Sunday, 12 October 2014

"2ml or not to fill?" Musings on the etiquette of sample sizes

Endangered 1ml vials spell out their fate
My friend Clare was in Florida earlier this year and reported that since her last visit, the concept of the 'bottomless' cup of coffee - ie with refills available on tap - has been extended to main meals (slightly confusingly called 'entrees' in the US), such that she was offered a 'bottomless plate'. I guess this is really just a rebranding of the 'All you can eat buffet', except that presumably the wait staff replenish your plate for you, I don't know. But anyway, Clare reported this latest manifestation of the creeping trend in the Western world towards 'supersizing', remarking that if she were ever to take up such an offer, she would soon be far from 'bottomless' herself.

In parallel, in recent years I have noticed that perfume quantities exchanged between perfumistas appear to have got larger than at the start of my hobby, six years ago. Back then, if someone agreed to send you five samples of perfumes to try, you would typically receive five 1 or 1.5ml vials with stoppers in a little plastic bag. Invariably accompanied by a boiled sweet. If perfume extras were included, they were most likely also of the same sizes.


A swap package of yore

Over time though, sending a 1ml vial as a 'sample' has become almost unheard of, unless the sender is really short of the perfume in question, or it is insanely expensive - something like a Puredistance scent springs to mind, or an extrait strength, say - or where you only had 1ml left in total and are trying to split it into vanishingly small fractions. These days, when perfumistas are sending people samples, they often send quite a bit more than is necessary merely to test a scent, sometimes even a quantity around the 3ml mark or above, which for me is the threshold which distinguishes a sample from a decant. I am not sure that 3ml is the official definition, or even if there is one, but above 2.5ml starts to feel like a decant to my mind.

These larger samples are usually put into spray bottles, which makes the testing process a lot more enjoyable than the dabbing ritual from the 1ml vials. I welcome this trend, as you can spray at will multiple times and get a really good idea of whether you like the scent or not. That said, I am not always as forthcoming myself with goodly amounts, mainly because I have these three receptacles in my decanting stash to choose from...

My paltry collection of sample vial variants

- 3ml plastic spray vials (just a few left now out of a bulk consignment from Accessories for Fragrance).

- 1.5 plastic snap on vials (these are the ones that Freddie of Smellythoughts got me into, which are intended to be used for centrifuge samples. I like them, because they are cheap, available in the UK, and you can dispense with funnels and their associated washing, a tedious task from which I find myself increasingly shying away. I remember Mr Bonkers joking that one of the things he appreciated after I left him was not finding metal funnels lurking in the washing up water. ;) Hmm, I say they are easy to fill 'commando', ie without funnel, but - perhaps becasue of their tapered shape - you get serious splashback after about 0.75ml or so, meaning that I end up just giving people 1ml again like in the old days - at best! It doubtless looks a bit parsimonious on my part, but they are so user-friendly for the decanter, at least.

Tapered 'Freddie' vials - 1.5ml

- 1ml glass vials with stopper (also from a big - nay, huge! - consignment from Accessories for Fragrance). Old habits clearly die hard to have prompted me to buy them...Yet I hardly ever send someone a sample in one of these except for the exclusions mentioned above, because it combines funnel requirement, non-sprayability and stinginess in one inconvenient package. I really do recall their being the standard vehicle for samples back in the day, though!

When I have finally exhausted my supplies of the 3ml plastic sprayers, I might well invest in some slightly smaller glass ones instead - 2ml or 2.5ml, maybe, if they do them in that. I am still partial to the 'Freddie' snap on vials, so can see me getting more of those, even though they do feel rather unorthodox and out of step with pefumista sampling etiquette, as I perceive it.

Sample perfection - unmistakably Undina :)

If the 2ml or 2.5ml bottle is the gold standard receptacle for perfume sampling - note that it doesn't even have to be quite full to appeal - what makes me personally very uncomfortable is when people send me large amounts of samples I have asked to try - or (worse still) of random extras enclosed in the package. If I haven't tested a scent it seems ludicrously reckless to do that, and the largesse behind the gesture is trounced for me by the potential for waste. I once received a whole set of large extra samples - well decants, as there must have been 4-6ml in each - and hated all of them. Then I felt bad for the rest of the day before screwing up the courage to thank the perfumista in question for their generosity...through gritted teeth.

So that is what I like and don't like in the state of the sampling world as it is today. I do feel I am not pulling my weight here in my choice of packaging, though in the case of international shipments, I tend to throw in amusing red herrings to distract the customs wallahs such as scraps of wool, buttons, bookmarks or pieces of fabric, which hopefully raise a smile at least.

Foxing fodder for customs officials

So...I would be most interested to know what others perceive as the 'etiquette' of sampling - if you think there is such a thing, however loosely and unofficially?

And what are you own pet peeves about types of vial or fill levels - specifically for samples rather than decants?




26 comments:

  1. Interestingly I've started doing the same thing - sending decants rather than samples. I think I feel a bit stingy sending a dab vial and I don't have any 2mls at the moment anyway.

    Recently Undina did specifically ask me to just send her small amounts of things she hadn't tried before but I still sent her decants and told her to just pass them on if she didn't like them. Maybe it is wasteful but I have so much and at least she can give them a proper test. They can always be included as extras in future swaps. Perfume rarely gets chucked by us lot.

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    1. Hi Tara,

      I was most interested to get your take on this subject, and to have the 'supersizing' trend confirmed. If you don't have any 2ml receptacles anyway, I can quite understand why you might carry on sending decants - I do that with my remaining 3ml vials, though I might only fill them to 2ml, say. Though we both know that if Undina says only to send her small amounts she would be perfectly happy with just that.

      I guess it does come down to the fine line between being able to give something a proper test, without it seeming wasteful if the amount was on the large side. My problem is that if I really dislike something I have received, I would find it hard to pass it on to other people for fear that they may also have a similar reaction, unless I knew their taste for definite, and that it was a 'one man's poison is another man's meat' kind of scenario. So the reject box ends up getting larger and more oppressive, hehe. Maybe I should be more relaxed about what I send as extras, though I think I would rather not receive any extras than more unloved stuff. But who knows what another person will like or not? That's the $64,000 question! ;)

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    2. I think you worry too much about what you pass on. As we leanr here on the blogs, everyone's tastes are so different. I don't love most Serges, but he is well-loved by perfumistas everywhere! And of course, when you are dealing with friends, you have an idea of what their preferences are. The only thing I won't send on are very mainstream samples, that could be tried at any mall. I haven't been swapping very much lately, but have noticed the trend for the tall dabber samples or small decants. I was also the recipient of a HUGE lot of decants after reqeusting a sample of just 1 perfume (on the posse fairy godmother). I really felt bad, as most are things I've never heard of or want to try. Definitely wasteful, though I will try to pass them on as much as I can.

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    3. Hi odonata9,

      I probably do worry too much, and I guess I do have a fair idea of what my friends like. Though not as much as I feel I should have by now, so even with them I still mither about what extras would be appreciated.

      'Tall dabber samples' are part of the trend, yes, as well as the small decants.

      Hmm, I think I need to just give more away without too much agonizing. Oh, and like you, I don't send out mainstream samples as a rule, except to the likes of little Noura, who at 7 was just starting out in her perfume hobby, and I sensed that everything was grist to her mill.

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  2. Ha! I see one of my 1 mls in there...
    I think 'ease' of fill is my choice. I did flirt with the snap on Freddie vials which then became my snap on Vanessa vials, having never had a vial from Freddie.
    That 1 ml in the photo, those are really easy to fill because the don't curve inwards at the top, hence the lids come off without the 'fear-yank'. I got those from a guy in Poland on Fleabay.
    I still like the 'surprise vial' aspect of a swop, I discovered my beloved Clinique Wrappings that why. Sadly I also caused a buddy to develop the urgent need to buy a stupidly expensive scent courtesy of a teeny tiny leftover dregs surprise vial. I hope she loved it.

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    1. Hi Odiferess,

      Well spotted! An Yves Rocher if I am not mistaken. There's another blogger's vial in there too so it will be fun to see if she clocks it. I did 'stage' that pack to illustrate my point about ye olde swap presentation.

      And I am glad to find a fellow supporter of the 'ease of fill' philosophy and laughed out loud at your reference to the 'Vanessa' vial. Do I infer that you manage to fill that 1ml without a funnel? I am impressed if so.

      And you are perfectly right about the serendipity of extras in swaps, even if you have to sniff a lot of frogs along the way. I discovered Meharees that way - well, at our face-to-face 'swap in', to be exact - and what a hit that has proved. But I still wish I could recover that early excitement surrounding swap packages and their associated extras - hey, there was a time when I could get pretty fired up by the boiled sweet, even! ;).

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    2. As I write this I can see myself sniffing gin on the right hand side, hee hee!
      Yup, funnel free fun for me. I searched my Ebay purchase history and I can't find him as it was a while ago. The guy was called Iwas or something similar. His vials win and are very reasonably priced as long as you don't mind buying 100.

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    3. Hi Sarah,

      Why yes, there you are at exactly this latitude! Funnel free is the way to go, I agree, as they do take some washing. Thanks for trying to locate this Polish chap - I wouldn't mind buying 100 of anything that was cheap to start with. ;)

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  3. Oh! where did my comment go? I'm sure I saw it before closing the page... Anyway, I think you're right about the samples becoming bigger or just more. I use the 1mls when it's something I'm uncertain if people will like ( or for the same reasons you mention). If I think it will be something they will definitely like, I'll use the spray vials 2.5-3 mls, just because spraying is so much nicer to get to know a perfume. And I do like your 1.5ml snap on vials, at least I'll always know which samples are from you.

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    1. Hi Asali,

      Sorry for your loss! - I hope you copied your comment before posting - Undina and I have been lobbying readers to do this routinely to prevent such problems happening.

      We do have a similar take on vial sizes, I see, and I am happy to be associated in your mind with the 'Freddie' ones, hehe.

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  4. Being really new to the perfume world I have yet to do any sample swaps (since I have no presence in online forums I dunno if anyone would trust me to send them anything anyways), but I'm so glad I read this! Had I not, I'd assume people were just sending the 1ml vials, like you get when you order samples... that would have been embarrassing and I'd be immediately labeled a miser!

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    1. Hi Sun,

      Don't let a possible lack of trust put you off from swapping. It is true that on Makeupalley members are more wary of newbie swappers and might wait to find one with a certain number of 'tokens' from successfully completed transactions before agreeing to a swap with them. Here on the perfume blogs we are less rigid and more trusting, I would say.

      And if you did send the 1ml vials, it wouldn't be a disaster, I am sure. If people didn't like the scents in question, in my view their smallness would be a positive bonus! ;) And if there is an unspoken size related etiquette - which it seems there may be - people might just assume you were new to the scene and not judge you in any way.

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    2. Yes, do not worry about being a newbie! We all started somewhere, so had to get a few "transactions" before getting feedback or tokens. At first, you may just be asked to send your end of the swap first, to make sure you aren't trying to swaplift!

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    3. 'Swaplifting' - there's a term I haven't heard in many a year. As I recall, there was even a website / forum called 'Swaptalk'? dedicated to discussing wayward swappers in confidence.

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  5. Since I don't swap anymore, I don't have much to add to the conversation, other than to say I always loved the added stuff we sent to one another to fool the postal folks! xox

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    1. Hi Carol,

      Ah, I remember those ('knitted hat') days fondly! x

      http://bonkersaboutperfume.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/used-cosmetics-samples-more-perfume.html

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    2. Teeheee!
      Now every time I go to the Post Office, I am always asked if I'm sending perfume. Sigh. No one else seems to get asked that question (I asked some of my friends!)

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    3. Yes, afraid we are forever marked men in that regard. ;)

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  6. I thought a lot about this topic (you're not surprised, right? ;-) ).

    My current position is that while I do not mind sharing perfumes with friends (meaning sending 3-5 ml, even 10 ml, - dependent on the amount I have left) when they previously tried and liked the perfume enough to want to wear it for a while but not enough to go for a FB of it (yet). But if somebody just wants to try perfume that I love, unless I think (based on me knowing their tastes) they will love it too, I'm trying to limit the size of a sample by 1 ml (dab or spray if I have some I got from Nordstrom) because there is a good chance people won't like it enough even to finish the sample - so I don't want to be wasteful with the perfume I love. And I try to do the same when it comes to samples sent to me: I can ask for a bigger sample/decant if I want to actually wear it but I don't want to get 5 ml of something my friend loves but I might not even like.

    In general, I think that we all have to share more - be that samples or decants - to keep our stashes at no more than 1.5 lifetimes level.

    And just for the record: those bottles above are 3 ml. But since I don't want to waste perfumes due to the splash back during filling them I say that I'll stop dependent on the bottle's sprayer once it starts (at ~2.5 ml) but in many cases I can fill the full 3 ml. Since usually I'm not swapping (and definitely not selling) those decants, I inform people just to be clear.

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    1. Hi Undina,

      No, that doesn't surprise me one bit, hehe...

      I completely concur with your take on sizes to suit every sampling occasion. I have a real aversion to waste as well in both directions. And you are so right that sharing is the way forward to stop insane headcounts of bottles. They may be much loved in themselves, but far less juice would have sufficed, given the likely numbers of times they will get worn, even in careful rotation.

      Thanks for the correction about the little bottles being 3ml. I prefer not to fill to the top for practical reasons like splashback and security in transit, as well as the waste issue above.

      Oh, by the way - I really like Impossible Iris and Rajasthan. The former may even turn out to be my favourite iris, something I didn't think 'possible' at this late stage in the game. ;)

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  7. I managed to solve the Dreaded Splashback Situation when I came across 2 boxes of 1000 each (!) glass pipettes at an estate sale last year. For the princely sum of $10... Now I have no worries filling vials of any size with aplomb and they were cheap enough that I just chuck 'em after one use - in the recycling bin of course.

    I tend to go with 1.5 or 2ml samples simply because I seem to take the very word "sample" seriously and having been on the receiving end of Samples I've Tried and Hated, don't want to enter into possible waste territory. As you say though, tastes vary considerably. Next would be $$ consideration - is it a particularly spendy frag I'm decanting from and how much is left?

    As an end note, I'm intrigued by the "bottomless plate" concept (which somehow I keep reading as "bottomless pit") here in the US. I haven't yet come across it so will be interested to see if it makes its way to the Pacific NW.

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    1. I think the bottomless items are at chain restaurants, not where we normally eat out. The only 2 I've seen ads for are Olive Garden "endless pasta" and Red Robin bottomless french fries (with a burger). And of course, the free refills on large popcorn at the movies. Which makes no sense, of course. If you have that enormous tub of popcorn, you really don't (or shouldn't!) need a refill. And I am a popcorn lover!

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    2. Hi SallyM,

      It seems we are all united behind this theme of waste avoidance, so maybe the days of the overly large 'samples' are numbered. These pipettes that you are able to use with abandon - are they only suitable for splash bottles rather than conventional atomiser bottles, or are you perhaps decanting from a decant into a sample bottle, and merely unscrewing the bottle to insert your pipette?

      For everyone in the Pacific NW's sake, let's hope the bottomless trend doesn't make it that far...;)

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    3. Hi odonata9,

      Thanks for clarifying the extent of the bottomless offer in different types of restaurants - it doesn't surprise me that it is more of a chain thing. I chuckled at the thought of 'endless pasta' and 'bottomless fries'. And I quite agree that those tubs of popcorn are monstrous enough without wanting a refill. Which the cinema may of course be banking on. ;)

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    4. Yes, I've been using them for any bottle that has an easy open top - splash or decant. They have really skinny ends to that's a bonus for narrow bottle openings. For spray bottles I must admit I squirt and hope - had many a misstep doing that :-)

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    5. Skinny pipettes are great for tiny apertures as you say. I have had problems trying to decant from some vintage bottles for that reason.

      Yes, I am sure we have all had mishaps 'squirting and hoping', hehe.

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