If there is one thing that a man can put on his body that speaks volumes more about him than any item of clothing, it is his cologne. Like the Emperor’s new clothes, the fragrance is completely invisible, appealing to only one of our five senses, and barely makes it through a whole day unscathed.
It can signal deep-seated psychological cues to the smeller, connecting with memory and experience, or all too often grab the unwilling attention of passersby as an all-enveloping cloud.
Wearing cologne may be one of the best applications of the maxim, “less is more.” What is the best way to wear cologne, though? Let’s start with an explanation of this bedrock of men’s grooming.
What is Cologne?
All fragrances are basically a mixture of oils, alcohol, and water. While the strengths and concentrations can vary from one product to another, most men’s colognes contain around 2 to 4 percent oil. There are also extracts, at 20 to 30 percent; perfumes, at 15 to 25 percent; eau de perfume, 8 to 15 percent; and eau de toilette at 4 to 8 percent. Those oils can be anything from natural botanicals to completely man-made chemical ingredients. The higher the percentage, the longer they last on your skin.
Once applied, those mixtures will begin to break down into what industry professionals call notes. Top notes are the first aromas that hit your nose. As the alcohol and water evaporate and the oils mix with your body chemistry, heart notes begin to take center stage. Finally, as the day wears on, base notes remain behind.
Given that changing dynamic, the scent also must work with any other product you may be using that day.
Think about how your cologne choice may interact with anything from shampoo and soap to shaving products and especially body lotion.
Layering fragrances can make them last longer, which is why so many brands will offer a kit of grooming products that all include the signature scent. (Just like home bartending, though, you may also discover a cocktail of different products that works for you.)
How to Apply Cologne
- Start after you’ve showered, while your skin is still warm, and your pores are open.
- Moisturize: you should be doing this anyway, but the bonus is that the cologne will absorb into your skin more efficiently, lasting longer.
- Spray cologne three to six inches away from your skin.
- Apply to pulse points. Anyplace your body runs a little hot will work, but a bit on the wrists and neck is just enough. (You’ll want it to be in the same neighborhood as most people’s noses. Spraying behind the knees, for instance, is kind of a waste.)
- Wax-based solid fragrances can be applied to the same spots (and with more precision) These products’ inclusion of mineral or coconut oil will also help skin retain the scent longer.
- Do not rub the product. Allow it to dry naturally. Rubbing can hurt the molecules that compose the fragrance.
- Do not spray cologne on your clothes. The “spray in the air and walk through” method is a myth. It’s not only a waste of product, and the alcohol and oils can stain some clothing.
- Don’t overdo it. Two to three quick sprays on each pulse point are fine. Nobody around you wants an extra shot of your cologne with their morning coffee.
Keep in mind that you may not smell the fragrance later in the day because your nose develops olfactory blindness as you get used to the smell. There’s nothing wrong with a quick little spritz to freshen up after work, but don’t overdo it.
How to Make Cologne Last
Just like that expensive bottle of liqueur you’ve been cherishing, don’t store cologne in hot, sunny places like your bathroom or on a dresser top. Find a little shelf for it in the closet. Sun and heat will break down the components faster and make the alcohol and water evaporate sooner. A good cologne should last from three to five years. (Some people say to replace in a year, but those people are also probably selling cologne.) Rancid oils and a higher concentration of alcohol can affect the way the product smells and might even harm your skin.
Choosing the right cologne in the first place may mean that you don’t have to worry about how long it’s going to be last because you’ll want to wear it every day.
Think about what kinds of fragrances you already like. Are you into long walks through pine trees? Does the smell of fresh orange juice or baking cookies bring back great memories?
Do you kind of miss the smell of tobacco, but are still glad you quit smoking? Any scent that has positive connotations for you has probably been worked into a cologne.
Do your research. Lots of brands now have guides on their websites to help discover a combination you’ll really like. If you’re headed to a store, remember to only try two or three brands in a visit.
More than that and your olfactory receptors shut down. If you can, hit the store during off-hours, too, when there are less likely to be fragrance models around pushing the latest designer concoction and strong-arming you into a sale.
Speaking of which, all those potential exotic ingredient combinations, as well as the concentration, will affect the price of your cologne, as can hefty marketing budgets. While you’ll get what you pay for within reason, remember that if you (or your significant other) really like the way a fragrance works with your body chemistry, that’s what really counts.
Think about where you’re wearing it, too. A musky, sexy fragrance may be great for a night out, but are you really looking to turn on your company’s head of Human Resources? While it’s great to have a signature scent, think about having a cologne wardrobe.
Choose one that’s great for work, another for a romantic night out, and another for kicking around on weekends. A lighter fragrance may be better for summer’s heat and humidity, while a warm, woody one feels perfect in winter’s chill. Just like having a perfectly fitted suit or that comfortably broken-in pair of jeans, having the right cologne can inspire confidence and arouse interest.
- The Manual