How To Pick The Right Cologne: Mens Ultimate Guide

how to pick cologne guide

What cologne should I wear? It seems like such a ridiculously simple question. But figuring out how to pick a cologne isn’t always easy as it appears.

Sometimes the right scent could be the difference between your boss giving you the job or not…

Or your lady saying yes or not…

Or you cutting the red wire vs the blue wire!

Ok, so maybe it’s not THAT intense, but it sure is a big deal.

Seriously, embarking on the quest to find the perfect cologne is akin to navigating the high seas in search of treasure; it’s an adventure fraught with mystery, allure, and the occasional whiff of danger.

After all, the right scent doesn’t just whisper; it speaks volumes, tells tales, and can transport you to far-off lands…including the people who come near you.

So, how do you figure out how to pick the right cologne? Well, grab your olfactory map and prepare to dive into the aromatic abyss, because we’re about to embark on a journey through the world of colognes.

As your guide through this mysterious but sensual world, we’ll help you easily figure out the types of fragrance families out there, which cologne fragrance is best for you, the best picks for each season and occasion, and simple tips on how to apply and wear scents like a pro.

Cologne Basics

In the spirited expedition of selecting a cologne, understanding the fundamental elements is akin to mastering the compass and the sextant before setting sail. Let’s dive in.

Navigating Through Notes

how to pick a cologne floral family
Jasmine from the floral family of scents.
Photo by Tanya Nedelcheva

Imagine a cologne as a three-act play, with each act unveiling its own set of characters. (Who doesn’t love a good New York Broadway show?!)

The top notes are the opening act. They’re the first impression, the welcome committee of citrus, lavender, or fresh herbs, lasting but a moment before they graciously step aside.

As the plot thickens, the middle notes, or heart notes, take center stage. These are the floral, fruity, or spicy personalities that give the cologne its body and soul.

Finally, the base notes emerge, the grand finale that lingers long after the curtain falls. These are the rich, deep scents of musk, amber, or vanilla that provide a lasting foundation and depth, ensuring the fragrance’s longevity.

An Introduction to Fragrance Families

how to pick a cologne citrus family
Citrus family of scents.
Photo by Gala Rodriguez

Just as every sea has its unique currents, the world of cologne is categorized into distinct fragrance families, each evoking different moods:

  • There are the fresh, invigorating aquatic and citrus scents that recall brisk mornings by the sea or walks in citrus groves.
  • The floral family blooms with the soft, romantic notes of roses and jasmine.
  • For those inclined towards the warmth and spice of exotic markets, the oriental family offers notes of vanilla, spices, and resin.
  • Then there’s the woody family, grounding us with the earthy, robust aromas of sandalwood and cedar, reminiscent of ancient forests and whispering trees.

The Varying Intensities and Concentration Levels

The strength of a cologne, its potency, and how it wears on your skin, is determined by its concentration, or the ratio of aromatic oils to alcohol and water.

  • Eau de Cologne (EDC) is the most fleeting, a light whisper of scent with a low concentration of oils, perfect for a subtle, refreshing aura.
  • Eau de Toilette (EDT) offers a slightly higher concentration, making it ideal for everyday wear with a balance of lightness and lasting power.
  • For those seeking a more pronounced presence, Eau de Parfum (EDP) stands out with a higher concentration of fragrance oils, ensuring a more enduring scent that weaves through the day and into the night.
  • At the pinnacle of intensity, Parfum (or pure perfume) offers the highest concentration, a potent elixir that unfolds its depths and nuances throughout the wear, marking moments with a memorable sillage.

Fragrance Families

how to choose a cologne woody family
Woodsy family of scents.
Photo by Jan Canty

In the aromatic odyssey of colognes, fragrance families are akin to the cardinal directions on a map. Each family embodies a distinct character and mood, painting olfactory pictures that can transport us to different times, places, and emotions.

Understanding the fragrance families is like learning the language of scent. Here’s what you need to know.


Envision the serene, majestic expanse of a forest at dawn, the air fresh with the scent of earth and wood. The woody family captures this essence, grounding and comforting in its nature.

It’s characterized by the warm, dry aroma of wood notes, such as cedar, sandalwood, and vetiver.

These scents are often rich, opulent, and natural, evoking images of ancient trees, autumn leaves, and smoky firesides. They lend a sturdy, mature foundation to fragrances, making them favorites for their depth and enduring appeal.


The floral family is the lush, blooming garden of the fragrance world, brimming with the romance and delicacy of flowers.

It’s the largest and most diverse family, with scents ranging from the light and delicate whispers of lily of the valley to the deep, intoxicating aroma of roses and jasmine.

Floral fragrances can be singular, focusing on the scent of one particular flower, or they can be a complex bouquet, blending various floral notes to create a harmonious and multifaceted scent.


The oriental (or amber) family invites us into a world of warmth, mystery, and sensuality. It’s a treasure trove of rich, exotic scents derived from spices, resins, and musky vanillas.

Oriental fragrances are often associated with luxury and indulgence, combining sweet and spicy notes with balsamic and powdery undertones to create a sense of depth and intensity.


The fresh family is the burst of energy at the dawn of our fragrant journey, characterized by crisp, clean, and invigorating scents. This family is subdivided into various groups.

  • Aquatic fragrances feature refreshing marine notes reminiscent of ocean breezes and fresh rain.
  • With citrus fragrances, you get bursts of the zesty tang of lemon, bergamot, and other citrus fruits.
  • Green fragrances capture the sharp freshness of freshly cut grass and crisp green leaves.

Factors That Effect How a Cologne Smells on You

how to pick the right cologne
Cologne picking is as personal and unique as you are.

If you’re trying to figure out the answer to the question, “How do I choose the right cologne?” one thing you need to keep in mind is that scents unfold differently on everyone.

Yep, that means the fragrance your friend is wearing may smell amazing on them but not so much on you.

The truth is that several factors come into play, transforming the same cologne into a multitude of different experiences from person to person. Here’s a look at some of the nuances.

Personal Style and Scent Identity

Your personal style is an expression of your identity, and this extends to the fragrance you wear. It’s about finding a scent that resonates with your aesthetic, your mood, and your life philosophy.

Are you drawn to the minimalist elegance of a classic design, or do you revel in the bold patterns of avant-garde fashion? Similarly, do you gravitate towards the clean, crisp notes of a fresh cologne, or are you enchanted by the rich, deep tones of an oriental fragrance?

By understanding your personal style, you can find a family of scents that feels like an extension of yourself. Then, you’ll have a much easier time figuring out how to pick a cologne that’s right for you.

The Chemistry of Scent

Body chemistry plays a pivotal role in how a cologne unfolds on your skin. Factors such as skin type, pH levels, and even hormonal changes can affect the longevity and character of a fragrance.

For instance, oily skin tends to hold and amplify fragrances longer than dry skin, due to the natural oils that mix with and affix the perfume to the skin.

Studies suggest that everyone’s skin has a unique “scent print,” and that can subtly alter the way a fragrance smells. This interplay between the chemistry of the cologne and the chemistry of your skin creates a unique aroma that is entirely your own.

The Influence of Diet and Lifestyle

What you eat and how you live can also impact how a cologne smells on you. Spicy foods, garlic, and strong flavors can secrete through your pores, mingling with your cologne to create a different scent profile. Similarly, smoking and alcohol consumption can alter your natural scent.

For example, this one study showed that a person who ate meat altered their perceived attractiveness (based on scent alone). Another study explored different aspects of a person’s diet and how it played a role in what others thought of their scent.

While those didn’t focus on how a person’s aroma interplayed with fragrances, it does show that diet and lifestyle make a difference.

How to Pick the Right Cologne

popular cologne for men

If you’re trying to figure out how to pick a cologne for beginners, you might think to try one of those how to pick cologne quiz games all over the web. The issue is that a “What kind of cologne should i wear quiz?” can’t tell you everything you need to know.

Why? Because it’s not truly personalized to you and your needs.

On top of that, in many ways, choosing the right cologne is an art form. It’s about more than just finding a scent that appeals to you; it’s about discovering a fragrance that becomes a part of your personal narrative.

Personally a big part of what we think makes a well groomed warrior is a man who has adopted a life philosophy that serves him, his family, and his community well. Your fragrance will be part of that story you live.

Here’s how to navigate the nuanced journey of testing and selecting the cologne that speaks your olfactory language.

Step 1: Initial Impressions with Tester Strips

Begin your adventure in the world of fragrances by using tester strips. These paper strips allow you to get a first impression of the cologne without the influence of your skin chemistry.

Spritz the cologne onto a strip and give it a gentle wave in the air to let the alcohol dissipate, revealing the true essence of the top notes. If you wait a bit, you can start to explore the middle and the base notes, too.

Step 2: Skin Test for a Personal Touch

After a scent catches your interest on a tester strip, it’s time to see how it unfolds on your skin. Apply a small amount to your wrist or the inside of your elbow—areas where the skin is warmer and more likely to reveal the cologne’s true character.

Skin testing is crucial, as your body’s natural oils, inherent aroma, and pH will interact with the fragrance, making it uniquely yours.

Step 3: The Waiting Game

Patience is key in fragrance selection. After you apply it to your skin, allow the cologne to settle for at least 30 minutes to an hour. That way, you have the opportunity to experience the heart and base notes as they develop over time.

Step 4: Gauging Longevity and Sillage

Longevity refers to how long the scent lasts on your skin, while sillage is about the trail of scent left in your wake.

A good cologne will transition smoothly between its notes while maintaining a presence that feels comfortable and natural to you. Additionally, it’ll be detectable at a slight distance from where it’s applied.

Keeping an Open Mind and Senses Clear:

Approach cologne testing with an open mind and a willingness to explore various scent profiles. Your olfactory preferences can evolve, and a fragrance that may not have appealed to you at first sniff could unfold beautifully on your skin.

However, be mindful not to overwhelm your senses. Limit your testing to a few fragrances per visit, and cleanse your palate with something neutral, like coffee beans, between scents.

How to Try Cologne Before Buying

how to try a cologne before buying magazine
Mens fashion magazines are a great place to find fragrance samples Photo by David Lezcano

So, how do you try cologne before buying? Well, you have a few options. Here’s a look at a few of the simplest ways to explore fragrances.

Department Stores and Boutiques

When it comes to how to get men’s cologne samples or where to go to try out a fragrance, department stores and boutiques are the perfect starting point. High-end department stores often have tester bottles for customers to try. 

And don’t hesitate to ask the sales associates for samples; they’re usually more than happy to provide small vials for free.

Online Requests and Promotions

Many fragrance brands and beauty retailers offer free samples as part of their online marketing strategies, especially when launching new scents.

Keep an eye on the websites of your favorite brands and sign up for their newsletters to stay informed about sample giveaways and promotional events. Social media platforms are also a great place to discover sample offers, as brands frequently have giveaways for their followers.


Many magazines that focus on fashion and men’s lifestyle topics contain cologne magazine samples. You can find out which ones do by checking out the latest issue in a store. Once you determine which magazines have samples, you can purchase them to try out the fragrances they feature.

Subscription Sample Programs

The rise of subscription-based services has made it easier than ever to explore a wide range of colognes at a minimal cost. These services send out curated selections of samples based on your preferences, allowing you to test different fragrances each month.

Which Cologne Should You Wear?

Selecting the right cologne goes beyond personal preference; it’s about choosing a fragrance that harmonizes with the context of your activities, the season, and even the time of day.

Choosing the Right Scent for the Occasion

Professionalfresh, clean, citrus, aquaticAcqua di Gio by Giorgio Armani
Casual, socialwoody, or greenBleu de Chanel
Active, gymlight, citrusy, greenL’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme by Issey Miyake
Evening, formaloriental, spicy, amber, vanillaSpicebomb by Viktor & Rolf
Romantic, date nightmusk, soft woods, with subtle floralLa Nuit de L’Homme by Yves Saint Laurent

In professional settings, subtlety is key. Opt for fresh, clean scents with citrus or aquatic notes that convey a sense of crispness and efficiency without overwhelming your colleagues. A classic example would be a light, aromatic cologne like Acqua di Gio by Giorgio Armani, known for its fresh, aquatic notes that are both invigorating and understated.

For day-to-day activities or casual social gatherings, you have the freedom to express more personality. Woody or green fragrances that blend freshness with a hint of earthiness are perfect for these laid-back moments. Consider something like Bleu de Chanel, which offers a sophisticated blend of woods and herbs, versatile enough for various casual settings.

which cologne should you wear
Theres a cologne for every kind of occasion.
Photo by Edwin Chen

As the sun sets and it’s time for an evening event, richer, more complex scents come into play. Oriental or spicy fragrances with notes of amber, vanilla, or exotic spices set a warm, inviting tone for evening wear. Spicebomb by Viktor & Rolf, with its explosion of spicy and woody notes, makes a bold statement that’s perfect for capturing attention at night.

Romantic settings call for colognes that evoke warmth and sensuality. Fragrances with a base of musk, soft woods, or subtle floral touches can create an intimate and appealing aura. La Nuit de l’Homme by Yves Saint Laurent stands out with its hints of cardamom and cedar, crafting a mysterious and seductive trail ideal for romantic evenings.

While many might choose to forgo cologne at the gym, a light, energizing scent can enhance your workout experience. Citrusy, green scents with a refreshing vibe can be uplifting during exercise. A cologne like L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme by Issey Miyake, known for its citrus and spicy notes, offers a subtle, revitalizing presence.

When to Wear and Not to Wear Cologne

when to wear a cologne special event
Special events are a great time to showcase your signature scent. Photo by Álvaro CvG

When to Wear:

  • Personal and Social Gatherings: Cologne can enhance personal interactions, making social gatherings and intimate occasions ideal moments to wear a chosen scent.
  • Professional Meetings: A subtle fragrance can convey a sense of professionalism and attention to detail in business settings.
  • Special Events: Weddings, parties, and formal events are perfect opportunities to wear a more distinctive cologne that complements your attire and the occasion.

When Not to Wear:

  • Sensitive Environments: Hospitals, small offices, or anywhere scent sensitivities might be an issue require discretion. In these settings, it’s best to forgo cologne.
  • High Heat and Humidity: Strong fragrances can become overpowering in hot and humid conditions, so it’s wise to choose lighter scents or apply sparingly.
  • When in Doubt: If you’re unsure about the appropriateness of wearing cologne to a certain event or setting, it’s safer to err on the side of caution and not wear it.

How to Apply Cologne

how to apply cologne properly

Now that you know how to pick cologne for guys, it’s time to answer another critical question: what’s the best way to apply cologne? Should you spray cologne and walk into it? And how do you figure out how to apply cologne without spray capabilities?

The idea of spraying cologne into the air and walking through the mist might seem wise. However, this method can lead to a lot of waste and uneven distribution of the fragrance. Most of the cologne ends up settling on the floor rather than on your skin. For a more deliberate approach, direct application is recommended.

Spraying cologne directly onto the skin is the most effective way to wear it. The optimal distance for spritzing is about 3-6 inches away from the skin. Target pulse points like the wrists, the base of the throat, behind ear lobes, and even the inner elbows.

Not all colognes come in spray bottles; some might be in dabber bottles or solid forms. For liquid colognes, simply dab a finger over the opening, tip the bottle to get a small amount on your fingertip, and then apply to pulse points. For solid colognes, use your fingertip to warm and transfer the product to your skin.

Practical Tips for Cologne Care and Storage

how to store cologne not in bathroom
Bathrooms are the worst place to store your cologne fragrances. Photo by Jared Rice

Just as a fine wine needs the right conditions to age gracefully, colognes require proper care and storage to maintain their integrity and longevity. Understanding how to safeguard your scents is crucial, especially as you learn how to organize cologne or how to start a cologne collection.

Shielding from Light

Sunlight and even strong artificial light can break down the complex molecules in cologne, leading to changes in the scent profile and potency. To protect your fragrances, store them in cool, dark places.

Avoiding Heat and Humidity

Heat can accelerate the degradation of cologne, while humidity can introduce moisture into the bottle, diluting the fragrance and potentially leading to mold.

Bathrooms are one of the worst places for colognes due to fluctuating temperatures and high humidity! Instead, consider a bedroom or a climate-controlled part of your home.

Proper Handling and Storage

Keep the bottle upright to prevent leaks and ensure the cap is securely fastened to minimize air exposure. If you end up with a collection, consider investing in a dedicated storage solution like a fragrance organizer or display cabinet.

Understanding Shelf Life

Most colognes have a shelf life of 3 to 5 years from the date of opening, though this can vary based on composition and storage conditions. Signs that a cologne may have expired include noticeable changes in the scent, a shift in the color of the liquid, or a decrease in potency.

If your cologne starts to smell sour or simply “off,” it’s likely time to retire it from your collection.


In the quest for the perfect cologne, we’ve explored the intricacies of fragrance families, the importance of compatibility with one’s personal style and chemistry, and the consideration of various occasions and settings. Selecting the right cologne is a personal journey that complements your unique presence and style.

Yes, this may have been alot of information and a bit overwhelming. But its ok. Take your time! Embrace the exploration, allowing your senses and preferences to guide you to a scent that truly resonates with who you are.

The right cologne is more than just a fragrance; it’s a reflection of your individuality, your philosophy and an enhancement to your personal narrative. The man you are and you want to be. Enjoy the journey and discover the scent that speaks your language.

In the end, figuring out how to pick a cologne isn’t as challenging as it seems. So, if you’re wondering, “What’s your fragrance personality, and what cologne is right for me?” now you know how to work it out and get started!


Should Guys Wear Cologne Every Day?

While there’s nothing wrong with wearing cologne every day, there’s no rule saying you have to either. Ultimately, whether you want to put on fragrance is a personal decision, so consider the occasion to determine if a scent is appropriate and then do what feels right to you.

What Is a Popular Men’s Cologne?

There are many popular men’s colognes. Some of the most frequently purchased include Dior Sauvage, YSL La Nuit de L’Homme, and Chanel Bleu de Chanel. However, popularity shouldn’t be the only thing you consider when choosing a fragrance, so keep that in mind.

Chief Editor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share to...