What Do Men Really Think of Fragrance? by John Francis

What Do Men Really Think of Fragrance?

When it comes to fragrances, most men are pretty blasé: “I’m good to go as long as I don’t smell like the inside of my gym bag or the cat box.”

And when it comes to the fragrances that our significant others wear, we’re still on the dispassionate side, as long as they “smell good” (we are simple folk). And it also depends on whether we’re talking about a wife/girlfriend or a woman a man is dating or interested in dating.

For the former group, it’s usually something that attracted her man in the first place, since we know that scent is as important as physical attraction when it comes to snagging a mate. So if your wife or girlfriend drew you into her web with Shalimar (yes, that’s Old School), you’re probably going to keep wanting her to wear it or something similar.

For the latter group, it’s a mixed bag, especially these days since there are literally thousands of fragrances on the market, with a mind-boggling blend of scents, essential oils, aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents. It depends on which scent (or scent mixture) she elects to use and how she uses it (light touch or heavy touch) and even where she applies it.

For example, if she applies it to her “pulse points,” the parts of your body where the blood vessels run close to the skin to enhance the combination of the fragrance and her natural oils, then the man could be in trouble. Pulse points include the inner wrists, elbows, neck, behind the ears, backs of the knees, and chest. And if she applies it to all her pulse points, well, then you’re toast.

For experts in this field, which is a huge one — Americans spend close to $5 billion on fragrances a year — it’s all about the “juice.”

“In this business, you cannot make lemons into lemonade, no matter what you spend on packaging, marketing or advertising,” says Elizabeth Musmanno, president of The Fragrance Foundation. “The fragrance has to have a point of view. The recipe has to be right. It’s like a great meal — if it hits the spot, you’ll go back to it over and over again.”

The juice can be broken down into four general categories, but there’s a lot of merging and mixing, so the sub-categories, let’s call them, can literally run in the millions.

So, the four categories are citrus (clean, sporty and light); floral (fresh, sweet, feminine), Oriental (musky, vanilla, animalistic) and woodsy (spicy, rich, earthy). Subsets could include such scents as leather, honey, tobacco, wood, lavender, sandalwood and various combinations.

Men generally can’t really tell one from the other, unless, of course, it’s bacon, whiskey or barbecue-scented, but they sure know what they don’t like. And they’ve done studies on it, one by Dr. Alan Hirsch of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. They have studies for everything these days.

What the good doctor found out was that men were very specific about what they didn’t like, but a little vague about what they like (as long as “she smells good,” remember?).

Men, for example, don’t like anything too floral. Reminds them of their grandma or the old lady next door. Same with scents that are too fruity (too teenage), foodie (keep it in the kitchen!), or too sweet (candy’s for kids). “I like Jolly Ranchers, but I’m not sure I’d want a girl to smell like one,” said one respondent to a Glamour magazine poll.

The other no-no’s were powdery (again, old lady-like), pink grapefruit (?) and the biggest turn-off of all, the scent his ex-wife or ex-girlfriend used to wear. And that doesn’t have as much to do with the scent as to what memories (good or bad) that the scent conjures up. Never mind when the scent gives you brain freeze and you blurt out “Hey, I like that, smells just like my ex-wife!”

And believe it or not, the scent that turned on men the most, according to Dr. Hirsch’s study, was a combination of pumpkin pie and lavender! Eau de Pumpkin Spice anyone?

As for how men feel about their own fragrances, that’s a pretty simple matter, whatever makes us feel like James Bond in a snazzy tux at the baccarat table and whatever our wife/girlfriend/date likes and finds sexy. After all, we wear cologne to attract and please the other sex (again, we are simple creatures with simple tastes).

But, if you remember anything about men’s fragrances, remember the words “subtle and slight.” You do not want to be the “Wears Too Much Cologne Guy” at the office or clear out the nightclub dude by dousing yourself with too much Paco Rabanne.

Or in the immortal words of the “Fab Five” from Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” “Spray, delay, then walk away.”


All books are available at amazon.com. Click on title to learn more.

Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume
by Mandy Aftel

Perfume: The Art And Craft Of Fragrance
by Karen Gilbert

Perfume: A Century of Scents
by Lizzie Ostrom

“Perfume,” – a three-part series about the global perfume industry
Available on AmazonPrime

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