mens cologne guide

Men’s Cologne Guide For Beginners

By Amy Derungs

February 9, 2021


Men's Colognes:
Warm and sensual, aquatic, or fresh, green and citrusy

your fragrance should please you in every way by
Expressing your personality and
Making you feel more confident.

If you are not a beginner, I suggest you read our more in-dept article about Perfume Notes, Concentration and Fragrance Families.

 This article is addressing a complete beginner in the field of colognes.  

1. Introduction

Not only does your signature scent describe your character and personality, it also makes a long lasting impression on the people around you.

The most sophisticated way to leave your mark is through a signature cologne.

A fitting fragrance is essential to completing any look. It influences your overall outfit and the way you feel. Powerful, confident, charismatic. These are all adjectives to describe the energy you can exude while wearing a fragrance tailored to your preferences.

Here’s where this guide comes in. We want you to unearth a passion for smelling good and an eagerness to explore your tastes through the art of cologne.

This guide aims to give you all the insight you need. You’ll never be unprepared when asked to make the pivotal choice between an eau de toilette and a parfum. Whether you’re new to the perfume scene or looking for some enlightenment as to what the complexities of cologne entail: you’ve come to the right place.
Mens cologne guide - 1811 Jean Marie Farina eau de cologne

2. The Origins of Men's Colognes

The humble beginnings of men’s fragrances contrast greatly to the booming billion-dollar industry it is today.

The very first Eau de Cologne was a spirit citrus perfume created by Giovanni Maria Farina in 1709. This fragrance was fondly named after the town in which he lived, Cologne, which is located in Germany.

Farina, an Italian perfume maker, combined an array of ingredients that reminded him of the beauty of a spring morning and the product was an instant success. The original cologne became popular among the upper class and royal families across Europe.

In those times, perfume served many functions that were more practical than aesthetic. In more modern times, the purpose of cologne transcends covering up bad smells and is instead a means of passion and self-expression.

In contemporary language,the term “cologne” is used as an umbrella term for perfumes marketed towards men. This also speaks to a fragrance that has a lesser concentration and a fairly good longevity.

Men’s cologne has been around for centuries. With the introduction of new ingredients and techniques, the industry only seems to become better. Men’s colognes are no longer only accessible to the upper class but to everyone who wishes to engage in the luxury of pleasing their senses.
Men's cologne guided - Fragrance pyramid

3. The Structure Of Fragrances

Scents, by nature, are multi-dimensional. Whether they are man-made or composed naturally, there isn’t a single word or a linear feeling one can use to describe a scent. That being said, perfume has many levels.

Apart from the rare exception, almost all perfumes have the same chemical structure in the format of a pyramid. A combination of these different elements adds depth and character to a fragrance. These dimensions are called notes.

There a 3 fundamental notes: top notes, middle/heart notes and base notes. Here’s a more in depth explanation for each one:

Top Notes

Top notes are the first to be perceived. These notes tend to be light, fresh and uplifting. Usually high in intensity, they give the initial impressions of the perfume. These bold, bright notes usually don’t last for very long - usually around 15 minutes - and blend into the next set of notes.

In the context of men’s fragrances, top notes are usually vibrant citrus and pure floral scents.

Middle/Heart Notes

Top notes gradually shift into middle notes. This occurs around thirty minutes after the first few spritzes. Here, the fragrance picks up depth and really has a chance to show its potential. Middle notes are generally more persistent and long lasting in comparison to the previous notes. They aren't always immediately noticeable but the wait can certainly be worth it.

Middle notes are often "absolute" of flowers, such as jasmine and ylang-ylang. They can also feature a compelling array of spicy, green, aromatic and aquatic elements.  

Base Notes 

These elements of a perfume are typically very intense, intoxicating, and rich. They round up the fragrance and are often inviting and pleasurable. Base notes appear a few hours after application. The longevity of the fragrance usually depends on the nature of the base notes.

Base notes in men’s fragrances frequently make use of patchouli, vetiver, tobacco, myrrh and woody scents.

Having a good understanding of the notes of a perfume gives you the upper hand when looking for your signature scent. It will help you get a good idea of what a cologne will smell like and how it will evolve as it spends more time on the skin.

Now that you understand the composition of a fragrance the next question to ask would be: how long will a cologne last? This question can be answered in two parts.

Firstly, how long can the perfume stay fresh and vibrant in its bottle? Most fragrances can last around three years in the bottle. If the perfume is well looked after and preserved, it can last up to five years.

Secondly, how long will the perfume linger on the skin? This is subject to each individual fragrance and how it is composed. This is also dependent on which perfume concentration you’re talking about, as each type has a different longevity. We will tell you all you need to know about that in the next section.

You can tell when your favorite cologne is beginning to deteriorate. These changes will be noticeable through the following: the scent of your perfume will change, usually developing an unpleasant vinegar odor and the color of the fragrance will fade and look watered down compared to when you first purchased it.
Men's cologne guided - Fragrance Concentration

4. Six Perfume Concentrations

Although the words “perfume” and “cologne” are used interchangeably, they are in fact different things.

All perfumes are not alike. Some fragrances are stronger or longer lasting than others. These different types of fragrances come in various intensities and concentrations. This is what slots them into different categories of perfume.

These concentrations are of interest as they influence how long the perfume will last and how much it will cost. 

Explore these 6 types of perfumes so that you can make a well informed decision the next time you find yourself in the fragrances aisle or faced with a vast variety of scents online.

4.1. Parfum (Perfume)

Perfume or parfum profumo contains the highest concentration of perfume oil, ranging from 20-30%. Given it’s concentration it comes as no surprise that this type of perfume lasts the longest. These alcohol based fragrances can last up to a full 24 hours on the skin. This is not only impressive but a great choice for those who enjoy a long lasting fragrance that maintains its intensity.

4.2. Eau de Parfum (EDP)

Eau de Parfum fragrances contain 15-25% perfume oil and are a popular choice among both brands and perfume lovers. This is due to their versatility and range. These perfumes are either water or alcohol based. Eau de Parfum fragrance types offer a wide variety of scents and are suitable for any occasion. These fragrances typically last 6-8 hours from the first spray.

4.3. Eau de Toilette (EDT)

An Eau de Toilette is an alcohol or water based perfume that contains around 5-15% perfume oil. These perfumes often make a great first impression as their opening notes are a quick burst of bright, attractive scents. Top notes usually fade fast and dry down to their middle and base notes. Generally, eau de toilette fragrances usually last about 5 hours.

4.4. Eau de Cologne (EDC)

Eau de Cologne fragrances are renowned for being light yet distinct. They are categorized by having 2-4% perfume oil and being alcohol or water based. These fragrances are often used in tasteful splashes to freshen up at regular intervals as they have a weaker longevity compared to the above mentioned perfumes. Eau de Colognes last for about 2 to 3 hours depending on how much cologne is used and how strong it is.

4.5. Eau Fraiche

Eau Fraiche is the perfume with the lightest concentration. There is only 1-3% perfume oil in this type of fragrance. This is the cologne for individuals who enjoy delicate scents that last for short periods of time. An eau fraiche will only last a couple of hours at best. These perfumes are excellent at being subtle yet present, albeit short lived.

4.6. Perfume Oils

A perfume oil is a highly concentrated version of an eau de parfum spray. This from of perfume is a great choice for sensitive skin as it does not have an alcohol base. A small dab of this on your pulse points will make a big impact and is known to last a full 24 hours. Due to perfume oils being so strong, they contain around 20% pure oils. This concentration varies from fragrance to fragrance.

5. Choosing The Most Suitable Fragrance For:

5.1. Our Guide: The Seasons

Cologne is not only meant to please your senses. It’s also meant to make you feel present and in tune with the environment around you.

Think of a dress code. Just like how certain types of clothing are appropriate for certain events, there are fragrances tailored to specific seasons. Given that it is perfectly okay to wear your perfume of choice at any time you desire, it is true that there are olfactory notes suited for specific times of the year.

Some colognes reach their full potential during warm summers. Other fragrances really flourish and impress during winter.

Generally, lighter fragrances are preferred for summer and spring. This is because with heat, perfume notes evaporate quicker due to sweat. Bold, intense aromas become short lived and aren’t as enjoyable.

Summer is therefore the perfect season for fresh, reviving fragrances that allude to bursts of energy and life. Colognes that smell like exotic fruits, citrus notes, aromatic herbs, mint, fragrant florals and aquatic notes are especially popular for warmer seasons. These scents complement the summer season in the best way.

Contrastingly, winter and fall fragrances tend to be warm and inviting. Here, you should opt for an eau de perfum that contains enveloping aromas of patchouli, frankincense, sandalwood, cinnamon, vanilla and other spices.

These notes embrace one’s skin as if in a hug. Gourmand fragrances, which contain notes such as chocolate, coffee and biscuits, are also suitable for cooler weather.

Mid-season fragrances leave a lot one’s own interpretation. For spring, florals and green notes are commonly suggested. These fragrances, much like summer, are lively and refreshing. They represent a time of rebirth and new beginnings.

For autumn, fragrances that contain foresty, woody scents are most suitable. These notes reflect the crisp autumn breeze and fallen leaves. Musky aromas, amber, oakmoss and patchouli are some well-loved notes used fall fragrances.

While associating cologne with the time of year may seem complex, the good news is that the work has already been done for you. Perfume manufacturers keep the seasonal differences in mind when marketing your favorite fragrance. This gives you a vast variety of striking scents to choose from, regardless of the time of year.

5.2. Our Guide: Day And Night

The time of day affects the overall projection of your cologne. This has to do with temperature and humidity.

There are notes suitable for the day and for the evening. These nuances are present in the construction of the fragrance and the olfactory pyramid mentioned previously.

Scents that are better suited for the day focus mostly on the top and middle notes. They continue to emerge throughout the day, leaving you invigorated. Light fresh notes such as white florals, citrus, eucalyptus, mint and many more are perfect for the daytime.

In contrast, more intense and sensual fragrances can be worn in the evenings. These colognes have a focus on deep, heavy, woody aromas. The base notes tend to be more prominent and sophisticated.

They may contain notes of myrrh, patchouli, rum, tobacco, and sandalwood note. These magnetic scents tend to last longer and are bound to impress a romantic partner.
Mens cologne guide - learing cologne to work

6. How To Choose The Perfect Fragrance For You

When looking at men’s colognes from afar, they can be split up into 2 main groups: linear and non-linear fragrances.

A linear fragrance projects the same scent from the moment you apply it until the moment you wash it off. These perfumes are stagnant yet stable and possess few altering notes. Linear perfumes tend to cost less than their pricier counterparts: non-linear perfumes.

Non-linear perfumes have a variety of notes that change gradually throughout the day. This means that the scent differs from beginning to end.

Something to keep in mind when choosing your new scent is that what smells appealing on someone else may not have the same effect on you. This is because everyone’s body chemistry is different.

The skin is composed of different chemical compounds that work together when creating a scent. When perfume and your body’s chemistry mingle together, they produce a scent unique to your individual person. For this reason, it is vital to test a perfume on your skin before purchasing it in large amounts.

This allows you to get a feel of the perfume and all it has to offer without being overly committed. Give your wrist a soft spritz and let the cologne work its magic. Avoid rubbing your wrists together as this destroys the molecular structure of the fragrance itself and alters its scent.  

Like any perfume, the top notes will taper down until it reaches the base notes. This process will give you a good idea of how the perfume will work with your body chemistry. After the first 15 minutes, take some time to evaluate the aroma given off by the cologne.

Here, the fragrance has been given time to reveal more than just its top notes. You’ll also be able to decide if the perfume matches your personal style. This is important as cologne is meant to complement your atmosphere, not overwhelm or dampen it.

Don’t cast smaller brands aside. Often, we find ourselves reaching for the latest designer fragrance with celebrity endorsements in department stores. These big brands sometimes overshadow smaller perfume houses that are just as high quality, if not better.

Be open to colognes that aren’t a part of mainstream perfumery. Who knows, you may just find a gem.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how your cologne makes you feel. Everything about it should instill a sense of self confidence and match your unique character. If it doesn’t, then maybe you haven’t found the right one yet.
how to apply cologne

7. Men's Cologne Guide: Fragrance Application

The application of a fragrance usually isn’t given any mind. For the average man, it’s just spray and go. Don’t be one to make that mistake. There are far more mindful ways of applying your cologne in order to make the best possible impression.

Knowing the sillage and sphere of projection of a fragrance can be extremely useful.

Spray a sample of your chosen fragrance into an odor free room and close the windows. Leave the room and come back every few minutes to gauge the intensity of the scent. If after about 10 minutes the scent still lingers in the air, it means it has a strong sillage and projection.

The sphere of projection describes the distance from which others can smell a fragrance on you. Some people may want a subtle, intimate sphere of projection while others may prefer to have a wider range.

The ideal sphere of projection is a balance between your cologne being intriguing and inviting, yet not overpowering. A sphere that surrounds your upper torso and face is desirable.

This section aims to answer 3 main questions: How should one apply cologne, where should one apply it, and when is the optimal time to apply cologne.

7.1. How To Apply Cologne

Identify the spot where you want to apply your perfume. Hold the bottle a good few centimetres from the area and spray directly onto the skin. Let it dry naturally.

By rubbing the wet cologne, you risk altering the original composition and compromising the intended notes of the fragrance.

One to two spritzes should suffice, depending on the intensity of your cologne. Perfume tends to be better absorbed by oily skin. If your skin is drier, you may need a second spritz.

If you feel engulfed and overpowered by your cologne, it is probably a sign that you’ve gone overboard and applied too much.

You’ve probably seen someone spray a mist of perfume in the air and walk through it in an attempt at looking cool. This, for the most part is ineffective and a waste of cologne.

Avoid spraying cologne directly onto your clothes. Fabric doesn’t yield scent nearly as well as your skin does. It could also damage or stain your clothing.
Man Spraying Cologne open shirt

7.2. Where To Apply Cologne

The most common place to apply cologne is to the sides of your neck, but have you ever wondered why?

This has to do with your body’s pulse points. Areas such as the backs of your ears, the base of your neck, the inner corners of your elbows and your wrists are classified as pulse points.

This is where your blood vessels are closest to the top layer of skin. The heat given off by your pulse points makes a scent seem more intense and noticeable. The most effective pulse points for perfume are found on your neck.

Many men opt for a spritz on the neck and behind the ear. Try alternating across different pulse points to see what works for you.

7.3. When To Apply Cologne

For any perfume to be effective, it has to enter your pores and connect with your body’s natural chemistry.

The optimal time to apply a fragrance is right after coming out of the shower. The warm steam and humidity open the pores of your skin and scents are better absorbed. This ultimately maximizes the impact of your cologne as it is likely to last longer and blend better with your body’s natural scent.

Avoid spraying cologne across sweaty, clammy skin. This is bad for absorption and could result in something unfortunate.

8. How To Store Your Cologne

Like wine in a cellar, the scent of a perfume is dependent on how it is stored. If the environment is unstable and the temperatures are not suitable, your well-loved perfume can spoil and may not be as pleasant as you once recalled.

When a perfume is protected, it can last for years. Even as it experiences natural oxidation, the top notes can still remain bright and crisp and the remainder of the notes can still be as lovely as they were when you first smelled them.

First of all, and most importantly, your perfume should be kept away from direct light and humidity. This includes sunlight and foggy bathrooms. This is because these conditions vary in temperature which can alter the composition of a perfume.

Better storage options include wardrobes, vanities out of direct sunlight and simply keeping your perfume bottle in the original packaging you received it in.

When faced with unavoidable warm temperatures, as experienced summer, you can keep your perfume in the refrigerator during the heat of the day. This neat trick makes your perfume more pleasant to spray and it will evaporate slowly once applied to the skin.

Avoid storing your cologne in plastic bottles. This is problematic as excess heat can cause the plastic to seep into the liquid and compromise the fragrance.

When travelling, it is best to keep your perfume in your hand luggage. The harsh movements that suitcases and extra luggage undergo aren’t ideal for your perfume. It may alter the scent or cause damage to the bottle.

All these tips and tricks seek to preserve your favorite cologne so that you can enjoy its unmistakable scent long after you acquire it.
perfume collection

9. Gifting A Cologne

When choosing a perfume for someone else, it is essential that you make the right decision.

Buying someone a perfume is a personal and thoughtful gift. Therefore you should know the tastes and personality of the recipient. This way you can make the most informed choice on what type of fragrance they’d like best.

Are they the life of the party? Do they enjoy going out in the evenings? If that’s the case, then a spicy aromatic fragrance would be fitting. Are they drawn to fresh, lively scents? Do they like hiking and spending time in nature? If so, then breezy citrus and vibrant green notes are what you should be looking out for.

The vast variety of men’s colognes is astounding. You’re bound to find something that the person you have in mind will appreciate and enjoy. Maybe you’re even tempted to get something for yourself.
man spraying cologne

10. In Conclusion

Our sense of smell is exceptionally powerful. It has a direct connection to our emotions that can’t be overlooked. Happiness, passion, nostalgia.

Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve encountered a scent that carried you to a place and a time you hadn't thought of in years.

All these emotions and memories can be recreated through a well-made men’s fragrance.

Whether you’re on a quest to find a new signature scent or you’re looking to get someone a memorable cologne: there’s a perfect men’s fragrance out there for you. Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts and use what you’ve learned in this men's cologne guide for beginners.

You may wonder what is a good cologne for a young man? There are many to choose from, but I recommend you choose a light and fresh cologne that is easy to wear anywhere.

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