Giving cologne as a gift is no easy task; fragrance is so personal that you risk giving him something you like, and something he might hate. But at the same time, gifting fragrances is a high-stakes, high-rewards game: if you really get it right, then it’s a present he will wear daily and proudly—and he’ll have you to thank for it.
So, how do you get it right? Don’t take a stab in the dark, and don’t go off of reviews alone—until you really think about the guy on the receiving end of your present. What suits his tastes and personality? If he doesn’t mind sharing a signature scent with a lot of other people, then you can shop the staples, like Dior. And despite such a high-end label, those mass-market ones allow you to shop at a lower price point—the $70-100 range. They’re mass market for a reason too — not overpowering and universally appealing.
However, you can also raise the stakes (and the reward) with something more boutique and unrecognizable. These scents probably project a larger radius and each one fits a specific personality type. Typically, they use more precious materials and have higher concentrations of perfume oils, so they might climb into the $200-300 territory.
Now comes the tricky part, shopping without smelling them yourself. You can do a blind buy, or go to the nearest department store to request any of the ones from our list. Or, most brands will send samplers for a reasonable cost, if you would rather not commit until you’ve tried it out. LuckyScent is a terrific place to shop for samplers, too. Sites like Scentbird and LUXSB deliver samplers to your door, so that you can test an array of fragrances before you buy one.
You can also get a subscription to their services if the giftee prefers to wear something different from one month to the next, or take his time discovering the perfect match. Lastly, many brands have sampler packs of their best s(m)ellers, which you can also purchase for an array of options from a reputable company. The best part is, you can buy a full size of your favorite one, and keep the extra travel-size vials for special occasions that demand a different vibe.
But you came here for the best men’s fragrances to give as a gift, so we’ll gift you with our own personal picks here.
For the first-time fragrance wearer
We suggest starting him out on something with universal acclaim. Aim for an EDT (eau de toilette) which has a lower concentration of perfume oils; that way it’ll wear lightly with a few sprays, and he can get used to the habit—and to the steady stream of compliments.
Dior — Homme
This is what’s called a “chypre” scent, for its stirring blend of wood and earth notes (specifically cedar, vetiver, and patchouli in Dior Homme’s case). It is easy to love, anything but polarizing, and soothes the senses of those who encounter it. Get it for the teen or 20-something who needs a major boost from his body spray era.
Hugo Boss — BOSS Bottled
Nothing feels more business casual than BOSS Bottled. A crisp top layer of apple and citrus gives way to a spicy heart (cinnamon and clove), and finishes on a base that is woody and musky all at once. It’s serene, and it’s easy to love.
For date nights
Roja Parfums — Scandal
Roja Parfums blends are potent—a 20% perfume oil concentration means they last long and announce themselves loudly—but that also means you can make it last (in that a little goes a long way). Scandal is a terrific men’s fragrance for date nights and fancy events. Its primary notes are fresh lavender and spearmint, earthy moss, and spicy clove; it is equally refreshing and arousing, but will never send the wrong signal.
For winter wear
Byredo — Mumbai Noise
Herbaceous, smoky, and woody are all facets of Mumbai Noise, the latest launch from Byredo. However, it’s anything but noisy; this hazy blend settles instantly and serenely onto the senses, almost like a sturdy flannel shirt hugging you in winter. Wear it to warm up cold days, and to invite cozy companionship.
For summers and weekends
Tom Ford — Costa Azzurra
Costa Azzurra is like a top-down drive along Italy’s northern coasts: sea notes infused with crisp citrus and invigorating evergreen—the ultimate summer medley. It wears well year-round and week-round, especially if you want to evoke brighter days during the dregs of winter or the lulls of any given Wednesday.
For the office
Costume National — Scent Intense
Picking a workplace scent is a tricky task, since you want colleagues to enjoy your scented radius, without feeling overpowered by it. Plus, you don’t want to strike the wrong notes—it ought to stay purely professional. Costume National’s Scent Intense isn’t so intense at all; it has staying power, sure, but it’s a friend to all, and makes a stellar and inviting impression. That’s thanks to an ambrous, leathery, woody dry down. Of all on this list, this one is probably frontrunner for best new signature scent, too, if he’s going to wear just one.
For the scent-skeptical guy
Escentric Molecules — Molecule 01 + Mandarin
Molecule 01 is a cult favorite in the fragrance world, for its core note, Iso E Super, which more or less unfolds uniquely on each wearer. It’s a barely-there note, one that almost radiates like pheromones from the skin. The brand made three additional formulations, with one subtle note added to each—iris, patchouli, or mandarin. Our favorite is mandarin. You’ll get that same “je ne sais quoi” energy of the original blend, plus a squeeze of citrus to lift the spirits.
Photo via Sephora