Polo for Men was my signature cologne for about a decade until one day a coworker showed up at work smelling absolutely fantastic. I knew I had to get that cologne which turned out to be Calvin Klein’s Eternity. Eternity was my signature cologne for years after.
Like me decades earlier, Philip’s developing interest in cologne has operated in lockstep with his developing interest in girls. During one of his early dances, Philip wore cologne for the first time by borrowing my Eternity. Later, Philip chose a brand of cologne by himself when Philip and I were at the mall updating his wardrobe. That cologne was Fierce by Abercrombie & Fitch. Months later, Philip still likes Fierce, but he has also concluded that it is too intense for most situations. I also enjoy the smell of Fierce on myself but know it smells like something too young for me in most social venues.
Our joint experience with Fierce has compelled me to do some anecdotal research in an effort to find colognes both for myself and for Philip. So while I normally do not publish anything resembling advice, I am going to make this an exception. Whether you are a teenage guy or somebody shopping for one, here is what I have learned shopping for my straight teenage son.
Men’s Scents are Designed Primarily for Adults. This should be no surprise. What it means is that only a few will work for a teenager. Adults want to come across as older, younger, braver, smarter, more masculine, more gentle, more sophisticated, or more of something else. Of these, I see only two objectives that truly apply to a teenage guy. A teenage guy should look for a scent that presents him as both masculine and approachable. The ideal straight guy is a healthy mixture of both beast and scholar.
Don’t Ever Wear the Cheap Stuff. Philip has heard it more than once. He’ll be sitting with a group of girls during lunch and one of them will say, “Ugh! Some guy just walked by wearing Axe.” Unless you are still in Middle School, the cheap stuff will do more harm than good.
Skip Branding Associated with Hard Liquor. You will see names with Rum, Bourbon and
Avoid Extremely Pungent Scents. There is a whole category of men’s colognes that seem to be targeting accountants, computer programmers and other “geeks” among adult men who want a strong scent to make them smell and feel much more beastly and much less scholarly than they are in their professional lives. In my experience one out of every three men’s colognes fit into this category. While these colognes might work well for their target segment among adults, they simply smell nasty on teenage guys. If the name of a cologne conjures up images of an action hero, it is probably one of these. Any of the Hugo Boss colognes (such as Hugo) and Azzaro’s Chrome are examples if you would like to do some shopping for your Research Scientist.
Avoid Heavily Citrus or Floral Scents. At the other end of the spectrum is a whole category of men’s colognes that seem to be targeting adult men in traditionally masculine, physically-oriented professions like construction or firefighting who want a scent that will make them smell and feel much more scholarly and much less beastly. While these might work well for that segment of adults, they simply smell effeminate on teenage guys. Carrolina Herrera’s 212 is an example if you want to do some shopping for your Gunnery Sergeant.
Avoid Branding that Communicates Sophistication. These are scents that are targeting men who want to come across as older or worldlier. If the branding message is too far off base for a teenage guy, odds are the actual scent is far off base as well. It is one thing for a teenager to smell like a twenty-something or even an early-thirty-something. But a teenager who smells like a he is forty or older smells ridiculous. Avoid Black and Silver spin-offs of signature labels and be cautious of any Black or Silver name.
Some Scents Fade Quickly or Change Over Time. When first investigating a scent, spray it onto your wrist at a store and then continue shopping. Avoid smelling your wrist for ten minutes and then sniff. What you smell after ten minutes is what and how strong the cologne will smell on you. If investigating multiple colognes, spray them onto the hard paper sticks or cards that are provided at the store. Write the name of the cologne onto the paper and do not smell it for five minutes. In my experience, roughly one out of every three men’s colognes will fade significantly sitting on hard paper for five minutes which means they will not last for even an hour on a man’s skin. Also, use the coffee grind they have at the cologne counter to clear your nose between sniffs. Before buying, you’ll need to do the ten minute wrist test to be certain.
Be Cautious With Branding that Communicates Youth. Here’s where the selection process will finally depend upon your olfactory prowess and personal preferences. Some youth branding is for older adults who want to smell younger. Such scents will simply smell wrong on a teenager. Many but not all of these are the Blue spin-off of a signature brand. Other youth-oriented branding includes words like Aqua and Sport names and spin-offs. Aqua Di Gio is actually one of my recommendations.
If It Looks Good, Smell It. One should never purchase cologne based upon the name, the box or the bottle. One buys the scent. But if something about what you see attracts you, it may be the result of a lot of marketing research designed to attract the right person. Unfortunately, it may also be the result of a lot of marketing research designed to attract as many people as possible. As always, let your own assessment of the scent be your primary guide.
The Established Signature Labels Tend to be the Best. If a brand of cologne has been around for a long time, people have been purchasing it for a long time because it smells good to a lot of people including both the people who wear it and the people who smell them wearing it. It may smell good to you too. If it does, wear it. Many people will like the way it smells on you.
Have a Handful of Colognes in the Cabinet. If you wear cologne as a teenager, you are already among the minority. If you wear the same one every time or even every time you wear cologne, people will notice and some of them will get sick of it the same way they would if you wore the same sweatshirt every day. If you mix it up just a little, you’ll be interesting.
Too Much Cologne is a Turn-Off. Be careful not to overdo it, especially in school. If you put on four or more sprays before you leave for school, the whole first period classroom will smell it before the bell rings for second period. While you will not notice the scent within five minutes of spraying it on, everyone else will notice it whenever you show up. Before school, keep it to one squirt. And never do more than for four squirts if you are going to be around people who might judge you negatively for wearing too much cologne. If you really like the scent, indulge in that enjoyment by spraying your wrists and pillow right before you go to bed.
Shop at Stores but Do Most of Your Purchasing Online. Cologne is expensive. You can save twenty-five dollars or more per bottle by purchasing online, even after shipping. But you cannot smell cologne over the internet. I have made it a personal policy to only test colognes at stores at which I do business. When I buy a new pair of pants, I test out a new brand of cologne. If I want to test out multiple new colognes, only then will I make my cologne purchase at that store.
Buy the Smallest Container Possible. Colognes have a short shelf life. Even when a bottle twice the size is only 20% more expensive, you need to consider shelf life. This is another reason to buy online. The online store will generally have the smaller sizes available. If the last spray from a small bottle is still fresh, go ahead and buy a bigger bottle next time.
Check Out the Generic Brands<. There are plenty of rip-off imitations out there, but there are plenty of good values as well. I once purchased a six ounce bottle of cologne from a lady selling them in a parking lot. On the clipboard she was carrying was a generic brand of cologne that was listed as similar to Eternity. She had a tester in her trunk and I thought it smelled good, so I bought a six ounce bottle for ten dollars. In my opinion it smelled just a little bit better than Eternity, but I think it was because it had a much longer shelf life than brand name Eternity even though the bottle was twice the size. My final spray from that generic cologne smelled great.
Consider Buying Essential Oils. Colognes are scented oils dissolved in alcohol. Depending on the ratio of alcohol to oil, a men’s cologne scent can last one to four hours. Essential oils will not ever fill the room with your scent, but the scent of them will last all day. Like the generic cologne I bought years ago, some essential oil blends are meant to be similar to name brand colognes. And they are also much less expensive than those colognes. In short, it is worth trying them out.
And finally, these are the colognes I recommend for teenage guys. With this list, I will also break from my normal convention and update it from time to time as Philip and I gain more experience with men’s colognes. These assessments are mainly mine, but I may be borrowing some of the wording from the brand’s own marketing material or the reviews of knowledgeable or well established critics if I find myself in agreement.
#1 - Joop (by Joop) Joop‘s only problem is a name and color that will put most teenage guys on their guard. Hide it in your medicine cabinet and your signature scent will be a treasured secret. Joop is not as well known as some of the other colognes that made my list, but it has certainly stood the test of time and is easily found at any well-stocked cologne counter. A teenage guy who wears Joop will distinguish himself from nearly everyone else. Joop has a dominant spicy scent like all the more masculine scents listed here, but that spicy scent is augmented with a very well crafted set of fresh fruit notes. Joop lasts a very long time, though the fresh fruit notes seem to fade a little faster than the spice notes. Lifespan: 5/5; 55% Masculine; 45% Approachable
#2 - Fierce (Abercrombie & Fitch) Fierce is what you smell whenever you walk into an Abercrombie & Fitch store. It smells fantastic and smells especially fantastic on teenage guys. I don’t know anyone who dislikes this smell, but its efficacy for a teenage guy is challenged in that it is very recognizable (but nowhere near as recognizable as Axe), very intense and lasts only an average amount of time. Philip only wears it to dances now. Lifespan 3/5; 15% Masculine; 85% Approachable
#3 - Polo (Ralph Lauren) Any new cologne will be hard-pressed to beat this long time champion. The dominate notes are spicy and they are augmented by non-citrus fruits and just a hint of something smoky. Your teachers will probably recognize it. Wear it when you need to negotiate an extension on a term paper’s due date. As an alternative, try any of the Polo spin-offs except for Polo Black which has a painfully short Lifespan and would not smell right on a teenager. Lifespan 4/5; 60% Masculine; 40% Approachable
#4 - Eternity (Calvin Klein) There is a freshness and a gentleness about Eternity. It will put you and everyone around you at ease. Give that nice girl a reason to be happy and use two squirts before the two of you go see the basketball game against the rival school. Lifespan 4/5; 40% Masculine; 60% Approachable
#5 - Aqua Di Gio (Giorgio Armani) Aqua Di Gio is one of the best-selling men’s colognes. It also fares well among men across a wide range of ages. A teenage guy may have a teenage girl tell him that he smells like her dad. But she will not be teasing or complaining when she says that; she’ll only be telling the guy that she’s daddy’s girl. As an alternative, consider Armani’s Attitude. Lifespan 3/5; 20% Masculine; 80% Approachable
#6 - Dirty English (Juicy Couture) There’s nothing dirty about this great cologne at all. In fact I wouldn’t say it is particularly English either. It is very spicy and has a very nice smoky edge. Wear this to a student government meeting when you have decided it is time you took command. Lifespan 4/5; 65% Masculine; 35% Approachable
#7 - Only the Brave (Diesel) Only the Brave has a fun fist-shaped bottle. Its dominant notes are gentle spices. You will smell and feel clean wearing this. As an alternative, consider Diesel’s Fuel. Lifespan 3/5; 50% Masculine; 50% Approachable
#8 - Pour Homme (Yves Saint Laurent) This is the most masculine smelling cologne that made my list. Freshmen might want to wait, but Juniors and Seniors might want to bring it out to thrill their Prom dates. Lifespan 2/5; 75% Masculine; 25% Approachable
#9 - Brit (Burberry) The marketing behind Brit is the James Bond theme and this is a deliberate reflection of the very tone of the scent. You are sophisticated but ready run, fight or flirt. If you are a sophomore looking to score a date to the Junior/Senior Prom, put this on the day you plan to ask her. Just remember to dress well. Lifespan 2/5; 70% Masculine; 30% Approachable
#10 - Pour Homme Extreme (Bvlgari) Here is a very gentle scent that can be worn daily to accent your natural body scents favorably. As an alternative, consider Bvlgari’s Pour Homme. Lifespan 1/5; 25% Masculine; 75% Approachable
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