Why Is Cologne So Confusing? (Scent Secrets)

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Fragrance is a very simple, fun, and creative way to add another dimension to your ensembles, introducing the sense of smell to a sartorial experience usually based only on sight. As such, there are confusions as to how it should be worn to make yourself and those around you comfortable. 

Some confusing aspects of fragrance are what the difference is between a parfum and a cologne; how top, middle, and base notes differ; and what exactly is the right amount of fragrance to wear so that you exude a notable and pleasing aroma that isn’t identifiable from across the room, and doesn’t linger for hours after you have departed. And there are many more! So, today, we intend to clear them all up by tackling twelve confusing aspects of fragrances.

1. Nebulous Nomenclature

Fragrances has different compound concentrations
Fragrances have different compound concentrations.

While many people use the terms parfum, cologne, and eau de toilette interchangeably, they actually have important definitions, where each term refers to a particular concentration of aromatic compound relative to a matrix, like water. These concentrations have a major impact on the intensity, longevity, and vibrancy of what you’re wearing. So, it definitely helps to know and understand what they mean.

When referring to a scent, generally, the term fragrance is often employed, but most people understand what you mean when you use the term cologne, and we have to admit,t it certainly sounds a lot better than eau de toilette–this literally means “toilet water.”

2. Confusing Concentrations

The uniqueness to everyone and considered to be the soul of the perfume
The uniqueness of everyone and considered to be the soul of the perfume. [Image credit: Wikipedia]

How concentrated the fragrance is should definitely impact how much you put on and how often you reapply it. A more concentrated fragrance will last longer, but it could also be more initially overwhelming when first applied, especially when factoring in sillage, which is the projection of the scent and duration of time that it will hang in the air after you leave. A less concentrated fragrance can have a more subtle effect but might require regular reapplication.

For a fuller examination of how to properly employ fragrance concentration information, check out our guide to fragrances.

But in general, remember that less is more. So, it’s a good idea to apply a small amount of any fragrance at first, and then slowly build it up, if needed. You can always add a spray or two more, but it’s pretty hard to get that stuff back in the bottle.

3. Subjective Scents

A great way to determine your scent is knowing your fragrance vocabulary
A great way to determine your scent is to know your fragrance vocabulary.

Once you have a grasp of how much of a scent you’re dealing with, it helps to know what exactly those scents are. While there’s an established fragrance vocabulary, it isn’t very helpful if you don’t know exactly what those things smell like. For instance, how often do you get to smell ambergris–a waxy substance secreted by sperm whales?

Even if you have smelled something before, not everyone will agree on what those smells mean. You guys are trying to describe an abstract smell with words. That’s one of the reasons that we recommend sampling fragrances before you buy them, because while we do the best that we can while describing fragrance until smell-o-vision is created, we can’t always get it exactly right.

4. Musky Mutations

Each of us have their own personal musk and body chemistry
Each of us has our own personal musk and body chemistry.

Another reason to always sample fragrances is the impact that your personal smell or musk has on that fragrance. Fragrances uniquely interact with everyone’s personal odor, so scent will wear differently on one person than another, all because of their different body chemistries.

A fragrance that mingles well with Raphael’s musk might not have the same result with my musk. So, it’s always important to test out fragrances on your own skin to make sure that your musk harmonizes with that fragrance.

5. Temporal Transformation

It is very important to try first your chosen fragrance to know if it would last long on you
It is very important to try first your chosen fragrance to know if it will last long for you.

In addition to interacting with your musk, fragrances also develop naturally under skin as time goes on. While the fragrance dries and evaporates, the different layers and permutation of its scent blossom.

These new scents can vary greatly by how the fragrance smelled when you first put it on. Therefore, when shopping for fragrances, wear your selections for a few hours to see how they evolve throughout the day.

6. Numerous Notes

You may have heard the term notes to describe fragrances. Notes refer to scent groupings that interact together, all as the fragrance naturally develops.

Top notes to know when determining your perfume fragrant
Top notes to know when determining your perfume fragrant

There are three types of notes; top notes, the first impression of a fragrance that appears immediately after applying. This dissipates fairly quickly. Next, we have middle notes. These are also called heart notes; complex scents that tend to be the most notable in the fragrance. And next, we have base notes: unobtrusive but ever-present foundational base scents that help harmonize top and middle notes.

Understanding notes will give you a clear idea of how fragrance functions, and the ways in which various scents interact.

7. Seasonal Schedules

Having spoken about what constitutes a fragrance, it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that certain scent profiles are more evocative of particular seasons. Usually, these fragrances correspond to scents associated with seasons in nature.

Citrus-based fragrances are associated with warm weather. Wearing seasonally recognizable fragrances can have an effect similar to wearing a moderate short in the middle of a snow blizzard. Vanilla and tobacco can seem oppressive in warm weather but comforting and homey in cold weather, while bergamot and salt spray are incongruent to cold weather but perfectly suited to warm weather.

Bergamot is a sunny and pleasant citrus scent present in many perfumes
Bergamot is a sunny and pleasant citrus scent present in many perfumes

Distinguishing between the year-round and seasonal fragrances will allow you to derive the greatest amount of use from each with a scent-based scorpacciata.

So, for summer, I share some of our favorite classic warm weather fragrances in another guide.

10 Best Summer Fragrances for Gentlemen

8. Occasional Accidents

When applying scent it must conform with the right occasion you are going for.
When applying scent, it must conform to the right occasion you are going for.

In addition to having seasons, fragrances also have occasions. By this, we mean conventional times and places at which they are worn, as well as formalities similar to clothing. This is a more complex issue than seasonality because it is not based on nature, but on tradition and circumstance.

That being said, there’s still rhyme and reason to fragrance appropriateness. It usually hinges on being cognizant of others and the nature of the event in which you’re wearing it. As an example, a heavy clawing and sensual fragrance is too intense for work environments because it can be distracting or overpowering and projects a mood contrary to a professional setting. Such a fragrance makes sense, however, on a romantic date.

The light and fruity scent that gives an overall refreshing atmosphere.
The light and fruity scent gives an overall refreshing atmosphere. Roberto Ugolini – Azzurro

Conversely, a light, sweet, and airy fragrance is not a good fit for evening wear because the aromas are evocative of a bright, sunny, and casual day and create a disjointed atmosphere in the formality of a nighttime event. 

Unfortunately, the differences between occasional fragrance appropriateness are not as clear as night and day, but that’s why when we review a fragrance, we always include references to the moods, events, and occasions that we feel would be appropriate with that scent.

You must match your fragrance of choice to your mood and occasion you are attending to.
You must match your fragrance of choice to the mood and the occasion you are attending to.

For instance, when Raphael shared his eight classic fragrances for gentlemen, he highlighted Polo by Ralph Lauren as a great option for a bar or restaurant, while Creed’s Green Irish Tweed can transition easily from the office to cocktail hour.

Creed Fragrances: Are They Worth It?

To a certain degree, fragrance correctness is a personal choice, but understanding these conventions and generalities will ensure that you wear the right fragrance at the right time and place.

9. Olfactory Overload (or Underload)

Fragrances worn can be too overwhelming or too unnoticed
Fragrances worn can be too overwhelming or too unnoticed. Fragrances from Roberto Ugolini collection.

One of the most fresh components of fragrances is their propensity to be too “too,” by which we mean too strong or too weak. It’s vexing when it seems like your fragrance fascinates between immediately disappearing shortly after application, or clinging to you like the furies hounding Orestes. That’s a little reference for all the classicists in the audience.

Several of the tips already mentioned in this guide should help mitigate this problem, but we will reiterate that it’s always much worse to wear too much fragrance than too little. So, apply consistent, sparing amounts, going up slowly only as needed.

Consistency is the key when you are wearing your perfume.
Consistency is the key when you are wearing your perfume.

Remember that your nose will adjust to common smells. So, eventually, you’ll stop noticing your own smell, even though it is just as intense to others. Therefore, it can be helpful to rely on a trusted friend who can help you determine if you have too much, too little, or just the right amount of fragrance.

For tips on finding and maintaining that scent sweet spot, take advantage of the ten fragrant hacks that I share here, which apparently I need to review.

10. Perilous Pulse Points

Pulse points is where are especially warm, and that warmth helps to activate and dissipate fragrance.
Pulse points is where are especially warm, and that warmth helps to activate and dissipate fragrance.

When it comes to applying fragrance, we’re reminded of that old real estate mantra: “location, location, location.” On your bodies, there are particular spots known as “pulse points.” Because of the blood flow in those areas, they are especially warm, and that warmth helps to activate and dissipate fragrance. Applying fragrance to these locations will help intensify its scent and make the smell last longer.

Common pulse points are the neck, the chest, the lower jaw, forearms, inner elbows, and behind the knees. To avoid overwhelming those around you, you do not apply fragrance to all of those points. Instead, pick one or two and see if you like the effect.

Just pick one or two pulse points where you can spray your perfume
Just pick one or two pulse points where you can spray your perfume.

Pulse point heat intensity varies from person to person, so experiment to find which of your pulse points do the best job aerating your favorite fragrances.

11. Lackadaisical Layers

You should also keep in mind that a fragrance is just one of the many scents that you have on your body. Aftershave, shampoo, deodorant, laundry detergent, creams, lotions, and your own musk all contribute to how you smell to others. Sometimes, these other scents can alter, counteract, or mask the scent of your fragrance – an example of what is known as “scent confusion.”

Scent confusion can spoil the effect of a fragrance, but there are several ways to counter it. One way is to use unscented or mildly scented products. Other than the fragrance itself, of course. Another solution is to use products that have similar or harmonious scents so that all the odors come together in a symphony of smells.

Beard Brand offers grooming products of high quality
Beard Brand offers grooming products of high quality.

Our friends at Beard Brand, who coined the term “scent confusion,” offer all their products in the same range of scents, which is an easy way to ensure that everything pairs well. But, you can achieve a similar effect by sourcing fragrances from olfactory families that complement each other and layering your products correctly, as I will teach you in a separate guide.

Aftershave, Lotion, and Cologne: How to Layer

Accounting for how different scents you’re wearing will interact with your fragrance is a great way to ensure a pleasing overall scent profile while combating scent confusion.

We’ll close our list by acknowledging that even once you’ve unraveled all the secrets that we’ve covered so far, you’ll still need to buy the fragrance. Shopping for fragrances can be a hectic and confusing experience in and of itself because you’re confronted with a wide variety of different smells with no easy way to determine how they will harmonize with your personal smell how they will develop throughout the day and how that scent will work with your personal style

Getting the right scent for you.
Getting the right scent for you is a personal choice.

Another major issue is nose blindness, also known as “smell fatigue.” This refers to the experience of being unable to detect or distinguish certain smells because your olfactory senses have been overstimulated as you’re making your way through the fragrance section of a department store, getting spritzed every step of the way with a different cologne.

While doing research for a guide in which we tested four thousand dollars worth of Creed fragrances, I had to take frequent and copious breaks because, otherwise, all the fragrances just started to smell the same.

How do we recommend that you take the stupor out of scent shopping?

First, have a clear idea of what kind of scents you would like. Study fragrances that you already enjoy. Do research into olfactory families and read reviews of fragrances from trusted sources. I can think of at least one great website you could try.

Next, if at a store, test several fragrances on sampling strips, but only apply a couple of your favorites to your skin. Then, go and do something else for about an hour to see how the fragrance blooms over time and mingles with your natural musk.

To easily and efficiently experience all that makes Roberto Ugolini Fragrances spectacular.
Having samples easily and efficiently experience all that makes Roberto Ugolini Fragrances spectacular.

This will be even easier to do at home. If you purchase samples from an online retailer, then you can test at your leisure to help battle nose blindness. As a source of good advice, consider bringing a friend or significant other with you while considering. They can help you make your final decision, it’s an especially good idea to involve a significant other because, if they don’t like a particular fragrance or give them a headache or annoy them, it’s better to find that out sooner rather than later.

Conclusion

And there you have it, twelve reasons why cologne can be confusing with explanations that should clear up that confusion. We hope that today’s guide helped you make sense of scents. 

Let us know in the comments if we missed anything that you find confusing about fragrances or if you disagree with any of our solutions.

Cologne FAQ

What are the differences between cologne, perfume, and fragrance? 

While often used interchangeably, the terms parfum, eau de parfum, eau de toilette, eau de cologne, and eau fraiche all actually refer to how concentrated the aromatics in the fragrance are. “Fragrance,” meanwhile, is a general term that can refer to scents worn by either men or women, or both. Informally, the term “cologne” is often used for men’s fragrances, while “perfume” is reserved for ladies’ fragrances. 

What are the different concentrations of fragrance?

Fragrances can have aromatic concentrations of between 1% and about 30%. Check the designation of the fragrance – parfum, eau de parfum, eau de toilette, eau de cologne, or eau fraiche – to determine approximately how concentrated it is. Parfum has the highest concentration of aromatics, and eau fraiche the lowest.

Does my natural musk affect my fragrance? 

Yes, it does. Fragrances will interact differently with everyone’s body chemistry, so always sample a fragrance on your skin before making a final decision. 

Are fragrances seasonal? 

Some fragrances are seasonal. While you can technically wear any fragrance you want at any time of the year, saving seasonal fragrances for the appropriate time will often give them a greater and more pleasing effect. 

Why do you eventually stop smelling your own fragrance? 

Your body naturally adapts to and ignores what is “normal.” Therefore, after a certain amount of time, a fragrance that you usually wear will not be picked up by your nose, but will smell just as intense to others around you. Therefore, do not be tempted to start wearing more fragrance just because you can no longer smell it – you might put on too much and overwhelm others. If you aren’t sure about how much fragrance you are wearing, ask a trusted friend if they feel that you are wearing too much, too little, or just enough.

How do you know how much fragrance to wear?

When applying a new fragrance, apply a small amount and see how it interacts with your body chemistry and how it develops naturally over time. If the fragrance fades rapidly, you can apply a little bit more, upping the amount that you spray until you reach a happy medium. Once you’ve found an acceptable amount, remember it, and do not apply more, lest you apply an excess. It is always better to wear too little fragrance rather than too much. 

Where are the best places to apply fragrance? 

Select one or two of the pulse points – the chest, neck, lower jaw, forearms, inner elbows, and backs of the knees – and apply the fragrance there. Experiment with different pulse points for a combination that works well for you.

What is Nose Blindness?

Also known as Smell Fatigue, this term refers to the experience of being unable to detect or distinguish certain smells because your olfactory senses have been overstimulated. Essentially, you temporary cannot smell anything, or everything smells about the same. 

Why do people first spray fragrance on slips of paper?
While you should always test a fragrance before buying it on your own skin, you need to first narrow down a favorite one or two scents to prevent Nose Blindness. Sampling a fragrance on a tester slip of paper allows you to experience a wide arrange of fragrances without having to “contaminate” your skin before testing your final few selections. 

Outfit Rundown

Today, I’m wearing a navy suit with a red-and-white striped shirt with a great pocket square that has navy and purple accents. I also have on some Fort Belvedere socks and a pair of brown dress shoes. To tie everything up, we’re wearing a fragrance from Roberto Ugolini called Blue Suede Shoes. If you’d like to check out any of our Fort Belvedere products, check out the shop here.

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