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The mistakes you shouldn’t make (but probably do) when you buy men’s cologne

Smell great with confidence by avoiding these mistakes

mens cologne on black satin
Varavin88 / Shutterstock

Every man should have a grooming routine that involves some key elements. They should clean their skin, deodorize it, and moisturize it. One of the last steps to any good grooming routine is to apply the right kind of cologne to finish off their morning and prepare for their day. Of course, buying the right cologne is the first step and can sometimes get overwhelming. It is also easy to overcomplicate it. Here at The Manual, we make it our business to take the overcomplicated and simplify it so you can keep the world running.

First things first: cologne is a deep world of chemistry, style, and knowledge, so this isn’t going to make you an expert by the time you are finished reading. However, this is a jumping-off point for things to remember and keep in mind when you are shopping. Here are the top five mistakes to avoid when you are buying men’s cologne.

Don’t be fooled by fancy bottles

Man applies perfume and smells fragrance
Oleg Breslavtsev / Adobe Stock

Think back to the last time you went shopping for anything. Marketing companies are experts at drawing your eyes to the things that are masculine and cool. Skulls, leather, and chrome draw a man’s eyes to the shelf every single time. As a matter of fact, we’re pretty sure that was the main draw for a movie like The Expendables. There is just something overly masculine about certain aesthetics, and we are suckers for it every time.

With that in mind, when you set out to buy cologne, you will notice that fragrance companies are just as tuned to the male gravitation to these tropes as anyone. You are likely to run into many brands utilizing eye-catching packaging to entice you to open your wallet. It is important you do a little research on the brands that align with who you are, read reviews, and go in with a little bit of an idea of the products you want to test out.

Don’t fatigue your nose

Young and handsome bearded man is using atomizer nozzle with perfume
blackday / Adobe Stock

Speaking of testing things out, there is a such thing as too much. Have you ever gone shopping for a car and gotten so tired that all of them looked and felt the same? Have you ever listened to music for so long that you just spaced out and missed entire songs? How about reading a book and missing entire chapters? Your nose is similar. It can get fatigued, and when you begin to test out too many colognes, you will start to get lost in unknown or similar scents.

The best way to fight this is to go in with a plan. Tell the salesperson what notes you like (if you have any). You can be as vague as you want and say something as simple as “I like musky, woodsy smells.” Or you can get a little more specific and tell them your friend wears John Varvatos Heritage, and you want something similar. Maybe even tell them you have an event or are starting a new job, and there is a specific impression you want to make. Either way, going in with a plan will keep you from doing too much too soon and fatiguing your olfactory nerves.

Don’t ignore your soap and deodorant

A person spraying cologne on themselves.
Tiko Aramyan / Shutterstock

Cologne isn’t the only product you will put on your body that will have a scent to it. And some of these scents will have a stronger fragrance than others. That means there is a good likelihood (especially once the top notes wear off) that your fragrances will start to combat each other if you don’t find ways for them to work together.

The first and likely the strongest fragrance you will apply to your body is your soap. Brands like Dr. Squatch are known for fragrant soaps that leave you smelling fresh and clean. Then, adding your deodorant creates another layer of strong scents. Then you have aftershave, hair products and more. One of the best ways to keep these fragrances from warring with each other is to stick to unscented soaps and deodorants to really let your colognes speak. You can also look into companies like Fulton & Roark, which develop sets of soaps, deodorants, oils, and colognes.

Don’t forget the mid and base notes

man spraying cologne
Ushindi Namegabe/Pexels / Ushindi Namegabe/Pexels

Now, here is where it can get complicated. It is easy to go into a store, spray the scent you are interested in on a sheet of paper and decide whether or not you like the smell. There is one problem with that approach, though: what you are smelling is going to be gone likely before anyone else even smells you. That is what is called the top note, and it evaporates in the first five to fifteen minutes. So, you need to pay attention to the mid and bottom notes (also called the heart and the base notes).

The heart notes are a little deeper and will evaporate a little slower, giving you about an hour’s worth of fragrance. That makes those scents with the heart notes you like perfect for events or date nights. The base notes are the workhorses of the fragrance. They are going to last closer to an entire workday, which means these are oftentimes the scents you need to focus on. When shopping for a fragrance, pay much more attention to the base and the heart notes than you do the top notes.

Don’t pigeonhole yourself

Cologne bottles
Erik Mclean / Pexels

How many colognes do you need? Do you need a signature scent? The answers to those questions are simple. However many you want and not at all. You need however many colognes to fit your lifestyle. You may be the kind of man who likes one scent at all times and, therefore, only needs one cologne, effectively making it your signature scent. You may be the kind of man who wants one office fragrance and one evening fragrance. Or maybe you want one of those for every season of the year. You could also be the guy who wants a cologne for specific moods, outfits, days of the week, or whatever strikes you at the moment. One, two, eight, or fifty, your collection is about you.

The important thing to remember is not to pigeonhole yourself. Make sure you keep your mind open. Even if the bottle says it’s perfume and is “made for women,” scents are androgynous. You may find something you’re not expecting that speaks to you. Don’t keep yourself boxed into one pathway for your cologne. Have fun, branch out, and smell great.

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Mark McKee
Mark is a full-time freelance writer and men's coach. He spent time as a style consultant and bespoke suit salesman before…
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