In my post ‘Fashion: An Introduction’, I examined how far behind men are with regards to couture; one arena where guys are lagging behind even further is the world of colognes and fragrances.
I’m guessing that a very few of you guys have experimented with fragrances outside of cheap bodysprays. Perhaps you were given a bottle as part of a gift set, or maybe found a sampler tucked into a magazine. Either way, I’m pretty sure that you were unimpressed by the results. Why? Because choosing a good fragrance takes time and research; if you’re hoping a great scent will simply turn up in your Christmas stocking or wedged into the latest copy of your monthly glossy then you’re going to be in for a great disappointment.
“What should I look for?”
Fragrances can be broken down into three categories: Top, Middle and Base notes. Each fragrance has its own distinctive properties:
Top notes: These are the lighter elements of the composition. After a powerful initial burst these have a tendency to fade away quickly. Typically the top notes smell fresh, sweet and clean. Examples include delicate summer flowers and citrus.
Middle notes: Sometimes described as the ‘heart’ of a scent, these are slightly stronger odors that don’t dominate the nasal palette. Mid-notes develop gradually over time, slowly feeding into the base notes. Examples of medium notes are pine, rosemary and nutmeg.
Base notes: These are the strongest elements of the mix, and will leave their pungent trace the longest. Popular base notes include sandalwood, musk and myrrh.
“How do I pick a scent?”
Firstly, you’ll need to work out your skin type, as the chemical composition of the fragrance will react differently to the balance of your body’s natural oils.
Oily: Those with heavy, greasy skin can easily be overwhelmed by strong scents. Try lighter, fruiter fragrances with plenty of top notes whilst avoiding too many of the heavier, earthier tones.
Regular: Those with regular skin types find most scents maintain a consistent balance throughout the day. Find fragrances that are evenly formulated with a good mix of top, middle and base notes.
Dry: Those with moistureless skin will find fragrances rapidly vanish. Try deeper, full-bodied scents with plenty of strong base notes that’ll hang around longer after application.
Sensitive: Avoid alcohol bases which dry out and irritate your skin. Don’t mix the cologne with any other chemical (like body spray or antiperspirant) as this may prompt an unwelcome reaction.
“How do I shop for fragrances?”
Ah, the needlessly intimidating bit! Traditionally, fragrance counters have been established with women in mind – either buying with or for them. Wanna know a dirty little secret? The worst place to try out new fragrances is at the sales counter!
Firstly, department stores are a contaminated spore cloud of odours; you’re not going to get an accurate reading when a dozen other smells are hitting your olfactory senses at the same time.
Secondly, you are in a highly-pressured sales environment where the object is to sell fragrances at any cost; this atmosphere isn’t conductive to carefully picking the correct scent. There’s a temptation to be swayed by swanky packaging and discount deals rather than through aroma alone.
Finally, you can’t reasonably test more than one fragrance at a time; you’ll need a good half hour for all the tones to come through and a good while longer for the fragrance to dissipate entirely.
“So how should I do it then?”
The best way is to get hold of sample vials, sometimes called ‘decants’. These samples can be found in a variety of places, not least over the internet. These small 2-10ml bottles contain enough fragrance for generous test applications unlike those useless pieces of scented card.
You can sometimes find multi-packs containing a brands’ entire range of colognes; these are relatively inexpensive and provide a considerable range of different options.
How To Test Fragrances
1. Clear your skin: Wash yourself with a good unscented soap before applying. Always wait at least half an hour for your skin to dry fully and your natural oils to replenish.
2. Apply the fragrance: Use a cotton bud or Q-tip to apply the scent and not your fingers. Wipe lightly on the ‘pulse’ points of your wrists and/or neck. Don’t use too much; you can always put more on if necessary.
3. Check the development: Take in a good lungful of the fragrance at ten minute intervals over a one hour period; this way you’ll be able to accurately judge the progression of the scent.
4. Environmental issues: Does the fragrance smell as fresh when you’re in the sweltering heat? What about in the chilly confines of an air-conditioned cubical? Make sure you take temperature extremes into account when testing.
5. Write down your thoughts: A ‘decant diary’ of sorts. Don’t rely on your hazy memories – make a note of what you felt about each fragrance when you applied it and then mark it out of ten.
6. Try the best again: When you’ve narrowed it down to your final choice, try it again one last time. An expensive 100ml bottle could last months, so you don’t want to get things wrong at this stage. Why not use it as a flirting tactic? Mention your new scent to an attractive co-worker and ask them what they think…
Now you’ve chosen your fragrance, it’s time to answer the trickiest of all cologne questions…
“How much should I apply?”
A very good question to which I respond, “probably not as much as you think”. You should always attempt to follow the two foot rule; if someone can smell your cologne more than two feet (60 cm) away then you’re wearing too much.
Start by applying the smallest quantity possible and gradually working your way up. It’s easier to add more than it is to remove excess.
There’s a temptation to assume that the more you spray, the longer the smell will last. This is only partially correct. Naturally, the more scent you apply the stronger it’ll be; however, all colognes have a preset half-life, and the scent will devolve at the same rate regardless of the quantity applied.
If you find the cologne too weak or strong, then reconsider the number of applications you’re making and reassess your skin type – you might find an alternative fragrance, with extra top or base notes, corrects the problem.
In part two of this article, we’ll take a look at seasonal shifts in cologne and advice on how to store your new fragrance(s) at home.