Like a perfectly tailored jacket, a refined fragrance can up your sophistication game—so long as you know how to apply it properly. In fact, deciding between sandalwood and cedar is only half the battle in scent success. It’s the art of spritzing and dabbing that can separate you from the herd, and attention to detail here can mean the difference between leaving a lasting impression and clearing out a conference room.

In an effort to help you hit the right notes every time, we visited five leading department stores to score scent secrets from the pros behind the counter. (If you hadn’t noticed, most luxury retailers have swapped out spray-happy brand associates for knowledgeable fragrance advisors, so you’ll never get an accidental shot in the mouth while walking by.) They’re the folks that can sniff out the nuances between, say, the John Varvatos Artisan and Artisan Black scents, and advise you on proper application tips. Here are the best rules we came by…

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