I have recently discovered that I have a real love for wearing cologne. Cologne is something that many people enjoy wearing, although obviously there are some who don’t care for it at all. But there are tons of choices out there today, and many of them are somewhat pricey. So I thought I would share what I’ve learned so far.
Unlike women, no one teaches men about fragrances. Mothers often take their daughters perfume shopping. It is rare for a father to do the same. The lack of knowledge and openness about fragrances pushes many men to choose between two bad options. First, play it safe and wear nothing. Second, wear something light and clean, so that you don't offend anyone.
Smell is the greatest memory trigger we, humans, have. Sniff the shirt you wore last night and memories of a great evening out floods your brain. Roll over to the other side of the bed and smell the pillow where your partner slept and you may catch yourself smiling. In short, fragrances capture memories. They do more than that, however. The cologne you wear communicates to those around you who you are.
I'm sure you've already heard tons of advice about cologne. The one I hear most often is that men should wear perfume that girls like. Sales associates often tell me to get this or that juice because it's a best seller or popular with the girls. There is, however, a tiny problem: it doesn't work. Here's why:
First, no guy has ever gotten a girl just because he smells good. A good scent might improve your chances, by say 10%, but that's about it.
Second, reeking of cologne that every other guy is wearing smells of desperation. Trying too hard repels any woman faster than you can spritz some more Armani Code on you.
The one piece of advice you need to forget right now is to buy perfume just because the someone else likes it. Here's the piece of advice you need to remember: the only person you wear perfume for is you. Your scent should say something about you. This is why you wear something you like, just for you.
“But Chuck, what if no one else like it on me"? When someone tells you they don't like your fragrance, they usually mean any of these three things:
1. They may not like a certain note in it. If someone doesn't like the smell of vanilla, they won't like any vanilla perfume, not just yours. It's not that it is a bad scent, it is just that they don't like that note. (I personally don’t care for vanilla in a cologne)
2. They may not like it on you. This is usually the case when your fragrance doesn't match any or all of the three: your style, age, or the occasion. If you are a hardened biker dude, wearing a light floral scent would make you the butt of countless jokes. It's not that the scent is bad, it just doesn't fit your cultivated image.
3. You put on too much of it. This is probably the main reason why people tell you they don't like your juice. Putting on a fragrance is like putting spices in your food. You want to put just enough to give it a nice flavor but not too much to overpower the dish.
Cologne is the same way: you want to put just enough to enhance your image, not to overtake it. You want people to notice you, not your cologne.
Now let’s talk about the terms used when discussing fragrances – knowing these can be very helpful for finding exactly what you want:
Simply put, a note is like an ingredient. Notes are divided into three categories or levels: top, middle (or heart) and base (or bottom) notes. The combination of all these notes together is known as the “accord.”
Top notes are the first notes you smell when trying a fragrance, so they are the ones that shape your first impressions of a scent. These often fresh, fruity scents are usually light and burst on your skin as you spray, fading 10-15 minutes after applying. How many times have you tested a fragrance only to be turned off right away? Why? Because the top notes didn't make a lasting impression on you. It is hugely important that the top notes not only succeed at luring you in, but also smoothly transition into the heart of the fragrance.
Popular top notes include bergamot, orange, grapefruit, lemon, and basil.
The middle notes, or the heart notes, make an appearance once the top notes evaporate. The middle notes are considered the heart of the fragrance. These notes form the core of the fragrance. They last longer than the top notes and have a strong influence on the base notes to come. A perfume's heart is generally pleasant and well-rounded. It is often a smooth combination of floral or fruit tones; sometimes infused with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom.
Popular heart notes include lavender, rosemary, black pepper, geranium, and juniper.
The base (or bottom) notes are the final fragrance notes that appear once the top notes are completely evaporated. It is these notes that you remember most and that help create a memory in your mind, the lasting impression. The base notes mingle with the heart notes to create the full body of the fragrance.
These often rich notes linger on the skin for hours after the top notes have dissipated, but are typically associated with the dry-down period - that final stage of wear, when the top and middle notes give way to the base note. The amount of time it takes to reach the dry-down—and how the dry-down will smell—is unique to every individual, which is why the same perfume might smell different on you than it does on others.
Popular base notes include vanilla, sandalwood, cedarwood, jasmine, and patchouli.
Next, let’s look at the different concentrations of fragrances available. Keep in mind that although I’m mostly writing about men’s fragrances, these descriptions apply to fragrances for the ladies as well.
Eau Fraiche - Usually contains about 1-3% essential oil, making it the lowest of all available fragrances. The term Eau Fraiche translates to fresh water. It doesn’t last as long on the skin but is still very popular, especially among those who cannot afford the often-prohibitive cost of true perfume.
Eau de Cologne (or just "Cologne") - 2-5% perfume oils. Top notes will be the most prominent, and the scents themselves will last only a few hours. These are usually the least expensive as well.
Important to note here that when we use the term “cologne,” this is often a generic term for men’s fragrances and does not necessarily refer to Eau de Cologne.
Eau de Toilette – Toilette was the name given to the ensemble worn by the French aristocracy in the courts of the 18th century, which eventually came to mean the process of preparing oneself for polite company. Eau de Toilette was a key part of this, splashed on the body or clothes for a more pleasant aroma. These days it usually contains around 5-10% essential oils, and can be reapplied throughout the day.
Eau de Parfum - 10-15% essential oils and can last five or more hours at a time on one application. Middle notes flourish here, as the scent has a greater longevity. Typically the strongest concentration you are likely to find at a conventional fragrance counter.
Perfume - the finest, most expensive and strongest formulation available, with 25-40% essential oil content . Perfume has a significant depth of scent, can last a full day on one application and allows the wearer to experience all three levels of fragrance. It should be applied sparingly and, in contrast to its high concentration, is intended to be a far more subtle aromatic experience.
Keep in mind that when we use the term ”perfume,” this is often a generic term for men's and women’s fragrances and does not necessarily refer to pure Perfume.
A couple of other terms that are important are Sillage and Longevity.
Sillage (pronounced “see-yazh”), or projection, is a French term that describes the ability of a scent to be smelled at a distance; the bigger the distance, the stronger sillage is. It is the “trail” that the scent leaves, sometimes referred to as "the sense of a person being present in the room after he or she has left".
Longevity, on the other hand, refers to how long a fragrance lasts on your skin once applied. Important to note here that due to evaporation, alcohol content and a number of other factors, a fragrance will smell slightly different over time, and this is part of the longevity factor as well.
And the two don't necessarily correlate - sometimes we encounter fragrances with huge sillage but short longevity, and vice versa. Performance is an objective measure of sillage and longevity against the actual fragrance itself.
How Much is Too Much?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to cologne is over-spraying. You know a guy, or worse you are the guy, who announces his presence with his cologne. He’s the guy whose cologne gets there ten minutes before he does, and EVERYONE knows when he’s arrived.
Even if your cologne smells great, you don't want everyone to smell it. It's tacky and shows ignorance about cologne, style and social manners in general. This can be tough because it is hard for you, as the wearer, to tell whether you've put on too much cologne.
Here's what you can do:
Start with one spray and see for how long you can smell it on yourself. If you can barely detect it within 30 minutes, then you can allow yourself to put some more.
Ideally, on the following day put on two sprays. If you can smell it comfortably (i.e. it doesn't make you choke or feel uncomfortable) within 30 minutes, then this may be the right amount to put on.
Remember that you, as the wearer, can smell your cologne less than other people can. The reason is that you get used to it – your nose gets desensitized. This is why others can detect it at much smaller amounts.
If, within half an hour of putting it on, you can smell your perfume by moving around without it overwhelming you, you've put on the right amount.
HOW NOT TO APPLY COLOGNE
Applying cologne is simple but people have made it complicated. Let's start with some of the more popular bad pieces of advice on how to apply cologne:
1. Walk Through the Mist
In theory, applying fragrance this way works. You spray your perfume in the air and you walk through the mist. The fragrance mist will stick to your body, clothes and hair distributed evenly. The only problem with this advice of applying fragrance is that it doesn't work. You end up wasting it.
2. The Aftershave Approach
You pour a small amount in your palm and you slap it on your cheeks and neck. For unknown reasons, someone decided that the most manly way to apply perfume is by slapping it on your face.
Unlike walking through the mist, slapping cologne on your face and neck works but it has some adverse unintended consequences.
Since perfume is usually a lot stronger than any aftershave, your palm ends up reeking of your cologne. That on its own is not a bad thing... until you have to shake someone's hand. Having your hands smell of another guy's cologne, no matter how good it is, makes you wonder what else he has transferred over. Did he wash his hands when he went to the washroom? How many times has he washed his hands since he applied this cologne that his palm still smells?
3. Rub and Dab
The rub and dab is another approach to applying fragrance. You spray some perfume on one of your wrists, rub your two wrists together and then you rub your wrists on your neck or behind your ears. Rubbing your perfume "bruises" the fragrant molecules and the scent doesn't develop as it should. You end up destroying the Top notes and blunting the Middle notes somewhat as well.
THE RIGHT WAY TO PUT ON COLOGNE
It's really quite simple: spray directly on your skin and you are done. It's that simple but there is a trick to it. The tricky part applying cologne is not how you put it on but where you put it on. The human body has certain areas that are naturally warmer, called hot spots. These are usually places where you can feel your pulse (neck, wrists, the inside of your elbow, etc.). Since warmth helps fragrance develop better, it makes sense to apply your cologne on those areas.
Through experience I found out that if there is only one spot you want to put on cologne, it is your chest. When you spray there, some of the perfume rubs off on your undershirt and the smell ends up lasting longer. The chest area is also warm, which helps your cologne bloom more if you were to spray it on your forearm.
HOW TO FIND “YOUR SCENT”
If you’ve never really given this much thought, then a good place to start is the Fragrantica website. You can search by name, Notes, etc. If you know some fragrances you already like, you can enter each of them in the search bar, go to the page, and there will be a section on that page suggesting similar fragrances.
There’s also a page on Fragrantica called What fragrance do women love on guys? that has comments suggesting a ton of popular fragrances that women tend to like. There’s even a pie chart that one of the commenters posted that breaks down fragrances by “main notes that women appear to like.” This is based on his own personal experiences, so YMMV.
Not that you would be buying a fragrance to impress anybody, and you may not like any of the suggested ones in this list, but it’s a nice start.
There’s also the Fragrance Wheel, which is another breakdown by Notes to help you understand what kind of fragrance suits you best.
In addition, Fragrantica has their Fragrantica Awards Voting section, which shows the most popular selections based on votes by Fragrantica members. Some good ideas there.
Ultimately though, you’ll have to go and try some out and see what works on YOU. Everybody’s body chemistry is different, so that cologne that smells amazing on your friend may smell funky on you. So go to a Perfume Store, or a Fragrance Counter at your local department store like Macy’s. If you know what kind of scent you’re looking for, give them the info you have so they can help you find something that fits you. If you haven’t done your research and just want to get your feet wet, ask them for some suggestions. They will spray different colognes on slips of paper for you to smell. Make sure you don’t touch the paper with your nose, otherwise it will color the rest of the samples you smell. Also, any good perfume counter will have a small jar of coffee beans available – you smell these in between each sample, and it “clears and refreshes” your nose to separate the scents. Otherwise, they all start to blend together after a while.
IMPORTANT - Once you have settled on a fragrance you like, ask them to spray it on you. Give it ten or fifteen minutes, walk around, and really get an idea of what it smells like on you. Then ask for a sample and try it out for a couple days before committing to a purchase. Not a big deal if you’re buying something relatively inexpensive, but when you’re buying a bottle that’s on the pricey end, you want to make sure you don’t change your mind on how much you like it after you’ve worn it for a couple days (ask me how I know). Then go back and get a bottle if it passes the test for you.
I’ve been doing this for about 3 years now, and I’ve got about 10 different fragrances, ranging from inexpensive to fairly pricey, that I wear pretty much every day.
I almost never leave the house without applying some, because I like to smell good. Unless I’m going to the gym – don’t be that guy.
Here’s some of my personal favorites:
Terre d’Hermes eau de Parfum – my signature scent (wearing it today). Citrus, woody, spicy.
David Beckam’s Instinct eau de Toilette – very inexpensive, amazing scent, smells like nothing else out there. Citrus, aromatic, woody, warm spicy.
Acqua di Gio by Armani eau de Toilette – a light, summery scent. Citrus, aromatic, marine, fresh spicy.
Azzaro – Wanted By Night eau de Parfum – Elegant, bold, classy. Just got this one, it’s very strong. Woody, aromatic, fresh spicy, citrus, warm spicy.