How to Choose & Apply Cologne: The Ultimate Fragrance Guide for Men

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Hawthorne and contains affiliate links. Learn more.

William Barton Avatar by  William Barton | Last Updated:  Nov 30, 2020

We know why many of you guys don’t wear fragrance.

High school. Locker room. Tough day on the dodgeball court.

38 cans of Axe body spray at once. The room fogs up. The fire alarm goes off. The fire department kicks in the door wearing masks.

Everyone escapes with their lives. Lucky break.

And that was the last time you touched any sort of fragrance.

Gentlemen, it’s time to put the past behind you.

You’re here because you want to know how to do it right.

What if, in just a few minutes, you could understand the basics of men’s fragrances and figure out how to pick the perfect signature scent?

What if you could learn how to create a (good) lasting impression on someone without even trying?

What if you figured out the secret to why women seem to go after certain guys?

By the time you’re done with this article, you’ll know what to look for when buying a high-quality cologne that’ll last through the day.

You’ll also learn how to wear it the right way.

But most importantly, you’ll learn why cologne can help you earn that little bit of extra special attention.

And no, we’re not talking about special attention from the fire department. We’re talking about the kind of attention you want.

Why Should You Wear Cologne?

Let’s cut straight to the point. Women prefer guys who smell good.

You may be surprised why, though.

A UK study introduced women to 35 guys. Some wearing cologne, some not.

Overwhelmingly, the ladies preferred the gentlemen wearing cologne.

Not surprised?

Well, now you might be—the ladies only saw pictures and video of the guys.

They were never even in the same room.

Just the act of wearing cologne makes you more attractive. What gives?

When watching 15-second video clips of the men, women were attracted to the confidence boost men had when they wore fragrance.

The big takeaway here is that wearing cologne makes you more attractive on many different levels.

First, it shows you have the basics of hygiene down. You’re not going to win anyone over with that, but it should be a prerequisite for you as an adult man.

Second, a great scent shows you care about your appearance and that you can take care of yourself. If you can take care of yourself, you may just be ready to take care of others, too.

Third, you smell awesome. Being around you is downright pleasant. Even if you don’t say or do anything.

Last but not least, wearing cologne helps give you a bump in confidence. Confidence is sexy any way you look at it.

Cologne is another way of telling the world who you are. Are you someone who let’s chance decide how you’re perceived? Or do you like to take charge and boost your odds?

What is Cologne?

Cologne is a mixture of essential fragrance oils in alcohol and water.

When we talk about cologne though, we’re technically talking about men’s perfume. There are several different types of men’s fragrances, each categorized based on strength.

Eau-de-cologne is a term for a specific strength of fragrance, but over time has become the go-to phrase for men’s perfume.

We’ll continue using the word ‘cologne,’ but it’s important when getting ready to invest in a great fragrance to understand the difference between eau-de-cologne and eau-de-parfum.

What’s the Difference Between Cologne, Eau-Fraiche, Eau-de-Toilette, and Eau-de-Parfum?

If you’ve ever looked into buying a fragrance, you may be familiar with terms like eau-de-toilette. But if this is your first go-around, you’ll want to know the difference between eau-de-cologne (EDC), eau-de-toilette (EDT), and eau-de-parfum (EDP).

These terms are definitions of strength. The higher you go, the higher the percentage of essential oils. At the highest level, even a small drop can leave a lasting scent for 24 hours.

Eau Fraiche

First, there’s eau fraiche. With a mixture of 1-3% essential oils, eau fraiche doesn’t last longer than a few minutes. It’s popular because it’s cheap. At TAM, we don’t think eau fraiche is worth your time or money.


Next up is eau-de-cologne. Ranging anywhere between 3-5% essential oils, EDC, or cologne will be noticeable for a few hours. Cologne is usually a lighter fragrance with more citrus, floral, and musk components.

Your cologne will be fresh and subtle. You won’t project your fragrance much, but anyone who gets close will “discover” your scent. It’s a pleasant surprise and gives you an intriguing edge.

You don’t need to attract people in a business meeting, and having a strong scent can be off-putting. That’s where a few sprays of cologne will do you good. Fresh, professional, subtle.


After cologne, there’s eau-de-toilette (EDT). EDT ranges anywhere from 5-15% essential oils. These can last anywhere between three to seven hours with a few sprays.

Many designer brands fall into the EDT category. The scents may not last you through the whole day, but they’ll get you through work or a night on the town.


Eau-de-parfum runs from 15-20% essential oil concentration. Be careful when you’re up in this range. One spray too many and people will have a hard time standing in the same room as you.

The draw to EDP is its ability to project scent. Some ingredients can entice from across the room. You have to find a brand that works for you because EDP will change throughout the day.

Your body’s natural release of oil will change your fragrance throughout the day. You don’t typically run into that issue at lower concentrations because EDT and EDC don’t last long enough.

So if you’re looking for EDP, find someone who you’re comfortable with and ask them to smell you throughout the day. What works at the beginning of the day may not work at night. EDP can last eight to twelve hours


The strongest fragrance is called parfum. At 20-30% concentration, a dab will do you. Seriously, this stuff is potent.

Unless you’re royalty, we’re going to say that straight parfum isn’t your best choice for a workday. Reserve parfum for special occasions.

Parfum can last for over 24 hours and the scent will change significantly throughout the day. These fragrances are niche, so as a beginner you’ll want something less concentrated with wider appeal.

As you grow into a full aficionado, you may find yourself looking stand out with one-of-a-kind fragrances. Parfum will get you there, but it’ll cost a pretty penny.

Common Fragrance Terminology

Top Notes

The top notes are the first you notice. They’re typically fresh smelling, with citrus, light florals, or aquatic characteristics. With EDT and EDP, these scents last one to three hours.

Having a signature fragrance is a good thing, but you’ll want to adjust your fragrance based on the seasons. On hot summer days, going with a top note focused fragrance is a great choice. The fresh tones act like a tall glass of cold water on a hot day. You may need to freshen up in the middle of the day as the top notes dissipate, but you’ll cut through any muggy air.

Middle Notes

The middle notes are the heart of your cologne. Depending on your cologne, the middle notes may show more fruit, grass, spice, or floral notes.

You won’t smell the middle or base notes by spraying your cologne onto a strip of paper. The middle notes take a bit of time to develop and a strip of paper just won’t react the same way your skin does.

If you’re trying a cologne before you buy, make sure you smell it every hour or so. You may not even smell the middle notes when you first apply. But if you give it another whiff two or three hours in, you’ll get a better sense for the heart of your fragrance.

Base Notes

The base notes are the last hints of fragrance holding on at the end of the night. These are heavier, sweeter smells like cedar, moss, vanilla, and tonka bean. The base note is the biggest determining factor in how long your fragrance lasts.

Tonka bean, vanilla, and heliotropic scents are sweeter and softer, while cedar, moss, and patchouli give more musk and depth.

The base notes will be there when you first spray, but it can take three to four hours until they’re fully developed. This period is known to fragrance experts as the “dry down.” Your preference in base notes will be what defines your signature scent.

How to Choose the Right Cologne For You

Most colognes smell great (that’s the point), but how do you choose which one is right for you?

You want to choose a scent that matches your personality. If you’re extroverted and active, you’ll want something spicy and lively. If you’re the quiet type, a deep woody fragrance might be a better fit for you.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to stick with one fragrance forever. There’s no reason you should smell the same at work as you do on a date.

There are four major scent categories colognes fall under:

1. Fresh

Fresh scents tend to make up the top notes of a fragrance. Jasmine, citrus, grass, and aquatic scents make up the majority of the fresh category.

A fresh cologne is a great choice during the hotter months—they’re not overpowering and will cut through the heat. These colognes don’t last as long on the skin, so you may need to reapply throughout the day. Fresh cologne is also great for the office.

2. Floral

Fresh cut flowers, fruits, and orange blossoms sound nice, right? Floral scents are known for their calming effect, and they’re not just for ladies.

Yes, you want to avoid wearing something too close to your grandma’s rose perfume, but a balanced floral cologne can be the right touch for the more gentle and soft-spoken guys amongst us.

3. Oriental

Oriental scents are made mostly from savory spices like clove, cinnamon, ginger. You’ll also pick up smooth vanilla and patchouli in this category. There are hardly any fragrances out there that don’t have at least some addition from the oriental family.

Fragrances that favor oriental scents are better for nightlife rather than the office. The spicier side works well for the adventurous, while vanilla and patchouli are more sensual.

4. Wood

Sandalwood, cedar, vetiver, moss, amber, and leather all fit under the woodsy category. The woods favor deep base notes, so even if your cologne begins fresh and floral, you may discover a wood note a few hours after applying.

A cologne with wood notes isn’t as sensual as one with oriental notes, and instead offers a sense of authority and all-around manliness.

Where to Buy Cologne

Our Top Pick: Hawthorne

Hawthorne Fragrance Box Packaging Open Showing Work and Play Side by Side With Package in Background

After answering a few questions, Hawthorne will send you a designer-quality fragrance tailored to your lifestyle. Their fragrances are well-loved both by guys looking to skip the department store and fragrance aficionados alike.

We took the quiz and checked out two fragrances for ourselves and we were impressed—here’s our complete Hawthorne review.

They tailored two fragrances for us, one for Work and one for Play. The fragrances range between 10-15% essential oil concentration, putting them in the eau-de-toilette/ eau-de-parfum category.

With no hassle, finding a few great fragrances couldn’t have been easier. We haven’t stopped wearing our Work cologne since we got it, and our Play hits the right tone without being over-the-top. Hawthorne nailed it with their custom scents.

If smelling good with little to no effort sounds appealing to you, head over to Hawthorne’s site and take their quiz. They’ll hook you up with a scent that fits you and your lifestyle.

Do your thing and let the experts do theirs. You’ll be glad you did.


By asking the right questions, Hawthorne was able to deliver me custom colognes and bathroom essentials at a solid price point, and while I was hesitant to leave my choice of fragrance up to someone else, Hawthorne won my seal of approval on the first spray.

Sign Up Now Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Runner Up: Scentbird

Picture of Scentbird Purple Men's Fragrance Sample Sitting on Bench in Corporate Setting

Scentbird is an online subscription service that sends a new designer fragrance your way once a month.

The bottles are much smaller than what you get with other services like Hawthorne, but it’s a great way to explore different fragrances and find out what you like.

It’s affordable, and once you find the scent for you, you can easily make a larger volume purchase.

If you’re up for some cologne exploration, check out Scentbird now.

How to Apply Cologne

What’s obvious to some might not be obvious to others. We’ll cover the basics of wearing cologne so you can confidently waft your scent into the world.

7 Important Rules For Wearing Cologne

1. Don’t Overdo it

Your neighbors shouldn’t be able to smell you through the wall. Start with a single spray. If you go through a day and you feel that one spray isn’t enough, try two the next day.

We recommend putting a hard cap at four sprays. If four sprays don’t last you, it’s time to switch up your fragrance choice. Bump up to an eau-de-toilette or eau-de-parfum for a more potent scent.

Anything more than four sprays for an EDT or EDP will be overpowering. People will cough and sneeze as you pass. They will cover their noses. They will dive into the shrubbery.

Four Sprays Max.

2. Apply Cologne to the Heat Areas of the Body

This is how you apply cologne for maximum effect.

Your first spray should be on your neck underneath your Adam’s Apple. The next best spots are the inside of your elbow and your wrists.

How to Apply Cologne Graphic

Your scent will travel along with the heat you naturally release from your body. Spraying cooler areas will work, but you’ll get more out of your fragrance by applying on the warmer areas.

3. Apply to Clean, Dry Skin

Put on cologne just after you dry off from your shower. Don’t apply fragrance to any of your clothes—in addition to not being effective, you may even stain the fabric.

Don’t try and cover up body odor with cologne, either. Your funkadelic smell will still be there, just hidden, waiting for its moment to strike. Cologne can’t replace bathing.

4. Don’t Do the “Spray and Walk”

The theory is all there—spray into the air and walk through it. You’ll get an even coating of man-scent, right?

Wrong. Most of your cologne falls straight to the ground. Your floor will smell great, but that’s about it.

5. Rubbing Your Fragrance in Won’t Ruin it

Spraying onto your wrist and rubbing your wrists together is a fairly common move. Many sites say that rubbing your fragrance in will break its molecular bond and ruin your fragrance. That’s not true. Your wrist friction isn’t enough to break molecular bonds.

However, rubbing does create heat, and heat will speed up how quickly your fragrance changes phases. Rubbing in your scent may shorten the life of the delicate top notes, but the mid-tones and base notes will all be there.

6. Don’t Reapply Every Time you Lose the Top Note

At most, you should reapply once. Let your fragrance live its natural life. If you’re only enjoying the top notes, but not the middle or base notes, switch up your cologne.

If you decide to reapply, add another spray onto your wrists first. You won’t run the risk of making people’s eyes water with your power-scenting.

7. Observe the Three-to-Six Inch Rule

For an even application, hold your cologne bottle three to six inches away when you spray. Farther than six inches and you may miss. Closer than three inches and your cologne will form a small pool.

How Long Does Cologne Last?

Oil concentration is the biggest factor is how long cologne or any fragrance lasts. Here’s how long different types of fragrance last:

  • Eau-de-cologne is 2-5% essential oil and will last 1-3 hours.
  • Eau-de-toilette is 5-10% e.o. and can last 3-7 hours.
  • Eau-de-parfum is 10-20% e.o. and can last 7-12 hours.
  • Parfum is 20-30% e.o. and can last 12-24 hours.

The type of raw materials in cologne will change how long it lasts as well. Fresh and floral fragrances tend toward the shorter span while woody, spicy fragrances last longer.

As far as how long a bottle lasts, it depends on the size of the bottle and number of sprays. Most bottles are 75ml, and most people give two to three sprays per application. If that sounds like you, your bottle will last the better part of a year.

If you switch between a few fragrances, even your favorite bottle will last well over a year.

The Final Note

Finding the perfect cologne doesn’t have to be hard. If you know what you’re looking for, you’ll save yourself precious time and money.

Cologne is an investment. It may cost a little upfront, but when you think about how many great first-impressions you’ll make and the pure sophistication a unique scent offers, it’s a no-brainer.

Your scent, just like your style, is part of who you are.

Whether you want to spend a day searching for your perfect fragrance at a department store or leave it to the experts such as Hawthorne to choose for you, there’s no excuse to skip your smell.

It’s the easiest change you can make to boost both your confidence and appeal.

Gentlemen, you’ve now got the knowledge, so get out there and start smelling awesome now.


By asking the right questions, Hawthorne was able to deliver me custom colognes and bathroom essentials at a solid price point, and while I was hesitant to leave my choice of fragrance up to someone else, Hawthorne won my seal of approval on the first spray.

Sign Up Now Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.


How to apply cologne without spray

No spray top on your cologne bottle? No sweat.

Press the top of the bottle firmly against your (clean and dry) wrist. Flip the bottle twice to release the cologne from the bottle and then put the bottle down.

Finally, push your wrists together a few times and then dab your wrist against your neck, lower jar, or another heat area you prefer.

How to apply cologne so it lasts

To make cologne last longer for each wear, apply it to clean, dry skin. And always apply it to the heat areas of your body.

How to apply cologne when wearing a suit

When wearing a suit, favor your neck and wrist heat areas as these areas will be further away from the fabric of your suit.

What does ‘cologne spray’ mean?

Cologne spray refers to the act of spraying cologne out of a cologne spray bottle.