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Should You Wear a Fragrance to Work?

Group of coworkers meeting around a conference table.
G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock

You might have a fragrance or cologne you adore but your office mates might not. Is it appropriate to mist yourself down before work?

Some people wear different fragrances for each season or occasion. Others wear the same signature scent every day, no matter where they’re going or what they’re doing. No matter which camp you fall into, you might wonder if wearing perfume to work is a good idea.

As with many work-related issues, there’s no right or wrong answer. Instead, it’s worthwhile to consider your industry and workplace to make an informed decision. In some situations, it might be a major faux pas if you wear perfume at work, but in others, it can make you more memorable.

Not sure how to make the call? Here’s how to decide whether you should wear a fragrance at work.

Does Perfume or Cologne Belong in Your Workplace?

Here are some everyday workplace situations and indicators that can help you decide whether you should wear a fragrance on the job:

  • Someone complained about your scent: Some people are highly scent-sensitive and can’t work near anyone wearing a fragrance. In this case, you have two options. You switch to a lighter scent your coworker might be less sensitive to. But if it’s still an issue, you might have to stop wearing perfume at work altogether. However, this will prove you’re a team player, who cares about keeping the environment healthy for everyone.
  • You have your own office: If this is the case, and you don’t have frequent meetings, most people won’t be around you long enough to care if you wear perfume or cologne. If you work in an open office or share an office, there’s a higher chance your scent might bother someone. Also, keep in mind perfume tends to smell stronger in enclosed spaces.
  • There’s a fragrance policy: Some offices have a no-fragrance policy or specific guidelines regarding scents. If there is one, it will make your decision easy. Not sure about the policy at a new job? It never hurts to ask.
  • You have a job interview: Wearing perfume to a job interview is a risky move unless you’re very familiar with the perspective on fragrance in that field. If it’s a laid-back fashion brand, wearing perfume to the interview could be fine. If it’s a more traditional company, or you’re not sure of the industry standards, it’s best to avoid perfume at the interview.
  • You work in a conservative field: These fields tend to have stricter expectations for how you dress, which can also extend to fragrance. And a faux pas in this type of workplace can be a bigger issue than it would be in a more relaxed environment. If you’re starting a job at a more conservative company, you might want to avoid wearing a fragrance until you know whether your coworkers do.
  • You work in the medical field: Because medical professionals often work near patients who are experiencing all kinds of issues, it might be best to avoid fragrances. Some patients will probably have scent sensitivities, and you don’t want to make someone’s challenging medical experience even worse.
  • Other people wear it (or no one does): If lots of people wear perfume at your workplace (especially higher-ups), it’s probably safe to say you can, too. If no one does, though, you probably shouldn’t buck the trend.
  • You have a big presentation: As our sense of scent is linked to our memory, wearing a particular perfume can boost your confidence before a big presentation or another work event. You might consider reserving a smell you associate with positive experiences for those big moments, to help you feel relaxed and prepared.

Tips for Wearing a Fragrance at Work

Woman discussing work documents coworkers.
G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock

If you decide to wear your perfume or cologne to work, you can follow these tips to make sure you don’t cause any issues:

  • Apply lightly: There are a time and a place for a heavy dose of fragrance, but work isn’t one of them. Apply a smaller amount of perfume than you usually would before you go to work.
  • Avoid reapplying: You might stop noticing your fragrance after you’ve been wearing it for a few hours, but it can still smell strong to others. Either leave your travel-sized fragrance at home or wait until the workday is over to spritz on more.
  • Consider different formulas: You can also play it safe and use a weaker version of your favorite scent. Try the lighter eau de toilette instead of the Eau de Parfum. Or you can wear the scented lotion version of the perfume you love.
  • Be aware of all scented products: Many other products you use—including lotions, body washes, shampoos, hair-styling products, deodorants, etc.—are also scented. If it’s not labeled “fragrance-free,” it almost certainly has a scent. If you wear multiple scented products (with or without perfume), you smell stronger. Some scents might also clash with the notes of your perfume. Make sure all of your scented products work well together or opt for scent-free versions.

Throughout your career, you might need to change your approach to perfume depending on where you work, who you work with, and what your position is. It’s considerate to be aware of how your fragrance affects the people around you—and that applies when you’re not at work, too.

Shopping for an office-appropriate scent? These tips can help you select one.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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