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Finding Your Signature Scent: How To Choose A Cologne (The Traditional Wet Shaver Has An Advantage!)

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How do you find your signature scent? What blend of scent notes is your perfect match in a man’s cologne? It may not be as difficult as it may first seem, particularly for the man who’s already into traditional wet shaving. But it does need a little research and a game plan. I’ll walk you through each step of buying men’s cologne as a wet shaver so you don’t feel overwhelmed with the process.

The Inspiration For This Article

The inspiration for this article is the launch of Mission Fragrances by my friend Antonio Centeno of Real Men Real Style. Mission Fragrances officially launched on 27 December 2021 and Antonio scent me a pre-launch sample of the fragrances, which got me to thinking about the subject.

The WHY Of A Signature Scent

A signature scent is a one that captures the identity of the person wearing it. A man should have a signature scent because it is representative of his personality, character, or style. It can be an essential accessory that makes him feel confident and sexy.

A man’s fragrance can be considered as part of his personal brand because it’s something that people remember about him.

The process of finding one’s signature scent can be a little frustrating, which is why I will give you some tips on how to find the right fragrance for you.

The “Mechanics” Of Fragrance

The internet is replete with detailed information and discussions about fragrance–a simple search engine query will return enough data to keep you occupied for days. But for the purposes of this article, let’s summarize the important points on the basics of fragrance.  Then I’ll go into the selection process.

As you read and research you will find that there are different longevities to fragrance:

However for the purposes of this article I’m going to use the term “cologne” as a generic reference.

It’s also important to note that an individual’s natural body chemistry plays an important role. A particular fragrance product’s scent will smell slightly (or even not-so-slightly) different on different people. That’s why actually testing a fragrance product on yourself over a period of time is an important part of the signature scent selection process.

Describing A Perfume Fragrance

The most sensible way to start describing a perfume is according to the fragrance notes of the scent–and the “family” it belongs to–all of which affect the overall impression of a fragrance from first application to the last lingering hint of scent.

From Wikipedia:

“Perfume is described in a musical metaphor as having three sets of notes, making the harmonious scent accord. The notes unfold over time, with the immediate impression of the top note leading to the deeper middle notes, and the base notes gradually appearing as the final stage. These notes are created carefully with knowledge of the evaporation process of the perfume.”

Some also call this a scent pyramid.

Top Notes

Top notes: Also called the head notes. These are the scents that are perceived immediately on application of a perfume. Top notes consist of small, light molecules that evaporate quickly. They form a person’s initial impression of a perfume and thus are very important in the selling of a perfume.

Middle Notes

Middle notes: Sometimes referred to as “heart notes.” Scent of a perfume that emerges just prior to the dissipation of the top note. Compounds which form the “heart” or main body of a perfume, masking the often unpleasant initial impression of base notes which become more pleasant with time.

Base Notes

The scent of a perfume that appears close to the departure of the middle notes are referred to as the base notes. The base and middle notes together are the main theme of a perfume. Base notes bring depth and solidity to a perfume. Compounds of this class of scents are typically rich and “deep” and are usually not perceived until 30 minutes after application.

(Image via Depositphotos)

Fragrance Families

Fragrance families can be difficult to put in order as not all fit into a single category. A good example of this are “single flower” perfumes. These perfumes may contain other aromatics such as natural plant extracts or synthetic molecules. There is no way to definitively say that a certain perfume falls into a certain family: it’s a starting point to describe a fragrance, but may not fully characterize it.

“Classic” Fragrance Categories

Traditional categories emerged over 100 years ago:

Amber or “Oriental”: Large class featuring sweet, slightly animalic scents often combined with, flowers and woods.

Chypre: fragrances built on bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum. Named after oakmoss scent (chypre powder), popularized with the success of François Coty‘s Chypre (1917).

Floral Bouquet: A combination of several flower scents.

Fougère Meaning fern in French, built on a base of lavender, coumarin, and oakmoss, with a sharp herbaceous and woody scent. Many men’s fragrances belong to this family.

Leather: A family of fragrances featuring honey, tobacco, wood and wood tars in the middle or base notes and a scent that alludes to leather.

Single Floral: Fragrances dominated by a particular flower.

Woody: Fragrances dominated by woody scents, typically agarwood, sandalwood, cedarwood, and vetiver. Patchouli, with its strong, almost “medicinal” smell, is commonly found in these scents.

“Modern” Fragrance Categories

New categories have emerged since World War II to describe modern scents due to both advances in the technology perfumery and the evolution of cultural trends, styles, and tastes:

Aquatic, Oceanic, Ozonic: The newest category, first appearing in 1988 Davidoff Cool Water (1988), Christian Dior Dune (1991). A clean smell reminiscent of the ocean, leading to many androgynous perfumes. Generally contains calone, a synthetic discovered in 1966, or more recent synthetics. Also used to accent floral, oriental, and woody fragrances.

Bright Floral: Combining Single Floral & Floral Bouquet traditional categories.

Citrus: An older fragrance family that was once mainly composed of “freshening” eau de colognes, due to the volatility of citrus scents. However, with the development of newer, more longer-lasting citrus fragrances, this is no longer the case.

Fruity: Featuring fruits other than citrus, such as black currant, peach, mango, etc.

Green: A lighter, more modern interpretation of Chypre , with pronounced notes of cut grass, crushed green leaf and cucumber-like scents.

Gourmand: Scents designed to resemble food flavors.

Other Considerations On How To Choose Cologne

That “signature scent” you’re looking for may not be appropriate in all circumstances–you may end up deciding on several scents depending on several factors. Here are some things to consider.


Fragrances are often seasonal, with lighter scents for the summer and heavier, muskier scents for the winter. Cedar, leather, and spices are common notes in winter fragrances, while citrus, herbs, and light woods are often used in summer scents.


When deciding which fragrance to wear, think about the time of day and what type of occasion it is. Lighter, fresher scents such as citrus, florals and oceanics are more suited for the day, while richer, more intense fragrances with a heavier base such as woods and orientals are better for the evening.


Your sense of smell evolves as you age, so younger men generally prefer sweeter scents, while older men prefer heavier, spicier fragrances.


Your personality is unlikely to be summed up in one word. Most colognes are a blend of different categories, although one is more dominant than the other. Before you buy, think about what kind of guy you are and what scent you prefer. Choose a cologne that you feel comfortable in and wear it with confidence. Take advice from others but remember that the final choice is up to you and your preferences. Check out this Sharpologist article for some additional guidance.

How To Choose A Cologne Step By Step

The best way to find a fragrance is to test to determine if it complements your natural body odor in person over the period of a day. Here’s the process:

1. Note The Shave Soap/Cream Scents You Like

Here is where the old-school, traditional wet shaver has an advantage over everyone else: you already have a head-start on the fragrances you prefer! Make a list of your favorite wet shaving product scents. You may find a variety of different scents you like and that’s fine–for now just list them with a relative indication of how much you like the scent.

If you’re reading this without the advantage of being a traditional wet shaver (hey, take a look around Sharpologist! You may discover a new passion…) there is a how to choose a perfume quiz available at Men’s Health that you may find beneficial.

2. Match Your Favorite Shave Scents To Fragrance Categories

Check the manufacturer/artisan description of your favorite shave creams and soaps (or the results of the quiz from the previous section) for clues to the type or family of fragrance(s) it belongs to. Keep in mind that a brand that has the same name for a shave product and a cologne (Truefitt And Hill’s Grafton line, for a random example) may have slightly different scent profiles.

3. Narrow Down To A Limited Group Of Fragrance Families You Might Like

At this point you’re just looking for a couple broad ideas of scent families that might appeal to you: say, one for Summer and one for Winter, or one for day and another for evening, depending on your circumstances.

4. Get Data On Fragrance Products That Fit Your Preferences, Availability, And Price Range

Probably the most difficult part of this process will be researching actual products that not only fit your scent preferences but are also available locally (important for the next step) and at a price your are comfortable with. Some judicious search engine queries should help you find resources (like Basenotes) to help. If you want a quick-and-dirty idea of popular scents check out THIS post about some of the most popular scents right now and THIS post about the most popular men’s scents of all time, both from Bespoke Unit.

5. Try Specific Fragrances With “Sampling Sessions”

This will probably be the most time-consuming part of finding your signature scent(s). It’s easy to get overwhelmed with an “olfactory overload” by trying to smell too many products at once. I recommend trying a maximum of four products (just two would be better) during any one sampling session.

You will not be buying anything during a sampling session. Ask for a sample spritz to one part of one arm (inner wrist or inner elbow–hence the maximum of four products)

Avoid those little cards the department store clerk gives you to smell colognes: you’ll smell just the top notes and not how it smells on you over the course of a day.

Try to smell all the notes. As I have explained you can expect the scent to change over the next few hours. Get the opinions of some people you trust (who will not be afraid to give you their honest feedback) on how the scent works on you. It may be helpful to take notes on your phone or journal as to which you (and they) like and why.

“Rinse and repeat.” Wait a day or two before continuing with your scent discovery process. When you go to your next sampling session be sure to make sure you are clean (take a bath/shower beforehand) and wear clean clothes so you can get a more accurate reading on product performance.

6. Make The Purchase(s)

Purchase the smallest bottle of your winning scent(s) and start to wear it. Wearing a fragrance is a journey, not a destination: don’t feel you have to get it perfect with your first (or tenth) buy.

How To Put Cologne On

What’s the correct way to apply cologne? Follow these guidelines:

  • Apply to clean, dry skin (right after a shower is a great idea)
  • Apply to “pulse points”–wrist, neck, perhaps the chest.
  • Hold the spray bottle three-to-six inches from the skin
  • Spray once or twice only.–don’t over-do it–and don’t rub it in.


Choosing a your signature scent is about more than just smelling nice. It’s about developing that “certain something” that makes you memorable to the people you meet, and immediately adds a sense of professionalism.


Shave tutor and co-founder of sharpologist. I have been advocating old-school shaving for over 20 years and have been featured in major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Lifehacker. Also check out my content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!View Author posts

1 thought on “Finding Your Signature Scent: How To Choose A Cologne (The Traditional Wet Shaver Has An Advantage!)”

  1. I think using samples on a trial and error basis is the best way to go. Once you have found two which really fit you, run with them. I have a cologne for daytime usage and as well as one for nighttime. I keep a bottle of my day cologne at the office and apply it right before lunch (I advise against applying cologne on the jugular area immediately after shaving). I will use my darker scented one if I have plans for the evening. Using cologne really perks you up and makes you feel better about yourself.

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