain. Be careful also if you have sensitive skin; alcohol is in most perfumes and this can irritate many people.

An oily skin retains perfume longer than a dry skin. If you have dry skin you can apply a little petroleum-based lotion before spraying your perfume.

If sampling perfumes in a shop, sniff a maximum of three at any one time, otherwise your sense of smell gets confused and you can no longer distinguish.

If you really like a perfume, there may also be toiletries with that same fragrance. This helps you avoid clashes between perfumes in your washing products and your expensive fragrance. Scented candles with well-known perfumes are very popular and are nice at bathtime or in the evening. Be prepared to spend money on such options; although it can be money well spent.

If you have ethical concerns about the use of certain products, e.g. civet, ambergris or other animal secretions, or have allergies, all good manufacturers and distributors will be happy to list ingredients and suggest alternatives.

There are plenty of sites that give more detail on the points above, including fragrance charts and strength guides, and most online perfume retailers have similar advice.

I hope this is interesting and helpful, friends. Smell you later!


A dip in the archives

Here's one of the well-known photos from interwar Berlin, a mecca in the 1920s and early '30s (as now) of alternative culture, with a lot of havens for TGirls. 

Hitler stamped all that out, of course. I visit Berlin regularly and there seem to be more TGirls there going about their daily business unmolested than anywhere else I know. It's a joy to be there.

Me in Berlin, 2018

Sue x


Cari lettori italiani

Ho comprato un nuovo profumo qualche settimana fa, Forever di Laura Biagiotti. (Sito: Forever di Laura Biagiotti). Mi piace cosi' tanto! Però bisogna stare attente quando si compra i prodotti profumati perché senza gli ormoni giusti si può creare un odore poco gradevole. Oggi vi presento la mia guida ai profumi di qualità per le donne transgender.

Sue x


  1. Really interesting, Sue. There's something rather nice about the occasional sensory reminder of a good perfume.

    Even if it's not an actual scent, a fragrant body lotion is good too.

    1. Thank you, Lynn. Body lotions are something I myself cannot use at all as the chemicals in them, especially the synthesised scents they have, invariably cause me eczema and other skin complaints. But if you can, then the fresh, clean smell is always pleasant, although others are less likely to notice it. Everyone will have their favourite products for bathing and freshness that make them feel good and smell nice. Here I'm concentrating on fashion industry perfumes as they make a statement and, although expensive, are a worthwhile treat. Sue x