Should You Wear Perfume to Work? Is it Impolite? [Full Guide!]

Perfumes can be such a tricky subject. You may run into someone and wish they wore perfume but may also encounter someone you wish had never walked into a fragrance shop. “Who introduced you to that perfume?” you may want to ask because their fragrance is strong enough to border on being impolite. Well, you don’t want to be that person, especially at work.

In general, you can wear perfume to work as long as your office doesn’t have a “no perfume” policy. However, make sure that the scent of your fragrance doesn’t project too strongly. Furthermore, try to make sure that your immediate colleagues are not allergic to perfumes. If possible, use workplace-friendly perfumes.

To conclusively answer this question of whether wearing perfume to a workplace is considered impolite, we reached out to corporate professionals, and human resource experts to understand what works and what doesn’t!

The result may not only surprise you, but along the way, you will also get to learn things you should know about wearing perfume at work, including perfume etiquette and how to politely inform people when their perfume is too loud!

So, let’s get started!

Before we begin – If you don’t have time to read the article and you came here to know a good workplace-friendly perfume, my recommendation would be to go with Prada L’Homme (for men) or Chanel Chance Eau Tendre (for women). A full review of these perfumes is listed towards the end of this post.

Is it Ok to Wear Perfume or Cologne at Work?

When you step into the office, you want to put your best foot forward. That means you want to look your best and feel your best because the impression you make decides whether you get a promotion or get gossiped about by the water cooler. So, which way does wearing a perfume nudge you towards?

It is OK to wear a perfume or cologne to work if the scent is not too strong and your office doesn’t have a fragrance policy that prohibits wearing perfume or cologne. If you wear an invasive perfume, you may face challenges in your workplace even if there’s no fragrance policy.

In fact, we reached out to over 100 corporate professionals to understand if they get bothered by people wearing perfume around them. Here’s what we found out!

Data is based on a survey conducted to understand the impact of people wearing perfume at a workplace

Obviously, there are people divided on both sides of the coin for this question. In fact, in a first glance, you may think that less than half (45.5%) people don’t mind when people use perfume around them. This might lead you to believe that more than half the people do have a problem with it!

But, if you look closely, 27.3% of the people said that they get bothered when someone around them wears strong perfume! Even though this might seem like a small percentage of the total, but that’s close to 3 in every 10 people!

Since opinions and guidelines regarding fragrances can be conflicting and often contradictory, it can be a bit confusing to navigate the perfume landscape in a professional environment. The section below covers the best practices of wearing perfume at work.

Perfume Etiquettes at Work

Business Woman wearing Perfume at work

As you may have noticed, wearing perfume at work isn’t a black and white thing. For the most part, whether you get away with wearing a perfume depends on various factors including the strength of your perfume. Furthermore, since there can be a disadvantage to wearing perfume or not wearing one, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

  1. Err on the side of wearing an Eau de Toilette version of the perfume (unless your workplace has a ‘no perfume’ policy). Usually, the Eau de Toilette version of a perfume will be lower in strength and may not project that strongly.
  2. Do not wear too much perfume even if your employer doesn’t restrict fragrance use.
  3. If your workplace has an open plan, a bullpen, or a cubicle layout, it is polite to ask your neighbors whether they are comfortable with your perfume or cologne.
  4. If you have an office, it is better to have your perfume in the office, so you don’t have to walk onto the floor with the scent on. However, you must rely on an air freshener to neutralize room odors instead of trying to overpower them with your perfume.
  5. Tread carefully when commenting on others’ fragrances. Usually, you should channel concerns through HR (more on this later).
  6. Remember, the role of perfume at work isn’t to smell noticeably good but to neutralize the body odor that may result from sweating during the day. The idea is to make sure conditions are in your favor and that you don’t sweat profusely at any point.

Can an Employer Tell You Not to Wear Perfume?

Throughout our best practices section, you’ve noticed the use of the term “fragrance policy.” If your previous employers never had guidelines in place, it is easy to get confused and wonder whether it is even possible for an employer to instruct employees regarding fragrance use.

An employer can tell you not to wear perfume as long as you aren’t singled out specifically. While it is legal for an employer to have a workplace fragrance use policy, singling out an individual while giving other employees a free pass on fragrant products can lead to discrimination liability.

However, that doesn’t mean that your boss cannot specifically ask you to reduce or eliminate your fragrance use. As long as he or she has a history (especially through email) of asking anyone else to reduce their use of perfume, they have the legal high ground to request you not to wear perfume. 

The only instance where you may have grounds to sue based on discrimination is if the employer has never addressed the fragrance policy in a broad manner. You’re the only employee who has been requested not to wear perfume. Even so, you only have a strong case if said discrimination has led to your firing.

Can You Get Fired for Wearing Perfume at Work?

Now that you know that your employer has a right to regulate fragrance use at work and even ask individual employees to reduce or eliminate their perfume use, the main question is that of consequences.

You can get fired for wearing perfume at work, and your employer will likely cite insubordination if there is a workplace fragrance use policy or if you have been asked in an email (or other recorded manner) not to use perfume at work.

But when it comes to getting fired, employees must check if there is a policy or specific instruction they have violated.

Interestingly, during our research where we reached out to corporate professionals from over 80 companies, we learned that most organizations don’t have any written “No perfume” policy!

Data is based on a survey conducted to understand the impact of people wearing perfume at a workplace

We were surprised to know that not a single organization had a “No perfume” policy. We concluded that there are perhaps 3 possibilities that arise from the response that we received. These are as follows –

  1. Most organizations don’t have a “No Perfume” policy
  2. Even if they do have such a policy in place, it is not easily accessible to the employees.
  3. Finally, it is possible that even though the policy is made available to the employees, they perhaps just don’t pay attention to such documents. Meaning, the employees are just not aware of it.

Whatever the case may be, if you’ve never been asked not to wear a perfume and there isn’t any written policy regarding perfumes, you may have grounds to contest the nature of the firing as arbitrary. Depending on where you live, this can be a valid reason to sue. In such a situation, it is best to consult an employment law attorney.

Dealing With Fragrance Sensitivities at Office

In a survey where we reached out to over 100 corporate professionals in the USA, we found out that close to 90% of employees wear perfume to work! What’s really interesting is that about 27% of the respondents said that they get bothered by other people wearing perfume around them!

This clearly indicates that at least some of the respondents were okay to wear perfume even though they didn’t want others to wear perfume around them!

Such gaps in personal belief systems can lead to fragrance sensitivities at the workplace.

Fragrance use is a two-way street. You might end up being the offender, or it could be someone else using an invasive fragrance. This can be especially annoying if the perfume is the cheap kind that settles into the surrounding fabric and you work in a bullpen.

Still, you have to keep in mind the subject’s sensitivity: people do not like it when one comments on their perfume. Regardless of your position in the office, you have to be sensitive to people’s feelings.

1. How to Tell Your Coworker Their Perfume is Too Strong?

Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

If your colleague wears an invasive fragrance, you might be worried whether your confession regarding how you feel about it might turn into a confrontation. At the same time, turning to HR right away might cause relationship issues and may be unfair to the individual, especially if they don’t even know they’re wearing too much perfume.

To tell your coworker their perfume is too strong, you should position it as your problem that can be solved only if they choose not to wear that specific perfume. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I think I’m allergic to something in your perfume; it hurts my head.”

By positioning it as your problem, you’re not blaming them for their general choice of fragrance, and you’re letting them know that they can’t continue wearing their perfume without bothering you. If they don’t seem to care, then you have the moral right to turn to your HR manager for help. 

The main reason you shouldn’t take it to HR in the first place is to be polite to your coworker, a courtesy you no longer need to extend if they continue using their perfume despite your confession.

2. How to Tell Employees Not to Wear Too Much Perfume?

Since power dynamics play a role in how one’s comments are perceived, you need to know that asking a colleague their perfume is too strong is completely different from telling an employee their perfume is too strong or that they use too much of it. It is therefore advisable to address perfume use more broadly to avoid any liability for perceived discrimination.

To tell employees not to use too much perfume, use an email or any other form of written communication. Make sure the request is general and establishes a policy. Going through the human resources department to send this as an update may be a better approach since no one knows from whose concern the policy has emerged. 

While legally, you have the right to regulate or prohibit perfume use, it is generally advisable to be kind. Remember, people don’t wear too much perfume on purpose. Most people who use strong scents or wear too much fragrance don’t even know that they’re doing it.

3. How to Know if Your Are Wearing Too Much Perfume?

Wearing too much perfume is a mistake that seems elusive despite being easily detectable. Having an honest friend to act as your sounding board is a luxury in this matter as well since fragrances are a sensitive subject. This makes it essential for one to figure out if and when one is wearing too much perfume.

You are wearing too much perfume if you are spraying more than 1 or 2 spritzes when wearing perfume to work. Another way to tell if you are wearing too much perfume is by asking an unbiased friend at work; preferably a female (since women have a sensitive nose compared to most men).

Your nose’s ability to get used to odors and scents is incredible. Think of a time when someone’s body odor invaded your nostrils. As obvious and unpleasant as the smell was to you, it is likely that the person couldn’t recognize the odor as his or her nose had gotten used to the smell.

The same happens with fragrances. And if you can smell your own perfume off the air, chances are it is too strong and bothers people around you.

Trusted friends are also a great way to confirm this, especially if your nose isn’t very good at picking a scent. In that case, even when your perfume is too strong, you may find the air around you to be neutral. 

Asking a friend to let you know if they can smell your perfume from a distance is a great way to solicit the truth without positioning it as undesirable or impolite. In contrast, asking them if your perfume is “too strong” or if you’re using “too much” can put them in a difficult spot, and they might hesitate to tell the truth.

Workplace-Friendly Perfumes

Since this post began with the question regarding the use of perfumes in the workplace, it is only right to discuss which perfumes are the safest in a workplace where fragrance use is allowed, but strong scents can still cause concern. Here are my recommendations for office-friendly fragrances.

1. Montblanc Individuel

This fragrance belongs to the woody oriental family and has a Spring & Autumn seasonality that can be charming across all seasons.

The impression I get from first wearing this men’s fragrance is that it represents youthful vigor without having an overpowering element. Of course, that comes at the cost of longevity.

Towards the last quarter of your workday, this perfume might evaporate entirely. That said, you will still get about a good 6-8 hours on this perfume.

This sweet-fruity flavored perfume doesn’t have a strong sillage, and is definitely a good option for wearing perfume at work.

Meant for – Men
Perfumer – The nose behind this fragrance is Pierre Bourdon.
Top Notes – Lavender, Cinnamon, Pineapple, Juniper Berries, Mint, Bergamot, Rosemary, Coriander, and Cardamom
Middle Notes – Orange Blossom, Violet, Geranium, and Jasmine
Base Notes – Raspberry, Vanilla, Sandalwood, Dark Chocolate, Musk, Amber, Patchouli, Vetiver, and Oakmoss.
Price Rating – $$$

2. Prada l’Homme

In my opinion, this is by far one of the best men’s work perfume! Ever since it was launched in 2016, it has just increased in demand – making it one of the most liked perfumes for men!

This men’s perfume belongs to the Woody Chypre family and is ideal for spring. That said, it works really great even during summer or fall time! It is perfect for daytime use, but doesn’t seem to have the same magic in the late evening or nighttime!

The perfume opens with a very unique pepper, and cardamom scent while smells really nice! This opening scent combination makes it quite unique! The perfume settles with a woody, patchouli scent. It is easy to wear a bit too much of this perfume simply because the scent is so good! So, be aware of that.

All in all, it is just an awesome perfume for work! I highly recommend this perfume.

Mean for – Men
Perfumer – The nose behind this fragrance is Daniela Andrier.
Top Notes – Neroli, Black Pepper, Cardomom, and Carrot Seeds
Middle Notes – Iris, Violet, Geranium, and Mate
Base Notes – Amber, Cedar, Patchouli, and Sandalwood
Price Rating – $$$

3. Chance Eau Tendre by Chanel

Chanel produces by far one of the best perfumes! It is no surprise that I have a Chanel on my list.

Chance Eau Tendre by Chanel is my female favorite because of its broad appeal. I consider it is one of the best “First Impression” perfumes. This is a great perfume when you are meeting people for the first time. That said, wearing this perfume consistently can only create your own personal brand identity!

The fragrance has a bright musky smell with a peppery opening. It is ideal for summers, in my opinion, but also has great year-round wearability. It blends well with your skin and is, overall, light enough to pass most workplace standards.

One drawback with this Chanel perfume is longevity. It just doesn’t last that long. Plus, it also doesn’t project that strongly. However, that’s exactly what makes this a perfect option as a workplace-friendly perfume as it won’t interfere with others around you.

Meant for – Women
Perfumer – The nose behind this fragrance is Jacques Polge.
Top Notes – Quince and Grapefruit
Middle Notes – Hyacinth and Jasmine
Base Notes – Musk, Iris, Virginia Cedar, and Amber
Price Rating – $$$$

4. L’Interdit by Givenchy

L’Interdit is an awesome floral perfume launched by Givenchy in 2018.

This perfume gives a nice floral perfume making it really light in nature. L’Interdit is a bit heavy on the white flower. Tuberose is the main ingredient used in the perfume which also gives it a really nice scent.

If you wear this perfume, it screams luxury and class. The only thing is it is not at all as expensive as the scent it projects! The scent is a bit similar to that of Chanel’s Coco Madamoiselle because of the Tuberose essence, but it has its own unique personality.

It can be used during the daytime and even the nighttime. But, it is winter perfume and best not used during summertime.

Meant for – Women
Perfumer – It was created by Dominique Ropion, Anne Flipo, and Fanny Bal.
Top Notes – Pear and Bergamot
Middle Notes – Tuberose, Orange Blossom, and Jasmine Sambac
Base Notes – Patchouli, Vanilla, Ambroxan, and Vetiver
Price Rating – $$

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