You may have taken all the necessary steps to make sure you look good in all your fits: everything’s the right size, your colors complement each other in just the right way and you’ve got the confidence to rock whatever you’re wearing.
But let’s not forget an important detail if you want to give an extra boost to your outfit and even your confidence: smell. You could be the best-dressed individual in the room but if you smell like garbage no one is going to want to be close enough to you to ask what season Yeezys you’re wearing.
The absolute first step to smelling good? Take a shower. You should probably wash your clothes occasionally too. Who really wants to get by on just the bare minimum though? The next step to smelling good: Fragrance. Our men’s fragrance guide will clear up any confusion regarding all the different types.
We’re talking about the real stuff here, so leave the Axe body spray in the middle school locker room.
What Exactly Is Cologne?
Today, cologne is a generic term that is associated with all Most perfumes for men have adopted the term ‘Eau de Cologne’ or simply ‘Cologne’ for short.
Despite this generic term used industry-wide, traditionally, the term was representative of the extract and purity contained within the vial.
Perfume was typically 15-40% aromatic compounds
Eau de Toilette was 5–15%
Eau de Cologne, or cologne was a mere 3–8%.
Despite this, there are three meanings for the term “cologne”:
The fresh, citrus fragrance created by Farina in Germany.
The aromatic compound which indicated it was a less concentrated version of stronger perfumes.
The generic term which denotes it is a perfume for men, which is used in combination with the term “Eau de Toilette.”
Types of Men’s Fragrances
This may come as a shock to you, but not all of those men’s fragrances you see are called “cologne”. There are five different types of fragrances out there:
Eau de Cologne
Eau de Toilette
Eau de Parfum
It may seem complicated at first but this article will break down the differences between each type so it is easy to understand. The names mainly signify the different concentration of oils in each fragrance.
This type of fragrance is the lowest on the concentration spectrum because it typically contains 1 to 3 percent of fragrant oils. This means that the scent will usually wear off in one hour. This is the category where you will find aftershaves as the lower concentration of oils will not burn the freshly shaved skin.
Because the Eau Fraiche fragrance has such a short duration, your body chemistry does not have the opportunity to interact with it – meaning that what you smell in the bottle is almost exactly what you will be smelling on your skin.
Eau de Cologne
Commonly referred to as cologne, and what became the catch-all term for men’s fragrances, contains 2 to 4 percent of fragrant oils. This type of scent will last you approximately 2 hours. Cologne will also have more light and refreshing scents, which are recommended for use in hotter weather.
For fragrances lasting longer than an hour, your body chemistry will affect the smell throughout its duration. There will different “notes” that come off of the fragrance, but more on that later.
There’s also a sprayless form of this fragrance termed solid cologne. I was skeptical of the concept at first, but it’s actually a very convenient way to apply some fragrance while on the go (and it’s inexpensive). I find it’s easier to apply the proper amount of fragrance with this by “layering” the solid cologne.
Eau de Toilette
For this type of fragrance, the fragrant oil concentration is 5 to 15 percentwhich will last generally around 3 hours. It’s a balanced middle ground of potency and duration and is a solid choice for beginners. As discussed previously, the notes will change throughout the second hour of wear.
Eau de Parfum
Sometimes Eau de Parfum is referred to as “Perfume” which is incorrect, EDP and perfume are two types of fragrances with different concentrations, so keep this in mind.
This fragrance will have a concentration 15 to 20 percent of fragrant oil, meaning it will last around 5 to 8 hours. After several hours of wear, your body chemistry will continue to mix with the scents of the fragrance, producing new notes as time goes on.
This type of fragrance has the highest concentration of all, usually around 20 to 30 percent of fragrant oil. You can find even stronger concentrations of parfum out there but typically that is the bracket it falls between. This fragrance will last you a minimum of 6 hours but some types can last up to 24.
It should be noted that these times are a rough estimate. Everyone is different so they chemical levels in your body will affect how long these fragrances will last. Think of them more like guidelines than golden rules of fragrance.
With that in mind, those are the types of fragrances and about how long they will last, so when you go to the store to try some out – remember the approximation of how long each fragrance lasts to suit your need.
Have a job interview? Definitely want to go with one of the less powerful fragrances so you smell nice, but not necessarily assaulting the interviewer’s nostrils.
Date night? Try something that’s going to last you the few hours, but be careful to not put too much of it on. If they can smell you from across the room, they might not want to spend too much time right next to you.
If you retain one piece of information from this post, less is more when it comes to fragrances. You don’t want to be “cologne guy” who tried too hard at the middle school dance.
The Fragrance Life Cycle
Fragrances almost always contain three “notes”: a top note, medium note and a base note. When you’re wearing a fragrance it goes through three stages of evaporation. Top notes evaporate first, then the medium notes and then the base notes, so you should take this into consideration when choosing a scent.
Topnote. The top note is the initial, lighter smell of the fragrance that hits the nose immediately after application to the skin. The top note lasts from 15 minutes to 2 hours. Typical top notes are various light floral scents, citrus, fruity scents, powdery scents, marines and aquatics, and spices such as cinnamon.
Mediumnote. Also referred to as the middle or heart notes. The middle note showcases the main element of the fragrance. Middle notes develop after the top note clears and can last 3-5 hours after being sprayed. This is in addition to the top note; they build off each other. Heart notes most often include heavier floral scents such as jasmine, or green scents such as grass or stone. Spice scents such as cinnamon and clove can appear here, along with fruity scents as well.
Basenote. The last to develop, these scents are often the bolder notes of the scent which become more noticeable later in the day. Base notes lay the foundation and will determine how long the fragrance lasts on your skin. They tend to last from 5 to 10 hours. Typical base notes are sandalwood, moss, vetiver, vanilla, tar, leather, smoke, tobacco, and musk.
Not all fragrances follow this progression of notes, some are going to stay the same from the moment you put them on until you either wash it off or it fades away. These types of fragrances are called “linear” because of that.
Typically, the cheapest fragrances are linear but there are fragrances that go through the non-linear progression of top-middle-base.
The Fragrance Wheel
Now time for the fragrance wheel. A man named Michael Edwards created this great infographic above that will help you gauge how a fragrance may smell on you by examining where it falls on the wheel. The four main categories for scents are floral, oriental, woody and fresh.
Just because something has to do with flowers doesn’t mean that this scent is only for women. You can have a men’s fragrance with a floral scent that’ll have all the girls flocking. Or boys. Or both. We don’t discriminate here.
There are many flowery scents that fall under this category as you can see below that range from fresh cut flowers to sweet spices. There are three sub-categories of floral scents that are Floral, Soft Floral and Oriental. Once again, don’t hold back if a fragrance has floral notes because you think you might smell feminine. Fragrances with heavy floral notes are best used in the spring and summer time.
Oriental scents are going to smell of spices, incense, and certain types of wood, but this category overall can be described as “rich”. These scents sometimes are so rich on their own they may be overkill so they are mainly mixed with other scents.
The sub-categories for oriental are Soft Oriental, Oriental and Woody Oriental. Fragrances with heavy oriental notes are recommended for use in winter months.
Woody scents are going to be the most complex of the scents and are usually the base notes of fragrances. The subcategories are Woods, Mossy Woods and Dry Woods. These earthy scents are commonly looked at as the most masculine because of they remind you of walking through the forest and chopping wood.
From the lighter aromatic woods to the dark scents of dry woods and leather, these scents are especially great for the winter months but are a common go-to year round.
This fragrance has subcategories of Citrus, Water, Green, and Fruity. Starting with Bergamot and citrus oils to berries and fruits, these scents are recommended for use in the summer and spring months.
This may seem like a lot of information to take in at first, but if you’re just trying to choose a new cologne, you don’t need to know the sub-categories of every type of fragrance.
The bottom line is: you should be choosing what you think smells the best on you.
The Two Types Of Fragrances: Designer & Niche
Designer fragrances are what you will see in most stores. These fragrances, made by companies like Armani, Chanel, Burberry, and other designer brands, cost between $25 and $150 a bottle.
These fragrances tend to be mass-produced, and are designed for mass consumption. They are made for a wide-reaching audience and are typically safer (meaning they stay away from strong reactions). They also tend to be made from cheaper materials to save costs and enable volume production.
Niche fragrances are made from more expensive/higher-quality ingredients (usually). These are the perfumes created by industry artists, made for a more selective customer who wishes to wear something distinctively bold or unique.
These fragrances will not always have the universal appeal of a designer fragrance. Instead, they accept not everyone will like their bold scents. They are sought out by the fragrance aficionado who wants to push the boundaries. They typically cost over $50 and can go into the multiple hundreds.
The Economics of Perfumes
More money does not necessarily mean better a better fragrance. Some of the most popular fragrances of the past hundred years were relatively cheap formulas. It is possible to mix expensive raw materials and end up with a smelly mess.
One of the biggest drivers of price is the amount of perfume oil concentrate a fragrance contains. Although, often what you end up paying for is the marketing cost and the image associated with a brand rather than the cost of raw materials comprising the scent.
Major brands create perfumes that are part science and part marketing. They have a familiar feel to all their perfumes. Ralph Lauren perfumes, for instance, are made to have a family of familiar scents. If you’ve worn one for a decade, the newest Polo perfumes should feel comfortable to you, even if it’s not the same scent you are accustomed to.
How to Select and Buy the Right Perfume/Cologne
Scientific studies suggest that a man can naturally select the cologne that works best with his natural body scent.
Let me stress this point: you are the best person to determine which scent suits you.
Don’t let others choose for you — there is a reason why gift scents sit unused for years.
Instead, use the opinions of others to reinforce or question your decision. Only if multiple people tell you your scent is off or a poor choice should you try something else.
Also don’t blind buy, which is when you purchase a cologne on someone’s recommendation without trying it yourself.
The best method to find a new fragrance is to test if the perfume complements your natural body odor in person over the period of a day.
Department stores are great for this purpose, just ensure you don’t buy until ready (it’s easy to fall for the first note). The maximum number of scents to try at once is four, although I recommend only two (one each arm) if you’re just starting out.
Spray one scent on each wrist (and each inner elbow if going for four).
Avoid the cards the department store provides to smell the colognes. They enable you to only smell the top notes and not how it smells on you (remember, this is a chemistry experiment).
Between smelling each cologne, refresh your palate with something strong, like coffee or tea.
Try to smell all the notes. As we have explained you can expect the scent to change over the next few hours.
Walk around the department store and smell the fragrances at various intervals. Take notes on your phone or journal as to which you like and why.
Purchase a bottle of your winner and start to wear. Wearing a fragrance is a process, not a destination. Many men end up owning and loving dozens of scents, so don’t feel you have to get it perfect with your first (or tenth) buy.
Which size fragrance bottle should you buy? Fragrances come in many different bottle sizes, but they usually range from 1 oz. to 3.4 oz, or even bigger bottles as well.
If you are new to fragrances buy the smaller bottles simply because it is a lower risk. You don’t know how often you will be wearing it, and your tastes will probably change once you get the chance to smell different scents.
Fragrances do not last forever on the shelf. Rapid heat fluctuations like those found in most bathrooms will cause the molecules in a fragrance to break apart.
Sunlight does the same thing (so avoid window sill storage). Extend the lifespan of your fragrance by storing it in cool, dark, dry environments. Bedroom closets are a great place.
While cologne is listed as a scent category, most men’s fragrances are sold in several of these concentration levels. The concentration level is usually indicated on the bottle and the fragrances are often categorized by price.
How to Properly Apply Cologne
One of the fears many men harbor about fragrance revolves around over-application. Most people have known or worked with an individual that wore way too much cologne. In order to avoid being “that guy” you should apply sparingly. You should also apply strategically so that the cologne you put on lasts all day. This is the proper way to apply cologne:
Apply right after you shower onto dry skin. The shower cleanses your body of any other scents and opens your pores, which helps the scent absorb. Completely dry your skin and then spray.
Hold the spray bottle 3–6 inches from your body. If you hold the bottle any closer you risk over-applying; any further and you will likely under-apply.
Apply cologne to heated areas of your body. The heat helps diffuse the scent throughout the day and allows it to meld with your body chemistry to develop your signature scent. Heated areas include your neck, chest, pulse points, forearms or inner elbows.
Start with a light application. If you are new to using fragrances do not apply cologne to all of the aforementioned heated body areas. Choose one area and start with one spray. If you notice that your scent fades quickly, choose another area and spray the cologne there next time you apply. You might want to ask the opinion of a close friend or family member if the application is appropriate, as you can become nose-blind to scents you wear often.
Re-apply if needed. Depending on the type of cologne you buy you may need to re-apply — especially if you are going out in the evening. When doing so, simply dab a little onto your pulse points.
Common Mistakes When Applying Cologne
There are a few mistakes men commonly make when applying cologne that can prevent them from getting the most out of their cologne usage. When applying the fragrance you should avoid:
Spraying the fragrance on your clothing. Spraying cologne directly on your clothes prevents it from mixing with your natural oils, which is what gives it its unique quality. This can also prevent the scent from going through its scent stages (more on that here), rendering the scent flat and monochrome. Finally, spraying a fragrance directly on clothing can be harmful to some fabrics.
Splashing the cologne on your skin. If using a fragrance that does not have a spray nozzle, some men splash cologne onto their skin. This is an easy way to over-apply. To apply correctly, you should place one finger over the opening of the bottle and gently tip it upside down before dabbing the scent on your body.
Spraying a mist cloud and walking through it. While it may seem like this method prevents over-application, it actually renders the cologne almost useless. The majority of your cologne needs to be placed on your body, and applying cologne this way means most of it ends up on the floor.
Rubbing the perfume onto the skin. Rubbing the cologne into your skin actually makes the scent fade faster as it breaks the molecular bond in the fragrance. If you’re not going to spray the fragrance then simply dab, but don’t rub.
Applying too much cologne. A man’s fragrance should be a subtle enhancement to his image. Less is more when it comes to cologne and you do not want it to be overpowering. Start light and don’t be afraid to ask a friend or significant other if they think you need more or less cologne.
How to Make Your Cologne Last
Cologne does not have an infinite shelf life, and many bottles will have a date on the bottom that indicates its optimal use-by date. To make your cologne last longer, keep it in its original box as light exposure over a period of time can cause fragrances to deteriorate. You can also choose to keep them in a dark drawer or cabinet, but avoid exposing them to direct sunlight if at all possible.
Fluctuations in temperature can also shorten the lifetime of a fragrance. This means that storing them in the bathroom will likely increase their likelihood of spoiling. The fluctuations in temperature and humidity can destroy the molecular integrity of the fragrance. Another place to avoid storing your fragrance is in your car, where temperatures can fluctuate rapidly.
While some colognes naturally have longer shelf lives than others, properly storing the fragrances should allow you to enjoy them for many years.
Now that you know how to pick a fragrance that speaks to your personality and mixes well with your body chemistry, you can enjoy the perks of daily cologne usage. If you apply it correctly and appropriately you may start to notice a boost in confidence and maybe even the occasional compliment. Feel free to try different fragrances in the same scent family to develop a personal scent brand that your friends and family will associate with you from now on.