There’s no doubt that we are living in a time of rapid change, economically, socially and politically. Many of the old rules simply don’t apply anymore and the same applies to wearing fragrance, too.
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There used to be a very simple list of do’s and don’ts for fragrance. For example, at its most basic, fresh and citrusy fragrances for summer, warm and spicy fragrances for winter. But do rules like this still apply?
How to Wear Cologne: A Guide for Modern Men
Increasingly, how to wear fragrance is all about modern etiquette, which in itself can be a potential minefield of confusion, misunderstanding and embarrassment.
To help you navigate through these realities, here are some of the new rules of fragrance and a brief reminder of those that will never change.
1. Thou Shalt Wear What You Like, But Be Occasion Appropriate
Firstly, and most importantly, things are a lot more flexible than they used to be, which might irk those who prefer their lives to be more black and white.
Generally, this means that we are now all encouraged to wear whatever fragrance we like. It’s not about following the dictates of fashion and marketing anymore; it’s about personal style and preferences. So if you have a thing for the big and bold fragrances of the 80s, go for it.
Of course, rules always come with qualifiers and caveats (which may even seem contradictory). So while it’s good to indulge in what works for you, it’s also about being occasion appropriate.
That rich and boozy scent might smell like a million dollars on you, but it’s not going to win you any points at a corporate-job interview, for example. This leads us to the following occasion-appropriate rule…
2. Thou Shalt Keep It To Yourself in an Open-Plan Office
The open-plan office is not going away any time soon and has brought with it a multitude of sensitivities, regarding what to eat, how loud to talk, etc.
Your choice of fragrance for the office can become highly contested terrain. If not handled correctly, it could result in one of those managerial emails requesting wearers of “strange” and “exotic” scents to be more sensitive to the olfactory needs of their colleagues.
In short, while others might admire your impeccable “scents of style” at a distance, they don’t necessarily won’t to be exposed to it, in close proximity in an open-plan environment.
So without cramping your personal style, as a guideline, it’s best to tone down your choice of fragrance during office hours. This doesn’t mean nondescript and boring, but do think twice about so-called “beast mode” fragrances if you don’t want to get up the noses of your co-workers.
3. Thou Shalt Not Stick Rigorously to Seasons
This used to be one of the clear-cut rules but, in the new flexi era, is showing signs of becoming more relaxed. If you enjoy wearing citrusy scents in winter, there’s nothing to stop you from doing so. Equally, if you want to wear an oud scent in summer, there’s no reason why you can’t.
"For the most part, a summer scent is a marketing construct, much like the idea of a gendered scent. One can wear any type of scent in any season and have it ‘work,’ depending on the desired effect. Perfume is about fantasy, so finding a scent you want to wear in summer is about figuring out what your fantasy of summer is.” — Helen Fitzgerald,
All of this is done with the knowledge, of course, that certain fragrances will react more to increased levels of heat, humidity and sweatiness.
4. Thou Shalt Not Be a Self-Limiting Fragrance Snob
The biggest growth in the fragrance industry in the last 10 years has been in the niche sector. Unfortunately, it has also been accompanied by the rise of fragrance snobbery, where anything non-niche is considered to be of inferior quality.
It’s far more productive, and ultimately rewarding, to keep an open mind on the kinds of fragrances you’re keen to wear. There’s a lot of mediocrity to be found in every category, from designer and celebrity to budget, but there are also treasures to be found in each.
It would be a pity to limit your fragrance options by being an unbearable snob.
5. Thou Shalt Cross the Gender Divide
While we’re on the subject of improving your options, it’s increasingly acceptable for men to make a detour via the female counters and shelves to buy women's fragrances for themselves.
Women have been buying men’s fragrances for themselves for many years and now adventurous men have the opportunity to make up for what they have been missing out on.
Linked to this is the rise of unisex / shared / gender-neutral fragrances, one of the biggest trends in recent years. Increasingly, men no longer want to be confined by the labels of “for him” and “for her” fragrances and are looking for perfumes that appeal to both genders.
6. Bargain Hunting is Cool
Whichever way you look at it, fragrance is an expensive business, especially on the niche side, so being a savvy consumer is more important than ever.
There’s much hype and a hefty price tag when a big new designer fragrance is launched. If you are willing to wait six months, say, chances are the “hottest new launches” will also become “the best bargains” when discounts become more common.
Niche too expensive for you? There are numerous reputable Facebook swap and purchase groups where niche’s usually higher prices are eminently more negotiable.
And let’s not forget the bargain shelves. They might not be adorned with slick branding materials, but they are a great hunting ground for some surprisingly good celeb scents and long-forgotten classic cheapies.
Old Rules of How to Wear Cologne That Still Apply
Among all the change, it’s reassuring to know that some things remain the same.
1. Less is Still More
It’s very tempting to over-apply fragrance. After all, it is your favourite and everyone should be allowed to smell how good it is on you.
But that all depends on your view of the effect of fragrance on others. To entice and intrigue? Or overpower and dominate? Besides, this would be infringing on the personal space of others.
2. Try New Cologne On Your Skin Before You Buy It
For all sorts of reasons. Fragrance is a luxury purchase, so you don’t want to waste your hard-earned cash on something that doesn’t suit you.
Just because it smells great on a buddy, doesn’t mean it’s going to work on you. You get the picture. Get a sample of the fragrance, use an in-store tester, or use a service like Scentbird to explore new scents.