Dear Yankee Whisky Papa,
I am an admirer of your column Boxing the Compass. All of your sartorial advice is greatly appreciated, but I wonder what your thoughts are on another issue that is pertinent to men and style. I speak of the frequently ignored issue of mens cologne. Quite obviously, a man can undo all of his otherwise noble efforts in dress by improperly--either in amount, method, or type--applying a fragrance. I wonder if you could please speak to the following questions:
1. Is it appropriate or even desirable for men to wear fragrance?
2. If it is appropriate, which specific fragrances are acceptable, and what is the best method of application?
3. Please address the relative merits of cologne vs. aftershave.
Cordially, A Co-ed in New Haven
Dear New Haven Co-ed,
For millennia, we men have offended the noses of the more pleasantly fragranced. Either wrapped in stinking fur hides in a flame-lit cave or standing watch on a square-rigged floating disease incubator wearing a festering neck-cloth, we have historically not smelled good. Fragrances were always a masking agent for men, a way to quickly clean up, and to attempt to make closeness with another human tolerable, despite the putridity we effortlessly emit. Fragrance in our past was critical, possibly the main factor allowing humans to tolerate one another long enough to allow reproductive mechanisms to complete themselves.
The truth is, today American culture generally finds us showered daily, and in reasonably clean clothing (thanks to laundry machines, etc.). Fragrance is no longer crucial, and is instead now merely a pleasant option. Today, men wear fragrances for one of several reasons:
1. They stink
2. They think women will find it and the wearer attractive
3. They wish to establish a trademark scent
4. All of the above
As far as it being desirable and appropriate, the answer is in the nose of the beholder. Some fragrances have an innately pleasant smell, and others recall memories (in any direction) of their associations with that smell. Olfactory memory triggers are frighteningly instantaneous and accurate, and you may be flashed back to an 8th grade slow dance when you catch a whiff of Polo on the subway. Men also risk having the association be unfavorable for the recipient, as we all have experienced at one time or another. As I left for college, Father told me not to pick out my own cologne, unless I wanted to pick up other men... advice that translates beautifully into so many other areas.
How to apply fragrance
Great Uncle once told me that a man's fragrance should only be detected by a lady when sharing a dance or a secret. Damn fine advice.
This means applying it with a Q-Tip or the tip of a finger somewhere in the mandible/ear lobe/neck area, in the tiniest possible amount. Again, the tiniest possible amount. As for which particular scent to choose, I believe that this is an age-old dilemma, the solution for which is somewhere in the trial-and-error laboratory of one's dressing area/night out. Men also should fully confront the possibility that NO scent may be their best option, and these decisions should be approached with brutal honesty between woo-er (scent wearer) and woo-ees.
The third part of your question (cologne vs. aftershave) is also important. Aftershave is a cooling/antiseptic/soothing liquid with fragrance ranging from subtle to over-powering, applied to a freshly-scraped face. Like shining one's shoes, sometimes a nice aftershave can give you a lift in the morning, and I find them particularly nice in the summer. I only occasionally use aftershave though, and when I do, it's Clubman.
The scent is pleasant and not all-consuming, and unlike cologne, [aftershave in general] looses its potency relatively quickly. Aftershave is dashed into the palm in the same quantity as bitters into a Manhattan -one or two will do the trick- rubbed together, and clapped onto the newly de-whiskered face. If you prefer to go Old school, witch hazel also makes a nice aftershave, and it will straighten up your spine when it goes on for the first time. A small bottle from the drug store will cost under $3.
We have all experienced the nauseating and imposing sensation of someone wearing far too much fragrance, and for those of us with acute senses of smell, it can be very uncomfortable. My final advice is DO NOT COMBINE. If you choose to wear cologne (I never do), do not use aftershave, and only use a scentless deodorant.
I hope that this answers your question.