Men’s Fragrances (colognes) – How to choose them.
So men’s colognes are a mystery to many men. How do we chose them? Who do we ask about them? What are the rules here?
Here are my guidelines. I hope you find them useful.
For our top 20 picks in Men’s fragrances, go here
For our articles on stylish dress for dating go here (article 1 of 5)
I have always enjoyed wearing good men’s colognes. Partly because I saw myself as a stylish man and that was what stylish men did. But even as a young man I realised they had a positive effect on women and at that age I needed all the help I could get.
It was my second wife who told me that she was very affected by a man’s smell. That a man who smelt good had a real (and sexual) effect on her. Latterly it was my friend Sass who said to me, that from a woman’s perspective, a man who smelt good could be forgiven a lot of other style missteps.
However, I quickly realised that most men only have the vaguest idea about colognes. I talked to a lot of men, friends and acquaintances, about men’s colognes and came to the conclusion that an article laying out the basics was needed. Here it is.
What are colognes?
So, firstly, what are talking about here. At the simplest level perfumes are a mixture of aromatic oils, aroma compounds (flowers, fruits, herbs, woods) and fixatives. So the proportion and way these constituents are added together determines the smell of the perfume.
Perfumes for men have been around since the early Egyptians and in the past men used them much more widely than now. The first “Eau de Cologne” was launched in Cologne (where else) in 1709. Broadly speaking the idea of a man’s “Consumer” fragrance was defined by the first couture designer, Charles Worth, who founded the House of Worth in Paris, back in the 19th Century.
That’s all the theory we need, onto the practice.
You get what you pay for.
Good perfumes take great skill to blend well and contain costly ingredients. Cheap fragrances, especially men’s, are mostly alcohol and some cheap synthetic scents. They smell sharp and harsh and are likely to burn out the nasal linings of your date, if not your own. So, especially if you are a beginner in men’s colognes, you want to pay good money for a recognised cologne (notice I did not say Brand). See Part Two of this article for our recommendations here
Egoiste - one of the most successful colognes of the last 20 years
Men’s fragrances extend along a range
Men’s fragrances extend along a range, from light fragrances to a middle ground, where fragrances have a greater depth and potency, to colognes which are big both in terms of enduring smell and the complexity of their ingredients. You need to know what you are buying, because you want something that will suit you.
Colognes react differently depending on the man
The complexity of a good cologne comes into play when it hits the skin of each man. Your skin, its degree of oilyness, its age, its condition, will all subtly affect how it smells. So my reviews are slightly distorted by the effect of these colognes on my skin. However the basic aromas do not change.
Your colognes – How many do you need?
You should buy colognes that suit you, see below on how to do this. If, like me, you enjoy wearing colognes, then you will probably own a number. At minimum, you want to have two colognes, one for the day and one for the night.
Beware! An over-complex market and a confusing array of products
There is a lot of money to be made in fragrances. Traditionally this was less so in men’s fragrances. However the men’s market is growing, so we now have all the noise and distraction that the female fragrance market does. This includes celebrity perfumes, “brand” perfumes and celebrity endorsement campaigns (is there anything that Jude Law does not wear?).
Types of cologne
There are so many ways to categorise men’s fragrances but we have to put a boundary around them, in order to write about them. By categorising them from light to big (heavy) we can tie them up to your personal style. Definitions below.
Floral and fruit odours tend to predominate in these fragrances. Their scent is usually a light one, without the wet or woody odours provided by musk. If musk is present, then it is usually muted, so the scent is floral, herby, slightly acid and “clean” smelling. Sometimes light colognes have a warm, mineral smell, that does not detract from their lightness. These are often good for younger men, being fresh and light.
These tend to be heavier, with more of the underlying musk which supports heavier aromas. So perfumes in this range use heavier flower aromas, oriental scents, leather and woody smells begin to appear. These are complex colognes to blend and their true smell is often less immediate than the light colognes, which have the very obvious floral topnotes to announce them.
Big (Heavy) colognes
These are strong-smelling colognes with a substantial musk layer. On this they put more complex, interesting aromas, orchids, tobacco, balsam, leather, amber. These colognes tend to announce themselves, they have a big presence. They are complex scents which produce interesting smells as they interact with your skin. They also tend to be the longest-lasting.
Valentino for men - a big fragrance
Choosing men’s fragrances
1. Matching fragrances to your style.
What kind of style do you have? Are you a big man with a romantic expressive nature? Then look for a cologne that will suit that personality. Valentino’s Homme might work for you, a big, romantic fragrance. Are you a squared-away kind of man, cool, think before you speak, look good in a business suit? Geoffrey Beene’s Gray Flannel, with its clean, astringent herby smell might work for you.
The classic (and classy) Grey Flannel
Are you slim, compact, have a relaxed style? Then a light fragrance with an oriental edge may work for you. Calvin Klein One might work for you.
Calvin Klein - A brand with many successful fragrances
Think about it. If you are six-four athletic guy then a floral, herby cologne is probably going to be at odds with your style. Similarly, if you are a slim, lightly built man, wearing an overpoweringly heavy orchid-scented fragrance, in most cases, it is going to look (smell) incongruous.
So the first thing you are looking for is some style compatibility.
2. Clear away the distractions
Do not buy celebrity colognes, by David Beckham or anyone else. They are naked money-making schemes with you as the victim.
Do not buy cheap brands that promise sexual conquests by the score. You know, the ones that promise you that the Swedish Bikini Team (look them up) will go to bed with you if you slap it on. Avoid anything which is advertised on television.
Be very suspicious of brands that do not have a real association with fragrances. There are “car” colognes, such as the Lamborghini fragrance. I have not tried this but I really have my doubts.
3. Narrow the field
Now that you have an idea of style compatibility, pick a group of men’s colognes to try out. This is research, our recommendations are here. I suggest that you select a maximum of seven or eight fragrances, because more than that and you will get overwhelmed when you reach the point of testing them..
4. Two lists and two trips
Ideally you want a minimum of two fragrances, one for day, one for night. Make two lists, plan for two separate trips. For me, a men’s cologne to wear in the evening was most important, so I did that first. Do not try to buy both fragrances at the same time, it becomes a confusion of aromas.
5. In-field experience
So go try, and hopefully buy. As men, we really only want to make one trip, so it either has to be a large chemist/drugstore or a department store. I prefer department stores, the staff are better trained and give better advice. Get the advice of the staff, they may have something that you like even better.
As part of my research for this piece I decided on a refresher visit to London’s Selfridges. I have to compliment the guy who works the Tom Ford concession there. His name is Fortunata and he really knows his stuff. He was invaluable in helping me with the Tom Ford fragrances. Selfridges need to hang on to that guy, he is the male customer’s best friend.
So my experience as a man is that you can only smell around five or six fragrances before you cannot distinguish one from another. So avoid distractions, only sample (smell) from your target list. Avoid distractions, like pretty girls wanting to spray you with stuff. Incidentally my experience is that women have about twice the capacity as men, for sampling fragrances. I don’t know if this is simply more experience or something else.
6. Trying them
So do not wear a fragrance when you go try them out. It will confuse matters mightily. Above all, when you try them, do not spray them on your skin. After you have sprayed the first one, the others are a just a confusion of aromas.
So use the little blotter strips. Sniff them, keep them (the pocket of your jeans will smell great……). Take a pen, write the name of the cologne on the strip, add two or three memory joggers, so “Tom Ford, Tuscan Leather, orchids, wood, aromatic moss, leather”. Simple, at least that way you have something to remember. Otherwise I find it difficult, how do you remember smells?
Tom Ford - Tuscan Leather
7. Buy (One)
So it is still an experiment. Take a break for an hour (two hours is better). Try not to drink any alcohol, which screws with your senses. Then see how each cologne has matured out. Buy the one you like the most.
Putting it on
After the shower obviously. Remember that oils help retain the scent, so using a (fragrance-free) moisturiser will help extend the life of the cologne you are wearing. If your skin is dry the cologne will evaporate more quickly.
Areas to spray
Spray on your cheeks, under your chin and down the throat line. Spray a little on your upper chest. A little on the wrists is ok too. However once is fine, do not overspray.
And give it time to settle into your skin. Never spray cologne onto yourself and get into close proximity with someone else. You want to seduce your date, not overpower her.
Three sure ways.
So assuming you put it on right there are two reactions. A quiet nod means good stuff. “What’s the aftershave?” is a rave review. “Damn, Liberace is in the room!” or “Stolen your dad’s aftershave?” or similar means they think it is too strong.
Your date or girlfriend
So you have to remember that a woman’s reaction to anything depends very much on her mood at the time. So you may not get a true reading the first time. In fact you may not get any reading. Rely on your own judgement and continue to wear your chosen cologne. There are two types of negative reaction.
Your girlfriend consistently does not notice your aftershave. This means she does not like it and is being polite.
She tells you it’s not you. Keep wearing it. If she continues with this assessment over time, you need to consider whether she has a point. Ask her why she does not like it.
If you wear your cologne to a party and do the kiss-on-the-cheek routine with women other than your girlfriend, here are some responses to look for:
“You smell nice” means your cologne is ok
“You smell really good” means that is a good cologne for you.
“God, you smell so sexy” means that is a great cologne for you.
Rules for wearing colognes.
Do not wear more than one cologne at a time.
Gucci for Men
Do not over-spray yourself
Understand the house rules of the country where you are. In England, it is considered unprofessional to wear a cologne for work. Similarly in America, where some organisations have rules in their dress code forbidding men to wear colognes.
In Italy, many man wear fragrances to work. In France, my experience (in Banking, Menswear and journalism) is that it is pretty much the same. In Germany, fragrances are seldom worn at work by older men, though young German men seem to ignore this and wear (quite sharp-smelling) colognes.
My experience of Russian men, especially younger Russian men, is that they wear a lot of fragrance, often of dubious quality.
To return to where we started, men’s colognes will aid your style and seductive technique enormously. Once again, it is not simply that you smell good, its that you are capable of picking a good cologne. It is about your discernment and style.
Remember, women grow up with cosmetics and perfumes. Most women will instinctively know if you are wearing a good cologne. So you get points for discernment, points for good taste and points for having the brains and style to know what women like. Buy a good cologne. Nothing is surefire but colognes are very close to it.
Part 2 continue with our picks for a range of good colognes here.