Earlier this month, Marie Claire did a listicle on 10 Cheap Perfumes Beauty Insiders Love. I have no real objection to their list1 other than the inclusion of a $76 perfume and an $82 body oil — beauty insiders apparently have a different definition of "cheap" than I do, possibly because they don't have to fork over cash for their beauty products — but I did note on Twitter that I did not love any of their picks. I'll also add that none of their 10 show up very often in our daily scent of the day polls. So, here is a list of my own. I couldn't make myself narrow down to fewer than 11, and of course I've cheated even more by adding alternatives. As always, do include your own picks in the comments!
Marie Claire included the old standby 4711. I know some of you probably love 4711, and I can't scoff at it — it's possibly one of the better fragrances on their list. Still, my old-school drugstore choice would be the venerable spicy carnation, Old Spice. As with everything else, though, vintage is better, if you can get your hands on it. The absolute best case scenario is you come across an old, unopened bottle in your grandfather's medicine cabinet. Maybe all the stars align and there's an old bottle of Stetson hiding in there too?
If you shop around, you can find a 50 ml bottle of Prada Infusion d'Iris Absolue for less than $50. It's lovely and it has decent lasting power, which is more than you can say for a number of "luxury" iris fragrances that shall remain nameless.
If you're looking for bargains in scented body oils, you can't do much better than Tauer Perfumes Rose Delight Body Oil, which will run you about $25, and which will stand up just fine on its own, or layer perfectly with nearly anything else you can think of that might be enlivened by a bit of rose.2 (If you're looking for something more meditative, and you're willing to up the ante to $40, there's always Aftelier Ancient Resins body oil. But really, you ought to own both oils. You'd only be out $65 and one or the other would work with nearly any perfume you own.) If you prefer a "real" perfume, don't forget that Tauerville Rose Flash is only $31. Oh, and Rose Flash can be layered with Vanilla Flash...
And so long as we're including scented body products, let's not forget Estee Lauder's Bronze Goddess Whipped Body Cream. At $50, it's admittedly spendy for a cream, but the tub is huge and so is the fragrance — I find it considerably more powerful than the spray Eau Fraîche. I wear it frequently in the summer, and I've hardly made a dent in my tub in the two years I've owned it.
Donna Karan Gold is that rare thing, a pretty lily perfume. It's not an in-your-face, niche hothouse lily, like Serge Lutens Un Lys, but nor is it a deconstructed modern lily, like Cartier Baiser Volé. It's a middle-of-the-road, mainstream lily, and that was a hard sell in department stores in 2006. It was not on counters for long. Since then, it's gained a minor but avid following among perfumistas who've taken a chance on a dirt cheap bottle from a discounter (at the moment, you can find 30 ml of the Eau de Parfum for about $15).
When you want something a little offbeat, but don't want to pay top dollar for the latest niche favorite, Lush is always worth a visit. (Their elegant jasmine - vetiver Silky Underwear, which I bought for $30 years ago, is still a personal favorite. As is the way with Lush, it's not available at the moment, and who knows if or when it might reappear.) Their offerings vary by country; if you can find it, Furze is bright and cheerful and summery, and completely wearable despite smelling like nothing you'll find in a department store. At the moment, Lush's UK Kitchen has a Furze body spray for £12.
If Lush is just not your style, check out the budget-friendly, easy-to-wear offerings from Pacifica. My own favorite is the spicy / incense-y Tibetan Mountain Temple, which will run you $22 for 29 ml (or you can snag a solid perfume in Mediterranean Fig for $9).
Need a sweet comfort gourmand for pennies, one with a bit of spunk? Perhaps with a dash of cognac for good measure? Queen by Queen Latifah, like Donna Karan Gold, did not wow them on the fragrance counters, but it's had a decent afterlife on perfume blogs and forums. You can find a 15 ml bottle for less than $10, which in perfumista math means they're paying you to take it off their hands.
Italian perfumer Maria Candida Gentile isn't cheap, exactly, but she makes little 15 ml travel bottles for the relatively friendly price of $45 (if you buy directly from the brand, there are also 7 ml miniatures available). Her Hanbury is a charming floral based on calycanthus, and I've been wavering over a purchase ever since I smelled it. If you don't love it, she has lots of other choices, from the quiet Lankaran Forest to the animalic Elephant & Roses.
Marie Claire also included Kiehl's Musk. Kiehl's Musk used to have a bit of a following on MakeupAlley, and I do see it mentioned here from time to time, but I never really loved it, and would offer up in its place the newer woody unisex Sarah Jessica Parker Stash SJP. At $50 for 30 ml, it's still free in perfumista math terms. The alternative, if the Stash does not suit, would be the woody unisex Comme des Garçons + Pharrell Williams Girl, easily found for less than $30 for 100 ml.
It's still a little shocking to me that you can buy a 50 ml bottle of Lalique Encre Noire, one of the best vetiver fragrances ever made, for less than $25.
1. Although I should also note that the article starts off with the assertion that the "main difference between perfumes at high and low price points is lasting power", which any perfumista can tell you is complete nonsense.
2. After sniping at beauty insiders who get all their products as promotional swag, I feel honor bound to point out that my bottle of Tauer Rose Delight was actually accepted as swag, and is one of only two or three such products in my collection. Most freebies I either don't accept in the first place, or give away in contests, but I tested the Rose Delight so enthusiastically that it seemed silly to give away what was left. And, I'll add that Marie Claire's choice of body oil, Balmyard Beauty Romantic Call, is not that much more expensive per ml than the Tauer, and it's actually less per ml than the Aftelier. But it only comes in the one 120 ml size.