How to choose the right cologne or aftershave: 5 expert tips

Find it difficult when it comes to choosing your signature scent? Try our helpful tips…

Colognes and aftershaves
(Image credit: Getty)

Fragrances are a lot like clothes. They only really work if you choose the right ones at the right time. Think about it, you wouldn't show up to a beach resort in a cashmere roll neck, cummerbund and one ski, would you? In the same vein, there are certain dos and don'ts when it comes to your de toilette.

"This is why educating yourself in basic perfumery can be very useful to making better choices," agrees Emmanuelle Moeglin, founder of the Experimental Perfume Club. "If you know what you like, and what works for what you need, then you can better search for it."

Ahead are five expert tips to help you sift through the surplus of scents so you can choose the right aftershave or cologne every time. 

Once you're finished reading this, then head to our best men’s fragrances guide, which contains even more buying tips and recommendations.

Here are some useful rules to follow when choosing your fragrance:

  • Learn The Lingo: A lot of men unknowingly use terms like aftershave and cologne interchangeably, but these actually refer to a fragrance's concentration levels and ultimately determine how long a scent will last. An Eau Fraiche is the weakest, sticking around for just 1-2 hours, followed by eau de cologne, eau de toilette, Eau de parfum and finally parfum, which will still be filling the room long after last orders. You can adjust this sliding scale (and your budget) to whether you're looking for a simple post-shower spritz or an olfactory all-nighter for parties and weddings.
  • Know Your Notes: You don't need a PHD in perfumery to find a good fragrance, but it does help to know how they're made. Most traditional men's fragrances are built in three layers. The top notes are the ones you'll smell first, but these quickly fade, giving way to the middle notes which linger slightly longer before you're left with the base notes. Look out for notes that frequently crop up in the fragrances you like, and the search for new ones will be much easier.
  • Shop For The Occasion: Just as you dress for the occasion, you should spray for it too. Luckily, all this talk of fumes needn't give you a headache. Each fragrance falls under a 'family' – such as woody, citrus, floral, or oriental – which is usually a giveaway of when it's best deployed. For example, work colleagues will appreciate you opting for a light citrus scent featuring neroli over a heady oriental oud, while a date almost certainly calls for something earthy and musky.
  • Try Before You Buy: To properly shop for a fragrance, you need to wear it. Not only do scents change over time, they also react differently to different body chemistry – meaning what smells good on blotting paper won't necessarily smell the same on you. Even if you've made it your mission to find a signature scent that you'll stick with for life, limit your testing to four. Spray one on each wrist and on the inside of each elbow, then let them develop over three to four hours before picking the one that comes up smelling roses (or citruses, or spices.)
  • Research The Classics: With hundreds of revivals, remixes, relaunches and rebottlings happening every year, it can be hard to sniff out a fragrance that will have staying power, both on your shelf and your skin. Though you should always buy for personal taste, if you're worried about smelling like last year's trend, consider sticking to the classics. Only a few colognes have clawed their way into the grooming hall of fame (think Dior Sauvage, Terre d'Hermes and Bleu de Chanel), making it hard to go wrong.

Now read T3's guide to the best men’s fragrances and colognes and best women’s perfumes.

Luke Todd