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Hugh V.

To Wear or Not to Wear: Classic Men's Fragrances

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Do you like old school men's fragrances? Do you want to try them out? Classic fragrances are always a tough nut to crack if you also are concerned about how they're going to be received by others, or maybe you're just picky yourself and don't want to blind buy something is too outside your comfort zone.

I grew up with a father whose daily routine always involved fragrance. I distinctly remember the scent of Drakkar Noir by Guy La Roche and Calvin Klein's Eternity for Men. But by the time I was in high school, fragrances like Cool Water (1988) and Polo Sport (1993) were what was in fashion. It wasn't until I was in my mid-20s that I had a hankering to indulge in the nostalgia of the 80s and try out those fragrances that were part of my early childhood.

Drakkar Noir was one of them. That opening blast of freshness was amazing. Then it got dirty and cloying. What the hell?
Eternity for Men also had a familiar opening but quickly turned powdery. What gives?

I tried other fragrances from the '80s and '70s and many of them I found to be just too disagreeable.

What I found out though was that to truly appreciate these fragrances you need to view them in the context of the era they were produced in. Take into consideration the progression of men's fragrances at the time, and why they were made the way they were. What came before them? Were they building off that in order to emulate a trend, or was it a reaction and rejection of what came before? What was the fashion like at the time? The music? That attitudes of society? All these factor in to how a fragrance smells and how it was supposed to be received.

Not to mention that many fragrances from that era were complex and had dry downs that went through different stages. The final stage of a fragrance might smell very different from the opening, as well as its middle. You need to wear it all day long to get the entire picture of a fragrance. Not to mention, giving it several more wearings in different situations might allow you to see it from a different point of view and pick up different notes you didn't notice before.

Just about all the old school fragrances I've tried in the last few years and rejected have become favorites of mine. Here's some of them:

Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene
I heard the horror stories. The "Grey Flannel Challenge." How it was awful. Smelled like old man, etc. I also heard that it was regarded as very sophisticated for it's time. I sampled it at a pharmacy. A nice "classic" opening that eventually turned into something very floral and light, almost reminiscent of 4711 in it's basic-ness. I imagined an 80 year old retiree shuffling, smiling, while wearing it. Very ageist and insulting, I know.

Later I saw some magazine advertisements for the fragrance from sometime in the early 80s. A good looking, virile and well dressed guy, standing in front of an expensive sports car. An image of Grey Flannel bottle was in the corner of the page. Automatically I viewed the fragrance in a different light. It was once a "cool" fragrance this ad told me.

I tried it once again, and dammit, it did smell different to me. Instead of this light smelling floral, it was more of a green, damp, clean fragrance, and very masculine, not at all frail or old smelling. It's now one of my favorite men's fragrances.

Halston Z-14
I bought this at a discount store for $9.99. After wearing it I was offended. It was the exact same smell as Big Red chewing gum. Ew. I don't even like cinnamon.

But I ended up smelling this fragrance several more times, usually during winter, and I kind of missed my old bottle. I ended up getting it again and enjoying it. Instead of smelling like Big Red, I noticed his much more nuanced, creamy dry down that was cinnamon heavy but also a bit of leather in there as well. I imagined that someone like Ron Burgundy or Magnum P.I. might wear it. I kind of got into the mind set of someone in the 1970s choosing to wear this loud and dominant scent, as a precursor to the power house era. Not to mention I wore it on a cold, rainy day, and the scent hugged and made the rain not just tolerable, but welcome. Now I view it as one of THEE best classics of its time.

But let's say you've already found some classic fragrances you like but you're wondering if they might be two challenging or outdated to wear out. The more you know about fragrance, fashion, and yourself, you'll know how and when to wear something. With classics, you have to understand what type of classic it is. You don't want to wear an oriental during the summer, and you don't want to wear an extremely challenging fragrance like Aramis in your university classroom.

My best advice is to wear these fragrances on yourself, by yourself, several times to get comfortable wearing them. To understand the nuance of the sent and experience the full dry down. Before you go to bed, when you go out for errands, with different outfits, whatever. Also, start observing the social climate of each aspect of you life: the work place, school, socializing, romantic situations, etc. Get an eye and nose for fashion. Remember, it's trial and error before you become good at something.

Classic fragrances are like time machines. They can transport you to an earlier time in your life, or they can allow you to experience an era that you never actually lived in. Before you dismiss them on first sampling, take some time to learn about them and give them a second, third, or even fourth chance. You might find out you actually like them.

Updated 15th July 2020 at 07:51 AM by Hugh V.

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