Choosing the Best Cologne for Men: Tips and Recommendations

Your signature fragrance is as much an expression of style as the clothes you wear. That’s one reason why it can be so challenging to choose a cologne. No matter how many samples you sniff at the department store, it’s tough to find one that feels right. To make things more difficult, the more you sniff, the more those pricey fragrances start to smell the same. 

Hopefully this guide will help. I’ll cover what those fancy cologne descriptors — like “hint of bergamot” — really mean, so you can narrow the search to scents you truly enjoy. Then I’ll dive into the factors to consider when picking the best cologne for you. And lastly, I’ll share a few of the most popular men’s cologne brands to get your search started. 

Man spraying cologne on neck with text overlay that reads men's cologne.
Photo source: Envato.

Cologne descriptors: What they mean

If you’ve shopped online for fragrances, you may have noticed the descriptions are kind of…nonsensical. They’re like perfume commercials, in that they dance around and hint at the essence of the scent. You can read a cologne description one, two, three times and still not be sure what the darn thing smells like. 

So let’s clear that up. The first thing you should know is the types and names of fragrance concentrations. These are: 

  • Parfum: The most concentrated fragrance. Parfums often contain 15% to 20% aromatics, so the scent is strong, long-lasting — and expensive. With parfum, a little goes a long way. 
  • Eau de parfum (EDP): EDPs are 10% to 15% aromatics. They’re a good value, as they’re less expensive than parfum but still long-lasting. 
  • Eau de toilette (EDT): EDTs’ aromatic composition is 5% to 10%. The scent will be lighter in character than parfums and EDPs, possibly something you could wear every day. 
  • Cologne (eau de cologne): Technically cologne is the least concentrated and lightest option. A splash of cologne at your neck is the type of thing only those closest to you will smell. In conversation, cologne is often used to mean all men’s fragrances, which is how I’ve used that term later in this article.

Now let’s talk about the scent descriptors. We’ll tackle them in categories, starting with aquatic scents and working through to the woody notes. 


Scents that remind you of the ocean are in this category. With a deep inhale of an aquatic cologne, you might detect a hint of sea breeze or ocean water. These scents are fresh and light. L’Eau d’Issey by Issey Miyake is an example. My hubby used to wear this one, so it’s a personal favorite. 


Aromatic colognes often smell of lavender, oakmoss, or coumarin, a compound found in tonka beans and vanilla grass. I don’t want to describe this category as floral exactly — since I don’t think that’s a positive for guys — but there is an herby, sweet, vanilla character to an aromatic scent. Cool Water by Davidoff is an example. 


Citrus colognes smell like lemon, oranges, or grapefruit. You may see these described with the word bergamot, which is an Italian variety of orange. Bergamot is very popular in colognes and it’s also used to flavor Earl Grey tea. Dior Homme Cologne by Christian Dior is a citrusy fragrance. 


Fruity colognes often carry notes of apple, pineapples, and/or berries. There’s a sweeter character here, but you might enjoy the familiarity of these scents. Bleu de Chanel Parfum by Chanel is an example. 


Speaking of sweets, gourmand colognes may remind you of the dessert tray. Notes of vanilla, chocolate, and caramel stand out. Thierry Mugler A*Men is in this category. 


Green fragrances smell of fresh cut grass, leaves, and herbs. Green Irish Tweed by Creed is an example. 


Leather colognes always remind me of mens-only lounges — the places where mature and wealthy white guys smoke cigars and sip cognac. A more accurate description, though, is that these fragrances are deep and rich, like a mix of leather, tobacco, and spices. Tuscan Leather by Tom Ford is an example. 


Spicy scents tend to be musky, with notes of amber, nutmeg, and vanilla. Bleu de Chanel by Chanel is in this category. 


Woody colognes tend to be rich, earthy, and masculine. They smell like cedarwood, sandalwood, and patchouli. You might see the word vetiver in the description for woody scents. Vetiver is an Indian variety of grass. Terre d’Hermès by Hermès is in this category. 

As you read through those descriptions, one or two hopefully stood out as more appealing. Keep in mind that fragrances, including the examples above, generally blend notes from different scent categories. That provides balance and complexity. But as you test out different colognes, think about these scent categories. That will help you identify the cologne’s dominant scent, which in turn helps you decide if it’s right for you. 

Tips for choosing a cologne 

“Choosing your signature fragrance is an act of self-expression. Your scent should please your senses and provide an enjoyable daily ritual.”

Warren Davis, Founder, Wythe Apothecary

Don’t rush the process of selecting a cologne. Most fragrances aren’t cheap to buy, so you don’t want to feel any regret about the purchase. Take your time and use the five tips below to guide your choice.

1. Know how you’ll use the scent 

The scent you purchase for all-day, everyday wear is different from the one you wear at night to make an impression. 

2. Know your budget 

Keep your shopping and testing limited to scents you can afford. Finding the perfect scent that’s off-brand and budget-friendly is the outcome you want. You don’t want to buy something overly pricey and then be reluctant to use it. 

3. First, decide what you like 

Spend time sampling colognes until you understand the types of scents you prefer. Admittedly, this can be a tedious process. It’s tough to try more than one without tainting your senses. 

Once you feel comfortable with a style of cologne — say a lightweight aromatic with woody notes — you can ask counter reps for their recommendations. 

4. Always do a test drive 

Fragrances blend with your body chemistry and evolve throughout the day. That means the scent will be different on your skin than it is in the bottle.

To ensure an accurate test drive, spray the cologne directly on your clean wrist or inner elbow. Then take note of how the product smells throughout the day. 

5. Pick the confidence builder 

The right fragrance is one that enhances your confidence and makes you feel good. Trust your instincts here. You’ll know it when you find the right one. 

Most recommended colognes and brands 

When it comes to cologne, there are countless brands to choose from, but there are a few that stand out above the rest. These top cologne brands have been recommended time and time again for their unique scents, long-lasting quality, and overall appeal:

Whether you’re looking for a signature scent or a special occasion fragrance, these brands likely have something that speaks to you. 

If you’re interested in specific cologne recommendations, try these favorites: 

And, just for kicks, these are the five best-selling men’s fragrances on Amazon: 

Your best scent

Take your time and enjoy the process of scent shopping. Try out several options and wear each one for at least a day. The goal is to find a men’s cologne that you happily add to your daily routine because it represents your personal style. 

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