Smelling All Men!


Man Wearing Cologne

by Elizabeth Shore

Why is it in romances that when we read descriptions of how the hero smells it’s basically down to one of three choices: smoke, leather, or the woods. And generally, those scents are said to be the hero’s own, naturally emanating from his pores like a magical sweet-smelling sweat.

Guys in romances rarely wear cologne; perhaps it just doesn’t seem manly. However, a Men’s Fitness article I read recently listed ten men’s fragrances that are “guaranteed” (so says the article) to drive their women wild. So I wonder, if we’re all going wild from a guy’s fragrance, how come he’s not spritzing it on in our stories?

According to perfumerflavorist.com, which says it’s the “technical and business media source” for the industry, the global perfume market will reach $45.6B by 2018. Admittedly the dominant source for that growth is the women’s market, but nonetheless the article states that perfumers are seeing the “men’s fragrance segment beginning to witness strong growth patterns.”

Hmm. OK. So guys apparently are buying fragrance, some of them anyway, and if they’re wearing the right stuff they’re driving us wild. So then what exactly is this right stuff making us gals so crazed? A spokeswoman for a company that develops fragrances and who is cited in the Men’s Fitness article says that what we want to smell on our men are “rich scents with dark woods, warming spices, and amber notes in them.”

That would seem to explain the smoke, leather, and woods smells that are so often ascribed to heroes in romance novels. But I’m still thinking about my original musing, which is why aren’t our heroes dabbing on manufactured scent in our books? Is is only manly to smell good if it’s natural?

I have to admit that I like it when I catch a hint of a guy’s cologne. Living in the NYC area, when I’m on the packed subway I often find myself wedged between people like sardines in a can. Being in such close quarters subjects one to the scent of others, be it good, bad, or “pass the barf bag” revolting. On the occasions when it’s the warm amber note of some guy’s cologne making its way to my olfactory senses, it’s a turn-on. Not just because I’m smelling cologne instead of BO,  but the scent itself triggers interest in the wearer.

Guys definitely seem to be on the bandwagon for endorsing fragrance. Plenty of male celebrities have launched men’s cologne, including Usher, 50 Cent, David Beckham, Antonio Banderas, and Tim McGraw, to name a few. I don’t know whether the products are any good or not but again, as far as I’m concerned, it beats BO hands down.

Any historical romance writer knows that late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially in Britain, saw the omnipresence of the dandy, that rather narcissistic, self-absorbed man who was meticulous in all matter of things related to personal grooming. One would assume that fragrance played a role in the dandy’s daily toilette, which leads me to wonder if maybe our historical heroes abstained from applying fragrance because it seemed too . . . let’s just put it out there . . . gay?

When it comes right down to it, could it be that a romance novel hero would simply come off as effeminate if he spritzed on some Eau de Usher? Does masculinity get compromised if our hero’s scent comes from any other source besides his own magical pores?

What do you all think? To spritz or not to spritz, that is the question. I’d love to hear the answers!

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11 Comments

  • cpmandara
    August 21, 2013 at 2:22 am

    I think cologne is sexy, but more often than not it will be described as ‘a hint of sandalwood and cinnamon’ etc. It must be some secret aversion we have that says we do not actually want our hero spritzing from a bottle… Must be the feminine connotations associated with it 🙂

    • Elizabeth Shore
      August 21, 2013 at 9:24 am

      It’s interesting, right? We want the guys to smell sexy but we don’t want to actually see them spritzing the stuff on. And you’re right, I do see men’s colognes described with having a “hint” of sandalwood or cinnamon. I see vetiver a lot, too. I guess guys like that. Or maybe it’s more correct to say they think we like it on them. 🙂

  • cpmandara
    August 21, 2013 at 2:25 am

    Reblogged this on Christina Mandara and commented:
    I loved this post… Why don’t we let our Alpha Males spritz with cologne or aftershave? Too feminine by far? Not sexy? What’s your view?

  • Cara Bristol
    August 21, 2013 at 8:26 am

    I think the prevalence of cologne use in romance occurs because scents can only be described by analogy. What words would you use to describe the pleasant smell of the human body? I’ve seen “warm” and “masculine” used, but those aren’t really scents are they? So an author resorts to a known scent. People know what woodsey smells like.

    I know the perfume industry is still big business, but in my world anyway, I know of very few (can’t think of any in fact) men or women who wear cologne anymore.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      August 21, 2013 at 9:26 am

      You’re right, Cara. It’s a challenge trying to think of how to describe our hero’s natural scents. I’ve seen “spicy,” too, but that’s just kind of vague. Does someone actually smell spicy?! Lol!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  • madelineiva
    August 21, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    There’s so much to respond to my mind is reeling. I have an uber-strong sense of smell. When I’m close to my menstrual cycle, I can name that cologne from twenty feet away. (Not to mention pot, etc.) I also have a strong sense of smelling–for lack of a better word –testosterone and at sports events sometimes want to whinny and paw the ground there are so many different odd tangy strange notes in the air that make my head spin around on my neck.

    That said, was it only me who had that problem in high school of the Drak Noir guy walking into geometry first period and leveling the room with his overdone cologne? I transferred into a math class and after the second day this guy just about killed me with the stuff. It was so bad I transferred right out again, and another guy stopped me and thanked me, said the olfactory barrage had stopped.

    Ultimately, in real life, while it’s fun smelling colognes that randomly appear in a crowd–and your story about the subway Elizabeth sounds FASCINATING–there’s something a little hmmmmhmphnnmmm about a guy who’s really cologne-y to me. It’s just too much. In terms of trustworthiness, I only like I guy I can smell when I’m close enough to hug him.

    When it comes to describing the hero’s smell in books, I’m so confounded. Two guys that I’ve liked the smell of best (one being DH) smell a little bit like—broth. Somewhere between chicken soup and miso. A little tangier though. I mean, it’s a great smell — I LOVE IT — but it’s just not going to fly in a romance, you know?

  • LizEverly
    August 21, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    I don’t mind a little cologne on a man, But really, I just like a clean scent. It took me many years to figure out that a strong perfume scent of any kind could trigger a migraine for me. So my husband doesn’t wear a scent and neither do I. My teenage daughter? She loves the perfume–and it’s okay with me if I am not in a car or small room with her. Great post!

  • Father Anonymous
    August 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    I did not wear cologne until my 40s, because it seemed weird. Not gay, not “effeminate,” just unnecessary. The only men I knew who wore it were from other social and ethnic communities, and often used too much of the cheapest stuff. I didn’t know much about cologne, but I knew that I didn’t want to be like those guys.

    Then, with age and wisdom, it dawned on me that men stink. We perspire a lot more than women, and if we don’t bathe pretty quickly, the perspiration hosts colonies of stinky little bacteria. And so we stink.

    These days, I wear a very old-fashioned scent made with sandalwood. (As an after shave, which is an entirely different thing, I prefer bay rum, which smells great and fades in five minutes).

    But so far as fictional men go, I have two observations.

    The first is that, in my experience, women want men to be well-groomed, but consider the actual act of grooming to be unmasculine. Even the stubble-and-shaggy locks look takes a lot of work, but a man who allows himself to be seen putting in that effort is not likely to have much sex with the woman who saw him. It seems logical that this would carry over into fiction, meaning that “He smelled like leather” is a way of saying that he did not smell like, well, armpit stink — but without hinting that he had done anything but outdoor work to smell that way. It’s ludicrous, of course, but that’s how these things work.

    The second is that one fictional man has managed to wear cologne successfully. James Bond, in the Fleming novels, uses Trumper’s “Eucris,” a floral woody musk. But then, he is also one of the few men in fiction who can get away with having his personal accessories — watches, suits, etc. — described in any detail.

    • Madeline Iva
      August 26, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      You said it! Thanks so much for the superb comment — you’re spot on about how women perceive men putting forth an effort. I know Dockers did some campaign for chinos that was hitting on exactly that “somehow I look great but I didn’t try” ethos. And how does Bond get away with it while other men can’t?

    • Elizabeth Shore
      August 27, 2013 at 7:30 pm

      Ha! Well said, Father Anonymous. Incredibly astute observations. You’re right about the grooming thing. We don’t want to see men “doing the grooming deed,” as it were, but we definitely want the results. Yeah, leather and the woods are certainly preferable to armpit stink!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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