Versace mens cologne

The Men’s Essential Guide to Cologne Don't forget: less is more

Picking cologne is often a befuddling mess of hit-and-miss scents and an array of confusing foreign vocabulary.

It’s a whole lot of jargon when all you’re trying to do is find your elusive signature scent.

We’ve broken down all you need to know to find the perfect scent that embodies you in one comprehensive guide to cologne. Kiss the confusion goodbye.

Table of Contents

Select Your Scent

Take a trip to your local department store and take a whiff of the variety they have to offer. Don’t be swayed by any pesky salesmen, and instead let your nose be your guide.

Men's Essential Guide to Cologne - Choosing a Fragrance

Tips for testing:

  • Try prospective scents on paper testers until you’ve narrowed it down to 2
  • Skip the coffee beans in between scents. Instead, take a whiff of your inner elbow to cleanse your palate. The PH of your skin is better at neutralizing the senses.
  • Spritz option 1 on one wrist and option 2 on the other and wait 15 minutes to smell. This allows you to smell how the cologne interacts with your individual body chemistry and the high notes, or immediate smell, of the cologne to wear off and for the middle notes (AKA heart notes) to come through. The middle notes are the defining smell of the scent and is essentially what you will smell like when wearing it. Revisit each scent again in an hour to see how each settles.
  • Many specialty stores like Sephora (yes, they do sell men’s cologne too) will make up a trial size sample of any scent to take home and test out. Take advantage of this and try out a scent or two for a week before you make an investment in a full bottle.

Types of Scents:

The world of fragrances are broken down into 4 defined scents. If you have a certain smell that you favor or are drawn to, find its category and search from there.


A traditional scent with floral tones such as rose, jasmine, or gardenia that venture into fruit scents such as peaches or berries.


A sensual and rich scent that is defined by spices such as vanilla, patchouli, and cinnamon. Musky scents also fall into this category, providing a heavy note to the Oriental scents.


This scent derives from nature and gives off a very manly smell.  Centering on notes of sandalwood, cedar, and moss, these crisp, forest-inspired scents are refreshing and nostalgic.


This embodies a wide variety of vigorous scents that focuses on citrus, green, and water smells. Aromas of orange, lemon, fresh-cut grass, and sea breezes are common in this scent.

Fragrance Terms:

The French influence is undeniable when it comes to colognes and fragrances.

Though this adds a certain degree of je ne sais quoi, this can be difficult to understand for non-French speakers. Here’s some terms that come up while choosing colognes:


This simply means perfume and has the largest percentage of oils (>20%), lasting up to 6 hours

Eau de Parfum:

This is quite literally a slightly watered down perfume, as “eau” means water in French. This has 10-20% oil and lasts 4-5 hours

Eau de Toilette:

A lightly scented fragrance that is used more as a skin freshener, containing 7-12% oil and lasting 3-4 hours

Eau de Cologne:

The lightest of the fragrances, this type only contains 2-7% oil and lasts 2-3 hours

Pour Homme:

This phrase is often found on colognes and means “for men”


Applying fragrance is much more strategic than a spray here and there. 

Applying cologne centers around your body’s pulse points.

By dabbing a smidge of cologne to these pulse points, it will allow your body’s natural heat to distribute and activate the scent.

Men's Essential Guide to Cologne - Application

Fragrance Pulse Points:

  • Behind the ears
  • Base of the neck
  • Wrists
  • Inside your elbows
  • Inside your knees

When applying, be sure to dab and not rub the scent, as this can compromise the scent by spoiling the high notes, or leading smell, of the fragrance.

Allow the fragrance to take its course on its own.  You can venture into the spray-and-walk-away method, however it is easier to overdo it and can be a waste of valuable cologne.

How Much is Too Much?

Men's Essential Guide to Cologne - How much is too much?

Learning to apply the perfect amount of cologne is an essential lesson that every man should learn.

Not only will you save yourself a lot of guessing, but you’ll save everyone else around you from having to endure an overwhelming scent.

The rule of thumb is that no one should be able to detect your scent unless they are within a 1-foot radius of you. 

Always start with a smaller amount and add as needed.  You should only need about 1-2 spritzes or dabs to get you through the day.

This should be an accent to your persona not an assault on the senses.

The amount of cologne to wear can also depend on your skin type. For oily skin, fragrance sticks longer and stronger so be minimal with your application.

If you’re skin is on the drier side, the fragrance will probably wear off faster. For increased lasting power, try moisturizing the area before applying.

With the plethora of scented toiletries in your bathroom, be strict about picking one scent for the day.

Whether it be a scented deodorant, a dab of cologne, or an aromatic body wash, don’t clash scents by using more than 1 scented product each day.

Other Considerations

Signature Scent

This is the ultimate goal you should aim to achieve. Finding the perfect signature scent isn’t easy and can change over time, but a man who achieves a signature scent knows himself and what scent embodies him best.

Find a scent that you’d be comfortable wearing everyday and that you’d like to be remembered by. A signature scent is your legacy and should be treated as such.


Claim the seasons by altering your fragrance with the weather.

Opt for a fresh or floral scent for the warmer months and avoid anything too musky. For the cooler months, embrace spicy, woody scents.

Day and Night

In the same way that seasonality captures the essence of the changes in weather, try doing the same for day and night.

Complement the heat of the day with floral, fresh, or citrus notes, while adding some mystery to the night with rich musks or spicy notes.

Read: How to Wear Cologne

Storing Cologne Properly

Men's Essential Guide to Cologne - Storing Cologne

Buying great cologne is an investment that should, with proper maintenance, give you great return.

Whether cologne is a part of your everyday ritual, or it’s reserved for special occasions, a bottle should not spoil if the following elements are avoided:

  • Heat
  • Light
  • Oxygen

If you are the occasional wearer, consider storing your cologne in the refrigerator. This will eliminate a lot of these factors from spoiling your fragrance.

Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

Men's Essential Guide to Cologne - Tips from Blogger Brandon Bryant

Take it from a man who knows style best and has perfected the art of leaving an impression.

We asked GQ-featured blogger Brandon Bryant from Wall Street Paper for his take on cologne and he shared some of his tips and tricks as well as some rules to live by.

GM: How do you decide on a scent?

BB: I prefer a very strong scent to go with my personality. I am extremely personable and very active and I want my scent to be the same way.  Also when thinking about cologne you have to keep in mind this will be one of the characteristics that individuals will remember of you. So choose wisely!

GM: What’s your everyday routine?

BB: Apply to each wrist and rub together, then rub each wrist on the sides of the neck.

GM: Any absolute don’ts?

BB: Do not spray ties or suits because you do not wash/dry clean them enough.

GM: What are your personal favorite scents?

BB: Versace Eros, Armani Code, Chanel Bleu, and Tom Ford Champaca.

GM: Where do you prefer to buy cologne?

BB: Saks and Bergdorf Goodman due to their more enriched customer experience. Both offer more than your average department store like a Macy’s.

A few scents you may see are Hermes, Jo Malone, and Creed. Also the scent specialist on the floor in a Saks or BG are much more knowledgeable about the product and can give you tips on layering scents and help with narrowing down choices so that you can walk out with the best scent possible.

Your scent is a very important investment and choosing the right store when shopping will make the process much easier.

8 Classic Colognes That Changed the Way Men Smell

Fragrances for men are a staple of a well put together man since the days of old. It has been instilled in men that a woman can’t resist a gentleman that smells good, but this has changed drastically over the years.

For many, there’s an era of men’s colognes  that changed the playing field forever. Here’s a list of classics that will, hopefully, never be forgotten.

Drakkar Noir Cologne
Drakkar Noir

Drakkar Noir

Everyone remembers this precious gem sitting in their father’s bathroom cabinet at some point.

Just the packing of the bottle alone possesses a classic sense of musk that gave the 70’s and 80’s a chance to really smell like a man.

Not very pleasing to the nose now, but Drakkar Noir helped pave the way for modern fragrances.

eternity Cologne


Calvin Klein owned the 80’s. From racy ads with underage girls to skimpy men’s underwear for young, fit men in the know, this cologne really became a must-have in that era.

Owning this fragrance and smelling of this scent really was a status symbol for a good moment of time.

Most men aspired to smell this good as boys, usually by seeing their older brother getting the ladies and wearing this. Certainly will always be known.

cool water Cologne
Cool water

Cool Water

Snoop Dogg helped jump start this wonderful scent into a household name.

The citrus notes in this fragrance are pretty awesome and refreshing. Smelling this fresh and clean shouldn’t of been legal in the 90’s.

This was, and in my opinion, is still a great choice. Though not your traditional “manly scent.”

Joop Cologne


This, mostly godawful smell, was widely revered as a “manly smell.” Such a potent mix of musky scents that surely helped you get noticed.

Not always the exact reaction you desire, but certainly used by many. At the time, we didn’t know any better.

Still, this fragrance sparks a stroke of nostalgia for some that was during a period that doesn’t seem that long ago.

Old spice Cologne
Old spice

Old Spice

Oh yea…if you haven’t worn or smelled this in your lifetime you’ve been living under a rock.

The pharmacy store darling of scents, Old Spice has helped men be men for quite a while.

At least help those same men smell better than sweat and dirt. The Old Spice company has been pretty influential in their marketing campaigns and diversified their product line over time. Continuing to be a solid company.

There’s probably a bottle of this stuff still sitting in your medicine cabinet.

Hugo Boss Cologne
Hugo Boss

Hugo Boss

Now this scent, in my opinion, was way ahead of it’s time. Not like it was groundbreaking or influential, but it had an extremely clean scent for the time period.

It has been ages since I smelled it, but certainly remember the numerous times through my younger years Hugo Boss made my night more interesting.

For myself, this is a very classic scent.

Polo sports Cologne
Polo sports

Polo Sport

One out of the million fragrances Ralph Lauren has birthed, Polo Sport was legitimately a good cologne. It was clean and fresh.

Popped when it hit your nose for the first time if worn the right way. Not too much though, it could manage to be off putting in large consumption.

Either way, this definitely shaped a transitioning generation of boys and men trying to be well put together, even at an early age.

Acqua Di Gio Cologne
Acqua Di Gio

Acqua Di Gio

Last, but most certainly not least, Acqua Di Gio. Ahhh…the class and elegance of this scent are enough to push the barriers.

But the way it wafts off you passing by a lovely lady, well, it’s a sure fire way to get noticed.

Nothing about Acqua Di Gio was an oversight. A brilliant fragrance with exceptional prowess in the men’s cologne industry.

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