I’ve read a few online discussions about gender and perfume recently. I love to see this because nowhere does gender seem more arbitrary than in perfumery. Now I love perfume, and consider it an art-form, but I don’t expected it to move the dial on gender. Perfume is more likely to fall in line with your beliefs than to change them. For most men, this will mean wearing fragrances marketed to men. For a number of reasons, women have a certain stylistic access to gender borrowing that allows them to wear men’s perfume. It’s a spin on the sexy woman in the post-fuck boyfriend’s too-large dress shirt. For men, the gender armor must be total, one spritz of Fracas, one chink in the armor is fatal. It shows that masculinity, previously thought to be innate and absolute, is fragile, and takes an ongoing effort to maintain.
These strategies get at why men want to wear perfume. Beauty rarely leads the list. Identifiability, attraction, distraction, convincing/reassurance are more common. Remember, we’re talking about men, the people who believe character is expressed in a necktie. The people who tacitly believe so strongly in the power of style that they avoid it at all costs, wearing the same oxford cloth shirt or pair of jeans from adolescence through middle age.
So, gender boundaries firmly in place, here are some strategies for men to wear men’s mainstream fragrances.
Number one. An easy and effective approach across so many styles of masculinity, Boring but Reliable is a safe fallback. The Eau de Cologne fits this genre. Not much more to say.
Number two. The Power Fragrance has a beloved place in men’s medicine chests. Depending on your generation, this might have been Aramis for Aramis, Paco Rabanne pour Homme, Chanel Antaeus, Thierry Mugler A*Men or Gauthier Fleur du Male.
The scent of men’s Power Fragrances might be a little grating to those around you. They’re loud and inescapable. On the level of scent, they’re not far from Poison or Amarige, but conceptually they’re utterly nonthreatening. To most, a man wearing a swaggering men’s fragrance is logical if not natural. This strategy is called Carry a Big Stick, and it’s the classic case of black and white. Say no to nuance, say no to grey, say no to anything outside the norm.
Number three. Strategy three is about wearing perfumes that are not women’s perfumes, but may require some defense for masculine use. The defense strategy comes in two parts. Part A involves the big, loud perfume, which requires a ballsy defense. This strategy, The Speedo, can lead a man to go out on a limb, to risk ridicule. It’s a classically masculine defense; if a things worth doing, it’s worth doing large. Fleur du Male on a butch sports fan might be a good opportunity for this strategy. (deliberately, no photo)
Part B of the defense strategy isn’t seen so much these days. It’s more from the days of Guerlain Heritage, Givenchy Insensé and Chanel Egoiste. This strategy, It’s Not a Purse, It’s a Euro-Satchel is most appropriate for male prettiness.
Prettiness, as opposed to handsomeness, must be either filtered or justified. The Satchel, a defense strategy, focuses on justification and is suitable these days for Dior Homme and Guerlain Habit Rouge.
Number four. Perhaps the most common of the strategies is the Member of the Pack. It’s not particular to any perfume or genre, it simply has to do with whatever your cohort are wearing. This strategy is simply about that means, deliberate or unconscious, of demonstrating belonging.
The Pack strategy values affiliation over individuality. I might describe this category critically, but it works very well for a lot of people. Belonging is not a bad thing, and most people manage it quite well. An example of this strategy as a larger cultural phenomenon would be the use of Cool Water in the late 80s early 90s by a cohort of men from teens to 40s. Somehow I missed this era, but thank god it was Cool Water, a balanced, buoyant, and frankly pretty fragrance. Imagine if it had been A*Men or Pi.
Number five. The last strategy, Confidence, is about wearing unisex fragrances. Not all unisex fragrances, but the distinctive ones. There is the fragrance that is unisex through attempting to gain the largest market share. CK1 drives down the middle of the bell curve and winds up unisex. CK1 requires not an iota of confidence. Bvlgari Black does.
(These young fags @ the Stonewall Inn in NYC around of the time of the Stonewall riots were both confident and brave. There’s a distinction, but fortunately for all us queer people since Stonewall, they sometimes happen together.)
Bvlgari Black is unisex by taking a scent without gender, rubber, making a beautiful perfume and stating that anyone willing to step forward for beauty can wear it. Gender is relatively irrelevant. Confidence has a two part pay off. You get a beautiful and distinctive perfume like Black. You also get the recognition from others that you are self-possessed enough to wear fragrance for its aesthetic value.
All the above said, please, men, either be conscious about why you wear perfume and stand by it, or try setting gender aside in your selection of the fragrance. I dare you.