The shoulder seasons of spring and fall often deliver us the best perennial fragrances: They don’t lean so heavily into the intense coziness of winter, nor do they transport us to the Sicilian coastline like a peak-summer scent. Instead, these shoulder fragrances help with the transition between the weather poles, and in doing so, are also suitable for year-round wear, and for most occasions, too.
As for fall fragrances specifically, these will of course rely on the “warmer” notes, like woods, spices, ambers and so forth. But, they’ll be more subtle about it — to ease the transition. They might even call on some spring and summer notes to help round out their profile.
The notes below are among the most common in fall fragrances. But, like we said, they aren’t necessarily going to overpower everything else in the fragrance. So, for each note category, we’ll also recommend our favorite scent that reads “autumnal” but wears “annual.” You should be able to find a terrific new scent, whether it becomes your signature one, or simply helps you shimmy through shoulder season.
Woody fragrances give you a “forest bath” of sorts; they evoke the coziness of a lush nature hike, with notes of cedar, sandalwood, and even resinous agarwood. Vetiver is also a woody note, despite being a grass. It carries the same presence, and is perhaps the most popular note in this category of scents.
A wintry leather scent will also wear well on date night year round. It oozes alpha sensuality, but a fall leather scent will downplay this intensity and play with other notes to feel warm without feeling too forward.
From cinnamon to nutmeg, and pepper to clove, spicy notes give a scent some bite — but it’s a a sophisticated and playful one in fall formulations.
Amber is also a “family” of scents, describing anything that incorporates resins or spices — perfect for the colder temps. But as an individual note, amber itself has a resinous but sweet quality. Look specifically for notes like labdanum, benzoin, and styrax.
Nobody wants to smell like cigarettes, and luckily, smoky scents steer far from that territory. Instead, they take the stimulating parts of tobacco, and they warm the senses on contact. Usually, a smoky note will play supporting fiddle to more prominent categories, but you can find terrific smoke- or tobacco-forward options — and lighter ones for fall, at that.
Musk is a now-synthetic note that has a powdery quality to it. You’ll also find a lot of fragrances in fall that call on powdery florals like iris (orris) and violet. These notes have an ethereal quality to them. They’re powdery, yes, but they lift you up off the Earth a bit, too.
Patchouli is terrific for shoulder season; it has an earthy, sweet quality that wears beautifully in spring, but it also has a woody-spicy nature, too, which points squarely at fall. It might be the best note for perennial wear for these reasons.
Moss is another common spring scent, especially common in “green” fragrances that feel like the early days of spring. But the way it’s grounded will center you year round. Plus, it pairs so well with other fall-friendly notes — that oakmoss is a perfect complement to cooler temps.
Gourmand notes are those that you can practically taste, like vanilla, caramel, chocolate, honey, and so forth. They are typically synthetic, and their stronger varietals wear best in winter, but the subtler ones are great for transitional wear.
Like we said, fall and spring are the best seasons for year-round fragrances. If you’re already thinking about gifting colognes and fragrances for the holidays, see our list here. And if you’ve ever wondered why your favorite scent is discontinued, we got you covered on that too.