In The Cologne Series we explore the art of fragrance and how to use it as a tool in our grooming arsenal. We also muse on the artistic aspects of perfume, its history and the relationship men have had with cologne throughout the generations.
After reading this series we are confident you will emerge an erudite intellectual who not only smells marvelous but has made an educated artistic statement with his scent.
Don’t miss a thing! Here are links to the other parts of the series:
Part 1: Why Cologne Matters?
Part 2: How to Pick the Right One
Part 3: Telltale Signs of a Good Perfume
Part 4: Who Do We Wear Cologne For?
Part 5: How to Build a Fragrance Wardrobe
Part 6: Wearing a Fragrance with Intention
Cologne is one of the most misunderstood grooming items. As men, we have the irrational fear that smelling “pretty” will emasculate us. At the same time, we know that smelling good makes us feel confident and, at times, even helps us get laid.
We often look at cologne from a purely utilitarian angle. It is something to serve a purpose (make us smell good) and any version of it that gets the job done is good enough.
In reality, however, wearing perfume is a more complex task than just picking something that smells good. Your approach to selecting cologne should be the same as picking your tie. Your fragrance has to match your attire, event, and the weather. Considering the volumes your smell says about you, it should be the item that takes the most scrutiny in our morning routine.
I suggest you consider three things when choosing what cologne to wear: your outfit, your activity and the weather. For the advanced ones, there is a fourth factor - your emotions.
The purpose of your fragrance is to enhance the image you project through your clothes and appearance in general. In many cases your cologne will reveal more about you than any other item you wear.
Many fragrance experts label fragrances as formal or informal. These labels suggest that the perfume will match better certain attire.
It is somewhat true that some perfumes have a formal or informal disposition. At the same time, however, the flexibility of what’s formal or not depends largely on the wearer and their style. Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather can be interpreted as a formal fragrance when worn by a well-dressed man in a tuxedo. If worn by a biker dressed head-to-toe in leather, Tuscan Leather can be seen as rebellious.
For these considerations, I don’t follow too strictly the normative of formal-vs.-informal scent.
This formality of fragrances is driven mostly by perception. For example, the widely popular Dior Homme is often perceived as a formal fragrance. Its composition of leather iris and amber evokes images of a well-dressed gentleman on a night out. This imagery is further enforced by Dior Homme’s advertising campaign featuring Robert Pattinson in a tuxedo and white shirt.
If we block out this forced preconception of formality, we may come to realize that Dior Homme is not meant only for formal events. It can be a perfect complement to a camel colour cashmere sweater paired with blue jeans.
There are limits, however, to how much we can stretch the versatility of some fragrances. No matter how we twist it, Dior Homme will never work with a Star Wars t-shirt and cargo pants (hardly anything does).
The main point here is that your clothes tell a story and your fragrance needs to corroborate that story. Otherwise, you risk being like the Russian guy I ran into one early Christmas morning - decked out in white track suit and smelling of opulent flowers.
Your Main Event
Unless your life is an action movie, you have a pretty good idea what your day is going to look like. Your daily activities inform what clothes you wear. The same applies to perfume.
When picking your outfit, you may have decided that Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille would go well with your dark suit and white shirt. Indeed, the combo would be spectacular to grab drinks at a cocktail bar downtown. If you have to attend a client’s meeting, however, the suit might work; Tobacco Vanille - not so much, unless your goal is to get them in bed.
If matching cologne with your attire lends some flexibility, wearing the right perfume to the right event is more restrictive. There are no fast and hard rules of what perfume you should wear to what event. There are, however, some high level guidelines you can follow.
Citrus and aquatic colognes lean informal. You can wear them grocery shopping or golfing with your boss.
Woody-orientals are always more formal. Save them for fancy dinners, cocktail parties, theatre nights, etc.
Anything in between these bookends (e.g. fougeres, florals, woods) can go either way. Masculine floral scents and classic fougeres can be formal and informal even though to what degree varies.
Whatever you do, don’t fall in the trap of wearing Acqua di Gio at your company’s Christmas party. This brings us to the next consideration: weather.
What’s the Weather Like?
Fragrances react to weather. They perform differently depending on the temperature. High heat will not do your heavy oriental perfume any favours. It will turn it into a cloying mess you’d want to scrub off. Heavy fragrances tend to perform a lot better at cooler temperatures.
In addition to better performance, your warm spicy-oriental fragrance will act like a nice scented blanket wrapping you around during the cold day. There is something very comforting in wearing a warm-smelling perfume when it is freezing outside.
Fresh and cool fragrances (e.g. citrus, aquatic, herbal) are not going to perform well in cold weather. The lack of heat keeps the close to the skin and they tend to perform poorly. Besides, wearing a beach scent in the dead of winter is like wearing swimming trunk on the street in December.
Giving due consideration to your outfit, event and weather when selecting your fragrance is an act of wearing perfume intentionally. The conscious act of selecting and wearing the appropriate perfume will present a congruent image of who you are. More importantly, you won’t be the awkward guy wearing the proverbial Acqua di Gio on your company’s Christmas party.
I know I’m getting some eye-rolls here. What does fragrance have to do with your emotions?
Perfume is not about smelling good. It is about how it makes you feel and how it makes those around you perceive you. These should be your main objectives behind wearing cologne. As for the smell-good part - regular showers work better.
Our response to smells is primarily emotional. Lavender calms us down, citrus makes up happy, and the smell of your favourite home-cooked meal can make you nostalgic.
There is no other sense than smell that evokes memories and emotions better. Your cologne affects your emotional state and this is why it matters.
A friend of mine wears Creed’s Aventus to interviews and important meetings. He says the smell gives him confidence. He walks taller, his handshake is firmer and his movements are deliberate and measured. He says it’s all a mind-game but it works.
Another friend of mine wears only D&G The One when he goes out at night. He says the sweet woody-ambery smell makes him feel sexy and irresistible. He says, “it’s not even about the girls. If they like it, it’s a bonus, but what matters more is how it makes me feel.”
When choosing your cologne for the day, think of how your emotional state. Is today going to be one of those lazy philosophy-and-latte days, or are you going for a kill at an important interview? These two options evoke completely different set of emotions and, hence, call for completely different fragrances.
The cashmere sweater of fragrances won’t make you feel confident and warrior-like at your sales pitch. Your rough, balls-in-your-face cologne won’t work on a lazy Netflix-and-chill Sunday. You have to pick the right cologne to boost the mood you want to be in.
I acknowledge that you can’t predict how you are going to feel throughout the day in the morning. Shit happens, moods change and that’s okay. My suggestion is not to agonize your perfume choice and just go with what matches your mood at the time. Choosing your fragrance in the morning should give you pleasure, not an anxiety attack.
When All Else Fails
I understand this whole process of choosing a fragrance looks complicated. It only appears so because I have broken it down in distinct sections. In reality, you will go through the decision process much faster.
If all else fails, the only piece I want you to take away is to wear cologne intentionally. In other words, think of your fragrance choices. Ask yourself why you are picking one fragrance over another. Perfume should always be a conscious choice and critical thinking has to go in its selection. It’s not just an afterthought.