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We Need to Talk About How Much Buying Cologne Sucks

by Grant Pearce 

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A couple of years ago, my friend Liam needed to buy some new cologne because the bottle his ex-girlfriend gave him finally ran out. He never loved the old one (the cologne, not the ex,) so he was excited to get something new. We weren’t excited to head to the mall, but we didn’t think there was any other option.

We walk into the fragrance abyss that also goes by the name of “Macy’s Men’s Fragrance” aisle. As we approach the smelly (literally) counter, a very nice women comes up to us and asks us what we’re looking for. Extremely pleasant formality except for the part where we don’t know how to answer that question. What did we like? What smelled good? What did girls like? How do you even wear cologne?

These questions raced through our mind so fast that the only answer we came up with was “Uh….we don’t know.” Based on her expression, it looked like she gets that answer a ton. She then began her scripted this-is-what-you-should-buy gimmick. Here is a list of sucky factors we were hit with:

Something in the air

Fernweh Editions Fern & Petals Candle

After sampling about eight different scents in a two-minute span, the air was full of a bunch of different smells. How is the average guy supposed to know if what he’s smelling on a piece of paper is the cologne’s true scent? Or is he just smelling the combination of all recently sampled scents mixed with Auntie Anne’s pretzels at the mall? Oh right, we sniffed some coffee beans…that’ll do it.

Sampling on paper

It’s common knowledge that fragrances smell different on your skin, so why were we smelling it on pieces of paper? Kind of a sketch test drive, no? It would probably be better if you just got free samples to try on at home and then make a decision after you try them on after a few days.

Out the door, Liam spent $109.88

It definitely felt like $50 of that was just a markup by the department store because it was a luxury brand. At least the salesperson got a nice commission by insisting that the more expensive one was better than all the rest. Don’t get us wrong, she was SUPER nice and it was her job, but we really didn’t feel like we learned anything. The only thing we learned is that we were now even more broke college students.

We felt like this was a pretty common experience for guys everywhere and we figured if we were tired of it, you all probably were too. After more research, we found out that the fragrance market is dominated by only 3 (!!!) companies, hence the high retail markup and ridiculous commercials. 

2 men testing cologne


Larissa is the founder of Everfumed which she started based on her love of fragrances and perfumery. She's worked in the beauty and fragrance industry for 15+ years starting in New York with Coty designer fragrances such as Calvin Klein, Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs, and Cerruti.