How to Choose a Scent for the Men in Your Life

If you want to buy them something they’ll actually wear this year, rather than shove to the back of their sock drawer, this advice doesn’t stink.


Everyone’s got that one man in their life: Well-groomed, decent style, no major red flags, and yet, there’s something that’s holding them back from putting it all together — or, better put, a lack of something.

He doesn’t smell.

No, I don’t mean “smell” like what a foot smells like — he definitely doesn’t smell like a foot — it’s more like he doesn’t smell as good as he could. He doesn’t have a signature scent. People dig a guy with a scent: It’s that certain je ne sais quoi that can really tie a look together. It can get you a better table at a restaurant; mean the difference between getting a job and never making it past the second interview; it can even imbue you with the power to leap tall buildings in a single bound. At least that’s what they tell me.

All jokes aside, smelling good can and should be an important part of anyone’s personal style. Unfortunately, buying cologne for someone is fraught with risk: How do you know if they’ll like the way it smells? How do you know what they’re going to use it for? Wait — there are differences between a daytime scent and a nighttime scent? What’s up with that?

“Cologne’s definitely not the easiest thing to buy as a gift,” says Sean Ireton, personal stylist and founder of Nuinspiration, an L.A.-based image consultancy. The first and most important rule for doing so is to “go somewhere where you can smell them first,” Ireton explains. “Nordstrom is a great place to start since the people in those departments are very helpful and have a very keen sense of smell.” Alternatively, if you’re buying online, ask for a sample first.

What if you can’t get to a store, though, or there are no samples to be had? “Read the descriptions,” Ireton advises. “Colognes will use words like ‘woodsy,’ ‘fresh,’ ‘musky,’ ‘spicy’ and ‘fruity.’ Fresher, lighter scents are often better for daytime use, while the spicier, more deep and almost ‘sensual’ scent is used for nighttime because of the feelings they invoke.”

“Then, think about your guy,” Ireton continues. “Is he really masculine? Maybe opt for a muskier or spicier scent. If he’s a very friendly and bubbly guy, lean towards a fresh or fruitier scent.” That’s not all you need to consider, however. “Colognes will change smell based on the wearer’s body chemistry,” Ireton explains. “So once the cologne makes contact with the skin, it’ll become more unique.”

If you’re buying for a husband, boyfriend or just some guy you like to text “U up?” to, remember that half the battle is finding something that you’ll enjoy as much as he will. “Buy him what you love to smell on him,” suggests Ireton.

As for how much to spend, Ireton says that, in the case of cologne, more is indeed more: “An appropriate amount to spend would be at least $50 to $100, depending on how special he is to the gift giver.” 

So there you have it: Everything you need to help that guy in your life pull it all together once and for all — or, at the very least, smell better than a foot.