Tom Ford once said, “Good manners and good cologne is what transforms the man into a gentleman”. A man’s fragrance is a big factor in making a strong first impression and can define how you carry yourself. No matter how much attention you pay to your dressing and manners, smelling bad can put anyone off. We tell you everything you need to know about how to smell good as a modern man.
Categories of scents
Navigating the world of scents can be overwhelming for beginners. The terminology can be quite technical but it’s worth understanding them so you can better pick your favorite scents. There are three main classifications of scents recognized in the industry, known as olfactive families: Traditional (introduced around the 1900s), Modern (used from 1945 onwards) and Michael Edwards’ Fragrance Wheel.
These fragrances are referred to as soliflore in French and highlight the scent of a single flower. While floral scents are more common in women’s perfumes, they are used in men’s fragrances by blending with musky, leathery notes.
Floral bouquet fragrances highlight the scent of different flowers and are another conventionally feminine scent. When used in men’s colognes, it adds a softness that balances out the other harsher, sharper masculine scents.
Amber/Oriental scents combine notes of vanilla, animals, and florals/woods to produce rich and warm yet sensual fragrances. Sometimes, they might even have some spicy notes. This fragrance family is perfect for colder weather, making it a great fragrance to wear in fall and winter.
This powerful fragrance family uses notes of sandalwood, patchouli, and oud (a very rare scent of a resin emitted by the wood of the Southeast Asian agar tree in reaction to a specific mold infection). It creates a warm and dry masculine scent that smells of nature and the great outdoors.
This fragrance family is another masculine scent that blends notes of honey, tobacco, wood and wood tars to resemble the smell of natural leather. This scent is classy, smoky and warm, ideal for the refined gentleman.
This French term (pronounced sheep-rah) refers to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. These fragrances balance citrus top notes with a warm, woody, mossy base. Chypres are one of the more complex fragrance families; it has different layers that show through depending on the blend.
Fougère (pronounced fooz-air) means “fern-like” in French and just like the name suggests, these fragrances are in between woody and fresh. They are inspired by nature scents with their woody notes but often take on a sweeter, fresher, and less intense scent. It blends notes of lavender, oakmoss, and coumarin (a chemical found in many plants that has a scent resembling vanilla) with a sharp herby and woodsy tinge.
This fragrance family is similar to Single Florals or Floral Bouquet as they include scents from various flowers.
Green fragrances are a lighter variation of the traditional chypre fragrances, consisting of bergamot, oakmoss, and patchouli. As you can tell from its name, these scents are characterized by earthy nature-based tones like grass, moss, and leaves that smell clean and fresh, perfect for the summer.
These fragrances are reminiscent of the ocean waves on the beach or the air after the rain. They’re fresh, light, breezy and crisp, making them great pick-me-ups on those hot summer days.
Just like aquatics, citrus scents are great for warmer months due to their zesty, refreshing nature. With notes of citrus fruits like lemon and grapefruit, these fragrances tend to be sweet, tart, and bright.
Fruity fragrances center around non-citrus fruits, making this a rather broad fragrance family due to the range of fruit scents that can be used. These scents are usually sweet and fun, making them another summer favorite.
These delicious fragrances use notes from food or desserts — common notes include chocolate, tonka bean or vanilla. Depending on the type of notes included, these fragrances smell sweet, rich and anything in between. These food smells are usually achieved by synthetics.
Michael Edwards’ Fragrance Wheel
This is the newest classification for fragrances, created by British fragrance expert Michael Edwards. Since its first iteration in 1983, the wheel has gone through several alterations to reflect studies on the changes in scent perception. The most recent version in 2010 includes four main categories (Floral, Oriental, Woody, and Fresh) with 14 sub-categories.
French terms seem to be very prevalent in the fragrance industry, which can make it even more confusing when purchasing fragrances. You don’t want to end up buying a fragrance that is too strong or too weak for your liking. Basically, the intensity of a fragrance is dependent on the concentration of perfume oils in the formula. Here’s a brief glossary on the types of perfumes on the market.
*Take note that the perfume concentration percentages listed here are just a general estimate and might vary across sources.
This has the highest concentration of oils (usually 20% and above) and can usually last for about six to eight hours. This results in a heavier perfume that has a very strong smell. Due to the high concentration of oils, it tends to be more expensive as well so use them sparingly if you do buy them.
Eau de Parfum (EDP)
This type of perfume usually has 15-19% perfume concentration and can last for about four to five hours. If you like a stronger perfume, this could be a viable everyday perfume type for you. Some consider EDP more suited for nighttime wear so it’s great for a fancy dinner or when partying the night away with friends.
Eau de Toilette (EDT)
This perfume type is often in the 5-14% concentration range and can last for about two to three hours. It produces a light fragrance that is good for regular daytime wear. The only downside is that it might require constant reapplication throughout the day as the scent dissipates quickly.
Eau de Cologne (EDC)
This is one of the lightest perfumes on the spectrum, with only about 2-4% perfume concentration that can last for up to two hours at most. Despite the word “cologne” in the name, this perfume type is not specific to just men’s fragrances; women’s fragrances fall in this category too. Due to its light fragrances, EDC is often used as a splash-on or in aftershaves.
This perfume type has a perfume concentration of only 1% or slightly more, lasting for about an hour. This formula is more uncommonly seen on the market and it is basically scented water that you can spray as a pick-me-up or a light misting of scent.
In the fragrance world, a fragrance is broken down into “notes”. These notes describe the layers of specific scents added into the fragrance. There are three main note classes, categorized by the speed at which they evaporate after application.
Sometimes referred to as top notes, this is the first thing you smell in a fragrance and form the initial impression of the scent in a buyer. They are the most volatile and dissipate very quickly, usually lasting only a couple of minutes. Scents used as top notes are usually fresh/sharp, distinct and sometimes delicate.
These notes are also known as middle notes and they come through shortly before the top notes dissipate. They last longer than the top notes, usually for about 20 minutes to an hour after application, depending on the concentration of perfume. These notes tend to smell more mellow and rounded as they form the “heart” of the fragrance and act as “transition scents”.
These notes are perceived soon before the middle notes dissipate. They add depth and resonance to the fragrance and together with the middle notes, form the perfume’s main body. These notes tend to be rich and “deep”, which is why sometimes they need the middle notes to mask the initial unpleasant scent. They are usually detected 30 minutes after application or as the perfume dries down. Some stronger base notes can still linger after 24 hours or more after application.
How to smell good for every occasion
Just like how every occasion has an expected dress code, it also calls for a different scent. Picking the right scent for the occasion should be another essential step in your getting-ready routine before heading out. Here are some tips on the kinds of scents to help you smell good for any event.
The key to office fragrances is subtlety. You don’t want to overwhelm your colleagues with nauseatingly pungent scents the whole day. Choose something that is light yet is pleasant and refreshing to help wake you up on those long dreary days. The classics are always a safe bet for work.
You should try: Clinique Happy For Men
After work/Friday night
It’s the end of the week and you’re all ready to let loose and have fun, maybe head to town for a couple of drinks. When switching from business to casual, you want to choose a scent that is still reserved and professional but with a stronger, more distinctive scent.
You should try: Gucci Guilty Intense
Making a good first impression starts with how you smell. Similar to the kind of scents you would wear to work, you don’t want to overpower your future employer and distract them from what you’re saying. Pick a scent that is clean, crisp and fresh to keep things professional and boost your confidence.
You should try: Original Blend by Original Penguin
Whether you’re on a first date or you’re just spending quality time with your significant other, it’s just as important to smell your best. Take a look at the notes featured in the fragrance and pick out those that sound more unique or unconventional. This is especially useful for a first date as it leaves a lasting impression that helps you stand out from the competition. Alternatively, you can go for a warm, sexy, enticing scent to draw her in and make her want more.
You should try: Issey Miyake Huit D’Issey
Attending a wedding
Weddings are a celebratory event so you can afford to go with something that is more youthful and playful. At the same time, it’s good to consider the nature of the wedding you’re attending. If it’s a formal church wedding or reception dinner, balance out the fun scents with more mature and refined notes.
You should try: Molton Brown Tobacco Absolute
Basic rules for choosing fragrances
Whenever you’re in doubt about what fragrance to wear for a certain event, there are some simple determining factors you can abide by.
They say that your fragrance should be part of your outfit. Pick a scent that complements the dress code of the event. As long as you’re dressed appropriately, your fragrance will naturally fall in line accordingly with the event’s level of formality.
Your personal mood or vibe of the event
When you smell good, you feel good too! Choosing the right scent can project a certain vibe around yourself or elevate the mood of the occasion. Whether you’re feeling energized, confident or somber, use your fragrances to represent that!
The effectiveness of a perfume’s scent is dependant on temperature. Heat allows the perfume to dissipate faster, thus releasing a stronger, more lasting scent. This is why you want to avoid pungent, saccharine scents in warmer seasons as it can be very overwhelming to those around you. Similarly, scents don’t spread well in colder weather so fresh and light scents won’t be picked up.
Research has shown that scents are linked to certain memories. Knowing how to pick the right scent for the occasion can transform the way people view and remember you. It might seem like a subtle detail but when used right, it can be your most valuable accessory. Keep in mind that a certain fragrance can smell different when it reacts with your skin so don’t be afraid to experiment around to find your signature scent.
To get more recommendations on fragrances you should try, check out our article on men’s colognes you should try. If you’re looking for other ways to smell good, try our aftershave and deodorant recommendations as well.