Belly up to the fragrance bar, boys! Mother’s Day is coming up fast and there’s no better way to show mom your love than with the sweet smell of perfume.

Unfortunately, most men don’t know the difference between eau de cologne and eau de toilette, so approaching the perfume counter can be a tad unnerving.

Nothing’s too good for the woman that raised you so, don’t let the fear of spending scare you off. Fragrance, of course, is notoriously pricey, but the more expensive scents usually contain the highest quality ingredients. Manufacturers spend millions to develop new and innovative perfumes for clients who, in turn, spend more millions to market and advertise a fledgling scent. During the 1990s, more than 1,000 new fragrances were launched, some eventually to become classics worn by women worldwide. Not surprisingly, prestige fragrances can retail for more than $100 for just a quarter of an ounce. But price is just one thing to consider when deciding on the fragrance to buy.

The dilution factor

The costliest form of fragrance is pure perfume, which contains the highest quantity of essential oils — generally 22 percent and the least amount of alcohol-based fixative.

Perfume is followed in order by:

  • eau de parfum — 15 to 22 percent essential oils
  • eau de toilette — 8 to 15 percent
  • cologne or eau de cologne — 4 percent
  • eau fraiche the most diluted version of scent with just 1 to 3 percent

If you’re on a limited budget, you can get the same great scent in more affordable, yet luxurious, items such as perfumed body lotion, bath and shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, and body cream often selling in collections in the $40 to $50 range. Designer Donna Karan’s fragrance group, Cashmere Mist, for example, even features a $25 candle and a deodorant for $17.50.

Rochelle Bloom, president of the Fragrance Foundation, the educational arm of the industry, points out that fragrance should be used and enjoyed, no matter the cost. “There are wonderful fragrances available at all price points, and many companies now promote special offers and fragrance sets at very affordable prices,” she says. For example, Bulgari offers a Green Tea Eau Parfumee package containing cologne, bath gel and lotion, all for $75 on

Size does matter

In addition, size usually gives a price benefit. In other words, the larger the bottle, the less cost per ounce. Yves St. Laurent’s Opium is a case in point. Created in 1977, Opium became an instant phenomenon. A dazzling, refined blend of rose, carnation, sandalwood, lily of the valley, pepper and clove, Opium falls into what’s called an “oriental,” one of the basic six categories of scent. The 1.6-ounce eau de toilette spray, a popular form of the scent, retails for about $63. Yet, the 3.3-ounce size, with more than twice the content, sells for $86, only $23 more.

In general, you can shave 20 to 40 percent off the price of fragrance by buying the bigger size, and some brands sell refills that cost 25 to 40 percent less than the original bottle.

What women really want

When it’s time to choose a scent for your mother, think about what would please her, not you. “Certainly the people around her should like the fragrance as well, but it’s most important to focus on the recipient,” says Bloom. “Remember, fragrances smell differently on each individual. Men love woody, spicy, lime and leather qualities in their choices, but women generally want to wear more sensuous, feminine scents, especially the rich florals, orientals and crisp greens.”

If you’re uncertain about what fragrance to select, find out what your mom is currently wearing, so that you know which category she prefers. If she wouldn’t leave the house without a spritz of Estee Lauder’s Beautiful, for example, then she enjoys a modern floral blend which probably means she’d be delighted with another floral such as Vera Wang by Vera Wang or Happy to Be by Clinique. If your mom enjoys being trendy, try celebrity fragrances, such as Jessica Simpson’s Taste or Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely, or spring for food-inspired scents with good-enough-to-eat ingredients, such as papaya and raspberry.

If you need help selecting a scent, ask for a certified salesperson at the fragrance counter, says Bloom. Stores such as Nordstrom and Sephora should have them.

Timing’s important, too

Another consideration is whether the fragrance is meant for day or evening use. Many women prefer a fresh, natural scent for day wear, particularly if most of their time is spent on the job. Top choices range from soft florals to green vegetal scents with prominent traits of cucumber, pepper, or herbs such as mint or thyme.

For evening, scents are usually richer and warmer, with hints of spice and wood. Heavier floral blends are also important. Their impact is sophisticated, yet not overpowering; in other words, the room won’t clear out when your sweetheart walks in.

According to Bloom of the Fragrance Foundation, the general trend for day or evening is toward deeper, more complex scents. Consumers are less interested in the single-note florals and more attracted to the opulent orientals, with their dramatic impact.

Change with seasons

Weather, too, plays a role in choosing the right fragrance. In winter months, women often go for sexier aromas — typical of the orientals. A good choice might be a mix of woody and spicy touches topping a rich musk base. Full-bodied classics, such as Shalimar and Opium, are just the ticket to warm up the mood.

In summer, light, airy scents dominate. Rather than using heavy orientals, most women prefer a spray of coolness. Favorites include the green and fruity eau de toilettes, such as Go by Urban Decay, as well as sporty and nautical scents, with hints of spice and lemon.

Finally, fragrance should fit the wearer’s personality; it should reflect her character and spirit as well as her femininity and sensuality. A rich, oriental perfume, for instance, suggests an intense, dramatic personality; a tangy, green-based cologne projects the qualities of an athlete or outdoors lover; and a single-note floral, such as lily of the valley or rose, may strike just the right sweet chord for the grandmother in your life.

Leslie Hunt and Sheyna Steiner contributed to this story.