I had a question from my friend Ethan in Virginia. “Do you have any suggestions on less expensive colognes that won’t make me smell like garbage? Not that I intend to go cheap, but I’m seeing some pretty steep prices.” And you know what? The guy’s got a point. Fragrances are expensive, and not everyone can go as high-end as they’d like. I know I’ve got a lot of samples in my collection that I can’t dream of owning in a full bottle. Sometimes, you just can’t spend what you’d like to on fragrance. That doesn’t mean there’s not good stuff out there. Here’s a list of fragrances readily available at the mall for under $75 that don’t smell like a locker room.
Euphoria Men by Calvin Klein ($46.99, Perfumania) is a fresh, spicy scent with a hint of sweetness. It starts off with Sichuan peppercorn and ginger, mellowing into an herbal-woody heart of black basil, sage, and cedar, before drying down to a rich base of amber, patchouli, suede, and redwood. This is a very confident scent that hangs fairly close to the skin, not needing to announce itself to the whole room, but it makes for a fantastic-smelling hug.
The entire Yves Saint Laurent L’Homme line is good, but the original L’Homme ($25 for the mini, bottles starting at $52, Sephora) is a true classic. Ginger, spices, and bergamot dominate, giving it a clean freshness that smells elegant without being sporty. La Nuit de L’Homme and L’Homme Libre are also very good choices, but try out the original first.
I wouldn’t bother with Victoria’s Secret’s original Very Sexy For Him. It’s overplayed and a little bit banal, much like many of their women’s scents. It’s as if it were trying to be Armani Code and missed, and unless your skin chemistry does something spectacular with it, it’s going to read as pretty boring. Wear it if you must, but never on a date.
The other two, Very Sexy For Him 2 and Very Sexy For Him Platinum (above; $42, Victoria’s Secret) are a lot more interesting. I particularly like the way the violet leaf and pepper play off the oakmoss in Platinum. The violet leaf makes it green, the oakmoss makes it deep, and the pepper keeps it all from going too heavy.
L’Occitane is bad about discontinuing their best stuff (I’m still mourning their Notre Flore collection!), but their Eau des Baux ($55, L’Occitane En Provence) is a very good choice. It starts off spicy, with cardamom and pink pepper, before drying down to cypress, incense, vanilla, and tonka bean.
Burberry Brit for Men (starts at $60 at Sephora, but check TJMaxx/Marshall’s/Ross type places first, because I often see Burberry fragrances there at a significant discount) is a very sophisticated, quietly masculine, confident scent that reminds me of what a modern Sherlock Holmes might wear. The spices in it are very fresh, giving a manly vibe to the prominent rose note.
A few honorable mentions:
- Calvin Klein Eternity Aqua, $56, Ulta. Very typical “blue cologne,” so you kind of know what it’s going to smell like before you spray it, but it’s a good example of its class, very well blended for the price.
- Thierry Mugler Cologne, $60, Macy’s. Very typical citrus aromatic, very unisex, but smells very fresh and clean. Be careful of Mugler’s scents, though, in that you HAVE to try them on skin before buying. I have a couple of fragrances by Thierry Mugler, and they either do really well or really badly, depending on the wearer’s skin chemistry. There isn’t much in between.
- L’Occitane Cedre & Oranger, $75, L’Occitane En Provence. This one would have topped my list if it were $20 less, but at the very top of the price range, it’s a little high for what it is, another citrus-and-cedar blend over a vetiver and musk base. At a $50-55 dollar range, I’d rank it as excellent, but at $75, it’s merely good.
- Abercrombie and Fitch Fierce, $44, abercrombie.com. I have to mention this one because of its popularity, but I was around when it was new, and it just smells like eau de sleazeball to me. If you buy into the whole Abercrombie and Fitch aesthetic, it might be one you’d like, but I just can’t get behind it. It’s not poor quality, but the image the scent evokes for me is of creepy guys who are too impressed with their own six-packs and bad pickup lines to respect “go away,” so I’m really not a fan. If you’ve ever seen Lizzie Bennet Diaries on Youtube, think George Wickham.
- Dior Fahrenheit, $50.99, Perfumania. This is a well-known leather scent that’s been around a while. If it works well on you, it’s very sexy, but if it doesn’t go well with your skin chemistry, it’s going to smell like you’ve been out doing yard work, all sweat and gasoline and fresh grass. Don’t buy this one without trying it on your skin first.
There are some good options out there that don’t involve triple-digit prices. For the most part, you get what you pay for in fragrances, but there are some very good mid-priced scents out there. And don’t underestimate places like Perfumania, Ross, TJMaxx, Marshall’s, etc. You can get the real deal without paying a fortune, if you’re smart about it.