Cologne is the second, most important thing a man can wear. Long after people forget what you wore and your smile (the third, most important thing a man can wear), your scent will linger. But your scent shouldn’t be intrusive, like an unwanted dinner guest who won’t leave. And it also shouldn’t conjure up memories of your partner’s granddad or the boys in 7th grade who loved to bathe in Axe and Old Spice after P.E. Here’s how to navigate the fragrance counter like a pro using the 5 W’s.

Who am I trying to impress? In the words of men’s lifestyle blogger Everett Williams, “Picking a cologne is like picking a car. Think of the lifestyle of the scent you want to portray to people.” What impression do you want to leave behind? Think sensuality vs success. Also, think about how the scent will complement your personality. Are you more light and carefree or bold and enticing? Your scent should reflect that.

What time of year is it? The cologne you wear in the winter should be different than what you wear in the summer. In the summer, your body temperature is at a constant high and the scent on your body is radiating off of you. That’s why you often see brands offer a summer or light version during this time of year. In the summer, look for light, crisp and floral scents. No, you won’t smell like your grandmother on her way to Bible study. After the scents mix with your skin, they’ll still be masculine and prominent. In the winter, ask the sales rep to show you something warm with amber and cinnamon with a touch of spice. Stay away from scents that are too peppery. Like pleated pants, they don’t work for anyone.

Where are you wearing it? Think about where you are wearing the scent. What’s the occasion? Wedding? Interview? First date? For daytime activities, scents with light and citrus notes are best. They are sweet, calm but make an impression without being invasive. Don’t be afraid of words like floral and citrus. They are still masculine – especially if you wear them while you crush a beer can on your head, bruh. Just kidding. But as you probably know, scents mix with your skin and will show up on you just as you are.

Quick side bar and pro tip: when shopping for cologne, I like to start there first, smell a few, try on the one I like best, browse the store for a bit and come back and see how it jives with me. Is it still there? Does it still smell good now that it’s been on me for a while? Make this your new approach.

When am I wearing it? The scent you wear at night is much different than the one you wear during the day. Nighttime fragrances typically have richer, bolder notes that are usually warm and sometimes heavy. Sounds great, but in an office, the scent can show up like a drunk uncle at a BBQ who’s had too many and still hasn’t paid you back for that $50 you let him hold real quick – overbearing, obnoxious and sloppy. Brands make it easy by having day and night options, but untrained guys think the nighttime is for the day, and that’s not okay. Go for light, citrus-based colognes for your daytime adventures.

Why am I wearing cologne? Our sense of smell is closely linked to our memory. And you want to be remembered – after that interview, after that first date, after that one night stand. That said, you want to be remembered for the right reason, so take your time and find the right scent for you and you’ll stay on their mind long after you’ve left them.


Lamar Dawson is a pop culture junkie living in Manhattan. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook.

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