Help me smell like me, only better
May 12, 2010 12:56 PM   Subscribe

FragrantButFrumpyFilter: Help a middle-aged family man select a fragrance that would put a smile on his wife's face.

I am a basic no muss no fuss kind of guy. Middle-aged at 45, four kids, married 22 years, 9-to-5 job, so on. I'm lucky my dear wife loves me for my intangibles because there's not much about my tangibles to attract her. I'm fat with thinning hair and spectacles, not short and not tall. My approach to fashion and grooming is to be respectable and meet decorum, but not to seem like I'm trying to compensate for shortcomings of my physical being (i.e. trying too hard). As for fragrance, I usually wear none. I go for clean and shaven and not smelly.

But my wife is the kind of woman I am willing to dress up for. I have observed that a whiff of the right cologne on a man (even me) puts a smile on her face. If something that simple will put an extra smile on my wife's face, then I am willing to bear the expense and apparent pretense of arranging for a whiff of fragrance to follow my rather plainish persona.

But how to select a fragrance? Ladies, what fragrances say smart substantial affable genuine guy who doesn't mind being frumpy? What cologne would make you pass a guy like me and say, "He may be not much to look at, but damn he smells nice!" Guys, what has worked for you? Or what might work for you once you get older and wider? And I don't want to come across as if I were wearing the fragrance equivalent of a bad toupee. Bonus for fragrances that wouldn't make me break into my kids' future braces fund.

If it helps, I am attracted to classics. Brands that you keep buying because they are quality and well made. Not a trendy or hip bone in my body (well, two hip bones, but you know.)
posted by cross_impact to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, everyone is different and has their own preferences. Personally, I like an herby, spicy, musky sort of fragrances. Perfume-wise, I like Anne Klein, if that's any help. My husband consulted me when he was choosing a fragrance (he'd never worn any before we got married), and very patiently stood by while I sniffed all the samples. I thought it was very sweet that he wanted me to choose his fragrance, as I'm sure your wife will also appreciate you choosing one to please her. I chose Gravity, which is kind of herby and spicy and similar to what I prefer in my own fragrance choice. And, to be honest, whenever we go out together some place, even if it's to a doctor appointment, when we get in the van and close the doors (that's when I notice his spritz of cologne the most) I'll get a whiff of his fragrance and it stirs my hormones ever so slightly every time.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:04 PM on May 12, 2010

No specific recommendations, but whatever you do, please try it on and get used to it for a couple hours before buying. What smells great on one man can smell like frog-ass on another. Also: less is more.
posted by contessa at 1:06 PM on May 12, 2010

I hate to be the bubble burster, but fragrances smell different on skin than in bottles, and smell different on different people. Why not make a day of it. Bring her with you. Let her help with the decision-making process by being able to try them on and smell them on her skin.
posted by Ms Snit at 1:07 PM on May 12, 2010

I should read the entire post before commenting...

What contessa said. If you have a lady friend you trust, bring her along. Otherwise, in addition to your own nose, you can ask whoever is helping you at the store for their opinion on your fragrance.
posted by Ms Snit at 1:09 PM on May 12, 2010

I'd bring the lady with to try things on. Failing that, I've had good luck with scented shave soaps. Plenty of great sellers on It gives you just a whiff of fragrance, and leaves you with no risk at all of being Mr.-too-much-cologne-in-the-elevator-guy.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:10 PM on May 12, 2010

I would suggest that you and your lovely wife go cologne shopping together. Not every woman likes the same sort of scent, and working together you'll better be able to find a fragrance that suits you best. And then that scent will become your scent, and even when she smells it on someone else [at work or shopping or wherever] she'll think of you.

Off the top of my used-to-sell-cologne head, I'd recommend Nautica, Acqua di Gio, Lacoste, Azzaro Chrome, Cool Water, and Guess [in the green and silver bottle].
posted by alynnk at 1:15 PM on May 12, 2010

It would help to know what kinds of smells you tend to like. Woody? Spicy? Smoky? Citrus? Musky/animalic? Are there any men's colognes you either know you like, or know you don't like?

Without knowing any of that, Terre d'Hermes is a recent men's scent that I think is quite nice. It starts out with citrus, then mellows into an woody/mineral/earth scent that reads as "clean man skin" rather than "dude who doused himself in foo foo juice."

Try going to your local Nordstrom or Sephora sometime when they're not crowded, and look for a friendly sales associate. Tell them what you told us, and ask to try Terre d'Hermes ( (it's pronounced more or less like "tear d'airmace"). along with anything else they might recommend.

First smell them on a strip of paper, then try the one you like best on your skin. Walk around for a bit and give it a chance to settle in. Then wear it home, and do some things to help your wife create some pleasant Pavlovian associations with your new smell.
posted by ottereroticist at 1:15 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Well, if you're into classics it's hard to go wrong with Old Spice.

If you want something a little more unique Pasha by Cartier is nice.
posted by otio at 1:19 PM on May 12, 2010

I really like Banana Republic's Modern scent for men.
posted by something something at 1:26 PM on May 12, 2010

I've always been fond of Le Male by Jean Paul Gaultier, myself. :)
posted by Hanuman1960 at 1:27 PM on May 12, 2010

I recommend asking for sample vials when you shop, or ordering a few from somewhere like Luckyscent - samples last a surprisingly long time and will allow for a few test runs. If you're anything like me when you shop for fragrance, in half an hour you'll be up to your elbows in various smells and remember none of them.

My personal favorite is D'zing! by L'Artisan; the description is gimmicky, but it's a really nice, warm, wearable unisex fragrance. Your nose, and your wife's, may vary.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:28 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rather than buying cologne, you might consider buying soap scented with a particular cologne she likes. Sometimes when my boyfriend walks into my apartment the smell of his soap or shampoo (not sure which; it's nothing fancy) nearly knocks me silly with how much it makes me want to kiss him. If you got a soap scented with Eau Sauvage or something, you could use it on special occasions just like regular soap, and be both squeaky clean and nice smelling.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:29 PM on May 12, 2010

Also, regarding "classic" scents, you might try out some of the ones mentioned in this history of men's fragrances.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:29 PM on May 12, 2010

If you want something classic, try Bay Rum - it's a generic term, sold by a number of different companies in both soaps & colognes. It's an easy start, and I've found a lot of women like it.
posted by swngnmonk at 1:30 PM on May 12, 2010

I've found the smells I like best on a guy are the shave-y kind. Because, well, shaving is functional and doesn't seem like they're "putting on airs."

That said, I really like Keihl's men's stuff. It's subtle, not intentionally or heavily perfumed, and is clean-smelling.

Also want to say you're awesome for being so thoughtful. :)
posted by functionequalsform at 1:31 PM on May 12, 2010

Late 20's, I wear Fuel by Diesel, and ... pretty regularly get compliments on it. Like, daily. But cologne is subjective, just putting one out for you to look into.
posted by frwagon at 1:43 PM on May 12, 2010

30, and I wear Soul by Curve.

nthing taking the wife on an adventure to help you pick out what she likes. I did that with an important lady friend and it was a lot more fun than you'd probably think.
posted by PlutoniumX at 2:04 PM on May 12, 2010

Kudos to you for doing this for your wife! The right scent on the (already right) man is just irresistible.

You could take the wife with you to see what she likes, as others have said. Or bring home a few scent samples from a nice high-end store and have her smell them and then pick one. They'll be glad to give you samples.

If you really want to surprise her, you could get a couple mens' magazines that have cologne samples in them and just casually ask if she likes one or two. Downside: she might not care for nekkid lady pictures around the house in the form of mens' magazines. Of course, if she does, that could lead to totally new kinds of fun for your marriage, too...
posted by misha at 2:25 PM on May 12, 2010

Smells smell different on different people. I know it's crazy, and it doesn't make sense, but it's true. Also fragrances don't really have to be as expensive as some people think. Yes it's a "luxury" but if you consider that a spray a day from a 3oz bottle will last you 6+ months, $50-$100 up front isn't a bad.

I love Pi by Givenchy (and you can buy it at Target). Sephora's scent browser is helpful, and it's good to know a bit of lingo before you shop. I prefer things on the "woody, spicy, musk" side in men's fragrances, and that would fit an older guy. "Ocean" and "crisp", not so much.
posted by fontophilic at 2:32 PM on May 12, 2010

If it helps, I am attracted to classics.

Luca Turin and Tanya Sanchez may well have written a book for you. (Luca's mischevious, though: he thinks men should break through the long-standing taboos and wear florals.) But you do need to test out any intuitions. Find somewhere with an extensive range -- something like Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom, as opposed to a mall Macy's set up to push new fragrances as they come off the production line.

Eau Sauvage. Habit Rouge. Caron Pour Un Homme. Cuir De Russie (marketed to women, but wearable by men). Chanel Pour Monsieur. That covers a broad range just to help you get your bearings: none of them are younger than you.
posted by holgate at 2:33 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

They're different from many scents, but I'd really recommend one of the many vital, masculine premium accords from CB I Hate Perfume. My husband sometimes wears "Old Leather" mixed with "Soaked Earth" (which smells like fresh dirt). It's amazing, and closer to the sort of smell a man would get from working outside on a drizzly day in a leather jacket than, you know, "cologne."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:42 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

(Oh, and you could buy a whole bunch of their samples to try them out!)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:43 PM on May 12, 2010

Sephora sells fragrance samplers like this that are great for trying out scents. Nthing that scents smell different on different people, and you (and your wife) may be surprised by what smells best on you.

My sister bought me a women's sampler over a year ago as a gift. The great part is I've still got some samples left, and the one she got me came with a gift cert so I could buy a full sized bottle of the one I liked best. What surprised me is that I found the sweet, vanilla-y scents that I swore I hated actually smell really nice on me, and sometimes fit my mood better than the woodsy or citrus scents I thought I liked best. I also tend to like a warmer or sweeter scent in the winter and a lighter, floral or citrus scent in the summer. I never would have figured any of that out if it weren't for the sampler. I highly recommend it - in fact, I may buy another one for myself soon to do some more scent exploring.
posted by misskaz at 2:43 PM on May 12, 2010

Without knowing any of that, Terre d'Hermes is a recent men's scent that I think is quite nice.

I use that, it's quite lovely and I strongly recommend it. Minotaure is also really nice if you can find it.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:17 PM on May 12, 2010

A very small drop of "Bliss" From Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs makes you smell exactly, and ever so faintly, of chocolate.
posted by The Whelk at 3:23 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Holgate's excellent suggestions, but just chiming in to suggest you maybe try some kind of vetiver-based scent too: it's like like catnip for women (well, this woman and many of her friends). Guerlain does a particularly good one, as does Creed - in fact I don't think you can go far wrong with anything from either of those houses.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 3:26 PM on May 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yes, buy a fragrance sampler. Then, let your wife choose which one she likes the best. This is how we chose my husband's cologne (Black Xs by Paco Rabanne - kind of musky and woodsy). Really, it's lovely that you are seeking a scent that matches "you" (and I understand because I do feel like my perfume matches "me" and I love that), but I think you really should choose one together to make sure your wife likes it. Besides, you're allowed to become 'more than yourself' or even something other than yourself through cologne/perfume, as with clothes and makeup for women. There is an element of fantasy in it all, which is part of the fun and allure.

That said, almost all colognes put a smile on my face.
posted by kitcat at 3:38 PM on May 12, 2010

The only problem with sampler sets like the Sephora one is that they usually lean towards newer creations getting their initial marketing push, as opposed to classics that seem to market themselves. The Perfumed Court does unofficial 'decants', and offers pretty well-chosen sample sets including one that provides straight-up examples of chypres and fougères and orientals and so on -- not cheap, but less filler.

HandfulOfDust is right to suggest a vetiver as part of that learning process, though I've found they inspire love/hate reactions. I'm also probably running into all sorts of Basenotes inverted snobbery when I say that I've loved Creed's Green Irish Tweed for nearly twenty years, but I can deal with that.
posted by holgate at 4:23 PM on May 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think much of it depends on what kind of person you are. At least for me, I tend to identify certain scents with certain characteristics: Blue Water (Davidoff) and Drakkar Noir (Guy Laroche) both make me think of guys suiting up for their senior prom or frat boys looking to score and get drunk (and not in that order). Bay Rhum may peg you as a bow-tie and seersucker suit type. Different scents for different gents.

There was a good discussion about men's fragrances over at the Art of Manliness.
posted by holterbarbour at 6:06 PM on May 12, 2010

Nthing Bay Rum.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:08 PM on May 12, 2010

Give Really Ripped Abs a try. Seriously. My wife likes it on me, and you can't beat the price. Besides, it's a kick to say "my wife likes my really ripped abs."
posted by chazlarson at 6:30 PM on May 12, 2010

nthing getting your wife's opinion. At some point. You could arrange a few 'surprises' before soliciting opinions. It drives me crazy that mine doesn't seem to get that colognes are for being attractive to your partner, not just smelling cool (OK, so maybe my point of view is a little selfish)...since you're doing it ostensibly for HER, her opinion should have some bearing. And not just the kneejerk, "of COURSE I love it, darling!" 'opinion.' Sounds like a fun shopping trip for her.
posted by Ys at 6:34 PM on May 12, 2010

Roger et Gallet .... any of the flavors. Get the small ones to sample.
posted by txmon at 8:02 PM on May 12, 2010

I agree with the take her with you contingent. Smell is very personal, so what makes your wife turn and smile, may not be what you think smells good. Also she'll have not just the smell but the memory of going and figuring it out together. Extra hot.
posted by grapesaresour at 9:51 PM on May 12, 2010

Lots of "citrus" and "aqua" suggestions in here. Those are nice, but may be a little more youthful (i.e. teen agers where these a lot) than you want. Scents like Cool Water and Aqua Di Gio are easy to like, very easy on the nose and have that clean, fresh smell that pleases almost instantly. They aren't too strong either, but if you're looking for a signature scent that your lady will really remember, I would avoid them.

Other comments are on the money, you need to test them out on your skin. The mixture of your body odor, the kind of deodorant you wear, the kind of soap you wash with, it will all factor into how the fragrance works (or doesn't) on you.

Personally I'm a fan of the original Grey Flannel, and Green Irish Tweed. They're both mossy, woody, subtle fragrances with a lot of staying power. One puff is all you ever need with these. Kiehl's Musk is a very good musk, which is a classic scent but can often be overpowering.
posted by jnrussell at 8:37 AM on May 13, 2010

My middle-aged dad wears Cool Water.
posted by salvia at 9:00 AM on May 13, 2010

Nthing what the concensus is: go to Macy's (or whatever department store you like) with the wife, and have her smell different fragrences on you (probably three at a time, max - wrist, wrist, neck). You may not find the "one" right away, but it will be a fun time (they might even give you little "to go" samples). And fight the urge to go with what you think is best - besides, after applying it, in five minutes you won't even smell it anymore.

And I will reiterate that you are correct in what you are thinking... The right scent is what SHE thinks it is. I had a girlfriend who loved Eternity. I thought it was OK, but when she smelled it on me, she was very happy. Made my day!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:58 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite] - get your bearings from what everyone's listed here, then try them out. You'll go nuts - excellent website, broken down by main ingredient or note, plus style.

Also - everything on the site is well over a hundred bucks a throw. The good news? You can order samples of everything for a few bucks.

WARNING: is as addictive as heroin to any human who likes smelling nice. You won't find any greasy kid stuff here, and definitely nothing commercial.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:16 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

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