It’s an interesting question: do men wear cologne less often today than in years past? The answer not only relates to the long-term ebbs and flows in the market for men’s fragrances and cosmetics, but also reveals changing attitudes among men in general.
Aftershave vs. Cologne
To answer the question properly, we first need to define some terms. Cologne is different than aftershave. Aftershave’s primary purpose is to help repair damage that shaving does to the skin, although it sometimes functions as a perfume too. Cologne, in contrast, is purely a fragrance. Some people use not only the terms but also the products interchangeably, which is why splashing cologne onto a freshly shaved neck can be very painful! It is not meant to sooth, only to make men smell nice.
In general, men today take better care of their skin than they used to. Gone are the days when guys used to slip moisturizer on in secret lest their friends find out and mock them (even though many of there buddies were probably doing the same thing). Consequently, aftershave products have increased in popularity. But what about cologne, and a man’s desire to smell nice?
The Beginnings: Smelly Times
Strangely, in contrast to skincare, it was always socially acceptable for men to try to smell nice. Historically, covering ourselves in perfume was essential for much of human history because of a lack of other forms of hygiene.
Cologne originated in the German city of the same name and was first mixed there by Italian-born Johann Maria Farina in 1709. The 18th century was a smelly time, and such a fragrance must have been a godsend. Even after men’s dependence on fragrances decreased — when people began taking showers with soap every day — their established acceptability must have meant that it was okay for our fathers and grandfathers to wear them even when taking care of their skin wasn’t cool.
Has cologne decreased in popularity, though, not only since the early, smelly days, but even among recent generations when compared to their fathers and grandfathers?
Designer vs Daily
In 2011, the Seattle Times reported, “men’s fragrance sales are growing faster than women’s,” seeming to suggest that men are actually wearing more cologne rather than less.
However, the paper also reported that the top five best selling fragrances were Giorgio Armani’s Acqua di Gio Pour Homme, Chanel’s Bleu de Chanel, Gucci’s Guilty Pour Homme, Armani Code, and Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue Pour Homme. More than specifically being about cologne trends, the findings suggest that men are spending more money on fashion products in general. This doesn’t necessarily counter the anecdotal evidence from many people that their fathers were more likely to splash on a hint of cologne than they are, though.
The NPD Group, the main source for the Seattle Times report, said that 63 percent of men said they wear fragrance at least occasionally, but only 23 percent of those said they use fragrance all of the time. This seems to support the theory that men today generally wear cologne only on special occasions.
Specific figures for men’s fragrance sales are not easy to find, but the anecdotal evidence about ancestors and the 37 percent in The NPD Group’s study who never wear fragrance, combined with the commercial success of designer fragrances, seems to suggest that the answer to the question posed at the start of the piece is: maybe a little, but more important is the fact that the way in which men wear cologne has changed. Men are wearing cologne not to cover unpleasant, manly smells which other products now offer, but as part of an overall fashionable and designer image.
Along with cologne, Charlie Morse likes to write about room fragrance, incense, nice smelling flowers, perfumes and other related topics.
Image credit goes to Benedetto Scalzo.