If Smelling Like a Dude Is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right

But, like, a fancy dude.
Publish date:
September 15, 2016
tom ford, fragrance, penhaligons, Byredo Parfums, elizabeth & james, men's fragrance

There's a line in the film (yes, I called it a film), She's the Man, where Amanda Bynes pep-talks herself into passing as her own twin brother to play soccer at his private school that, for a while, I was also co-opting as a self-pep-talk, even though I'm not a dude, but whatever, semantics!

Anyway, picture me saying this every time I spritz on a number of fragrances I own that would easily be found in the men's section of the fragrance aisle.

My adolescence leaned towards the candy-scented fragrances found in Sephora (which was new to me, then) like whatever Escada's latest summer scent was, that blue Ralph by Ralph Lauren one (or sometimes Romance by Ralph Lauren), and any Victoria's Secret body spray. It's just what girls wore.

As far as I was aware, dudes wore Axe body spray, Davidoff Cool Water, Giorgio Armani, or whatever vile scent Abercrombie & Fitch was peddling at the time. It was a very specific smell that I loathed, and if I'm being honest, pretty much only associate with fuccboi stench (but when I was a teen there wasn't a word for fuccbois yet).

I wasn't into perfume for a long while since I didn't like traditionally "feminine" scents and was woefully ignorant to what was beyond department store and Sephora fragrance sections. It wasn't until I decided to dip into the men's section of fragrance that I was like, Oh damn, perfume is COOL.

The thing about men's fragrances that I prefer usually has to do with the heady depth and boldness. None of that airy, breezy wishy-washy stuff. Spraying on a cologne is a commitment. Plus, they tend to wear well the longer it is on your skin — it's a day-long scent journey. Sometimes the scents that initially make me gag fade into an appealingly subtle version of itself that I adore (kind of like dudes sometimes).

But it's not like you just pick any men's fragrance all willy-nilly and suddenly you're in an olfactory cloud of boyfriend jeans — it's all depending on what type of dude you want to confusingly smell like.

Here are some of my top recs, if you ask me (and if you continue reading, that is an implicit agreement that you did indeed ask me).

Oud, to me, is one of those notes that I like to call "the sex note" (a la sex beat) because of its deeply intimate warmth and complexity. Technically it's a tree sap, and technically one could argue that it smells like stinky tree sap — but that stinky tree sap is the anchor to lots of complex woodsy scents that can simultaneously damper crisp top notes as well as warm and soften the overall shape of a fragrance. If it were an accessory, it would be a nicely aged hefty leather satchel.

Tom Ford's Tobacco Oud takes that and combines it with a dry smokiness; not cigarette smoke, mind you — it's more herbaceous than that. The whole thing is dryer than it is sweet or powdery. Sandalwood and patchouli give it some spice but overall it's like majestic woodlands, this one. Definitely hot dad territory.

Speaking of hot dads, this is probably what the Dos Equis man would smell like if he ever gets bonked on the head and suddenly is like, "Beer is for noodle boys — I am The Most Interesting Man In The World™!" and then becomes a monk who then becomes a serious fragrance maker.

Penhaligon's may not be super-easily found where most fragrances are sold, but it's been around since 1870 and is British so maybe you don't find yourself around their very few boutiques that often unless you live in the UK.

Halfeti can be most simply summed up as a woody floral, or if we are disposing with PC-ness here, a velvety oriental scent. Meant to capture the beauty of the black roses that grow on the banks of the Euphrates river in Halfeti, Turkey, there are a lot of sweet floral notes like violet, rose and jasmine, with crisp spicy hits of bergamot, cardamom and cypress, all over leathery musk, sandalwood, amber, resins and oud (that isn't even all the notes, just the ones that I feel stand out the most).

This is what you wear with your marabou mules and silk kimono. This is what you wear to languish on your velvet setée. This is what you wear when you're throwing a highball glass at the last cad who dared cross your threshold with sordid expectations. You get the picture — it's a dramatically elegant scent. Not for the timid and definitely for someone who gets their way. Dare I say, for The Most Interesting Woman In The World™.

MK&A's Elizabeth And James Nirvana fragrances are so good that they have expanded their monochromatic world from Black and White to now include Bourbon (and Rose, but whatever). Technically, this is woman scent, but in the way that jeans are marketed towards women as "boyfriend fit" or in the way like the morning after, when you put on your man's button-down shirt and look just so darling, swimming in its oversize silhouette.

It's a bit like watering-down your parents' liquor bottles after sneaking sips, but I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean too much bourbon-ness and you'd smell like you spent the night in the drunk tank. This interpretation is far more vanilla (literally), plus oakwood, plus tuberose. It's spicy and warm with just the right amount of sweetness to be inviting rather than commanding. It's kind of like buying your first piece of designer leather furniture, if that's a thing you're into.

Before you get visions of cowboys twirling lassos while riding horses in the wild west, picture that scenario in the style and direction of those Lincoln ads with Matthew McConaughey. Just picture Matthew McConaughey talking to bull in a luxury SUV idling on a road cutting through fields of wheat or wheat-colored grass. That's pretty much this fragrance.

Byredo's Rodeo is all about that fancy cowboy life — leather and suede with an animal sweetness to it that keeps it from reading too dry. The make-up is actually fairly simple. Topped with leather accord, suede and midnight violet are tucked underneath, with a base of vetiver and black amber. The scent itself is crisp and clean like the pages of a brand new leather-bound notebook, but it comes alive ever so subtly on your skin — this is one of those scents that becomes sweeter or more wet on some people's skin, I feel.

My overall impression is staggeringly of its modernity in its starkness. Like people who eat the same meal every day, smelling like one overarching theme everyday inspires admiration at the commitment and consistency while appreciating the subtle richness of that choice. Mostly, I would like to smell Matthew McConaughey in a luxury vehicle. Does he know about this scent? Because he should (to note: this scent is only available at Byredo's Wooster Street boutique, but you can order it over the phone, just like in the not-too-distant past!

Look, gendered fragrances are pretty much an antiquated concept, so if you're like me and not so hot about smelling like a powdery bouquet of flowers, it's cool — the world is your smelly oyster. I tend to notice that whenever I wear my more "masculine" scents I get compliments from dudes, while when I wear my more "feminine" scents, it's usually girls who approach me to ask what I'm wearing (or dudes who are like "my ex-girlfriend use to wear that perfume"). WEIRD.

But whatever — fragrance is kind of like a projection of your personality — a cloud that enters a room before you to enchant (or gross out) all those in its haze.

  • How do you feel about gendered fragrances? Does it matter?
  • Who else like smelling like a fancy dude?