It always blows our minds to learn how little men know about selecting the right cologne. We’ve learned that a majority of people think it’s as simple as seeing a Calvin Klein or Giorgio Armani advert and saying, "Yeah, that’s popular? Ok, I’ll take that one!"
Or, perhaps worse, the sheer amount of men out there who think cologne simply doesn’t matter. As high as 80 percent of men say they don’t wear any cologne at all! No, that isn’t a typo—eight, zero, fellas.
Fragrance, albeit an invisible part of your personal style and image, is *still *an important part of your overall aesthetic. In fact, in our experience, we get more compliments on how good we smell than on anything else—the clothes we wear, our jewelry, our hair, or any of the other stuff we think about.
This is exactly why you need to know what to look for in a good cologne, how to go about purchasing the right one for you, and how to wear it properly.
One of the most interesting things for us in our pursuit of the perfect fragrance was learning that not all fragrances are the same. Generally, we’re taught that cologne and perfume are the same things, but one is for women, and one is for men. That’s actually not true at all. Technically, they’re both types of fragrances, but they’re far from the same thing.
There are actually 5 categories of fragrances, each of which are divided according to their strength:
Eau Fraiche: These are the weakest dilution of fragrances, and are usually anywhere from 1-3% actual perfume, mixed in with alcohol and water. They have significantly less stay power and will last less than an hour.
Eau de Cologne: This is the universal term for any masculine fragrance on the commercial market, but it’s actually only one category in a broad spectrum. It’s generally between 2% and 4% diluted, and lasts up to two hours.
Eau de Toilette: This is the stuff we recommend looking for. These come in typical spray bottles and are anywhere between 5% to 15% diluted, making them significantly more pungent than cologne. Expect these to last anywhere from three to six hours.
Perfume: From a historical context, perfume is actually a traditionally genderless name for fragrances that are more potent than Eau de Toilette, but less than Parfum, which we’ll get to soon. These fragrances will last anywhere from five to eight hours.
Parfum: The heavy hitter of the group, a single application of this 20% to 30% pure perfume will last up to 24 hours, and if not used properly (which it often isn’t, ugh), it can clear out a room. Be careful.
In your search, we recommend looking for both Eau de Toilette and Perfume. Neither are too strong, both have similar staying power, and both categories boast excellent selections from the world’s best brands.
Finding the right cologne is a process that takes time and effort. Like, actual time and effort. You can order some stink water off Amazon and just go with it, and nothing you buy is going to make you smell bad, but keep in mind that there is a science to selecting the right fragrance.
Here’s an experiment: Take the same cologne and spray it on two people. You’ll notice that the cologne takes on a whole different smell from person to person. In fact, it’s not infrequent to smell two completely different fragrances on each person.
Why is that? One word: Biochemistry.
Everybody’s skin is composed of different chemical compounds that give each human being their own unique scent. Yes, technically, you have your own particular brand of stink. Eau de David, if you will. When your fragrance combines with a cologne or a perfume, it creates a whole new scent that’s unique specifically to you. Sometimes that’s good, and sometimes not so good.
Colognes also consist of notes—base, top, and middle—that determine a particular scent’s smell, but going through that could take literal hours. If you want to read up on those, you can find an excellent source guide here.
The only thing you need to keep in mind is that the only 100% certain way to get a fragrance you’re happy with is to go out to a physical store and find one that works with your natural skin chemistry.
Settling on the right cologne for you is all about having options. Generally, that means heading on over to the department store. The issue is that department stores are notorious for marking up their perfume prices.
Luckily, there are stores that offer a wide selection with discounted options. According to this thread on /r/frugal, places like Ross, TJ Maxx, and Burlington Coat Factory offer excellent assortments.
If worse comes to worst, you can always find the fragrance you like in store, then go home and make your purchase online. While Amazon seems to be hit or miss in the fragrance department, we’ve heard some excellent success stories on eBay (sellers will often sell "tester" bottles, which are the same exact thing as regular bottles, except it might say “tester” on it), as well as online stores like Perfumania.
Of course, if money is no object, shell out the cash at the department store and get it done!
Outside of the purchasing process, learning how to wear cologne is the most important part of all. Which makes it all the more confusing to us that so many men don’t know how to correctly apply the stuff.
The best time to put on cologne is straight out of a hot shower (your pores are open), but you can put it on any time, so long as you spray it directly on dry skin. Hold the spray nozzle 3 to 6 inches away from the warmest parts of your skin (chest, neck, wrist, forearm, etc.), and spray lightly.
When it comes to fragrance, remember: Less is more. Don’t bathe yourself in it. If this is your first time wearing a new scent, use caution and spray lightly, because nothing is worse than walking around smelling like a cheap French Chippendales dancer. Let it sit for an hour, and if you feel the need to apply a spray or two extra, go for it.
Never do the "spray-and-walk," where you spray the fragrance into the air and then walk through it. That’s an excellent way to waste good cologne. And never spray it directly on your clothing. Perfume is sometimes diluted with alcohol and oils, which means if sprayed heavy enough, some may stain. But more importantly, spraying it on your clothes means the cologne won’t mix with your natural scent, and thus, won’t deliver the full effect.