Cologne is every suave man’s secret weapon. A spray before work, a date or a party not only provides an instant boost in attractiveness, but also instills extra confidence when wearing it in the company of others. How does the modern gent go about shopping for the best cologne? It starts with educating one’s self in the science of scent.
When browsing through different fragrances for men you’ll often see scents described in three ways: top, heart, and base. Top notes are the initial (and strongest) scents when first applied, but also fade before the day is over. Then there are heart notes, which are often floral and balance the whole scent. Finally, the base notes make their presence felt with prominent, lasting smells that define the fragrance.
In this post, we’re going to cover the top cologne for men in 2020. We’ll also break down the differences between Eau de Parfum and Eau de Cologne, plus provide some tips on choosing the right fragrance.
How to Choose Cologne for Men
When shopping for cologne, you’ll find that the biggest differentiator is the price. The top cologne from designer brands like Tom Ford and Gucci will usually cost between $100 and $150. Mid-tier options from Calvin Klein and Dior can usually be purchased for under $100. However, even if you don’t want to spend more than $100, many colognes come in smaller sizes that are more affordable. If you’re looking to save or test a new fragrance, go with a 1.70 oz bottle instead of a 3.40 oz.
In addition, there are several scent families to choose from, including woody, oriental, herbal, floral, and so on. Many experts recommend floral for all-season use, whereas herbal scents are the best colognes for summer. Usually, woody and oriental fragrances serve better during the winter months. That being said, masculine woody scents like cedar, sandalwood and madras wood are especially on-trend in 2020, and these scents are now used all year long. When it comes to choosing the best cologne for men, whether it’s for you or your partner, it’s all about personal preference.
In fact, that’s the most important part of this whole equation: your own nose. You want to find a cologne that smells good to you right away. Stick to a fragrance that doesn’t clash with other strong scents and isn’t overpowering to your senses (or anyone else’s at that). This advice is true whether you’re shopping for yourself or looking for a gift for him.
The Top Colognes for Men in 2020
Below are some of the best men’s cologne options, as chosen by SPY’s style and grooming experts. All of these products come from designers who know all about crafting an attractive scent profile.
The colognes we chose are listed per category, price point and lifestyle. Most of these colognes are available in various sizes, with 1.70 oz and 3.40 oz being the most common choices. In general, we’ve listed the price for the 3.40 oz size, and you can usually find a smaller size bottle at a cheaper price point.
Once you’ve finally come around to choosing a signature scent, make sure to read SPY’s key tips on how to apply cologne properly.
1. Mr. Burberry Eau de Parfum
BEST FRAGRANCE OVERALL
This aromatic stunner from Burberry proves that the prestigious fashion house isn’t all about trench coats. Mr. Burberry is a statement fragrance suitable for year-round wear, but is most effective in the colder months, thanks to spicy top notes that create a sense of comfort and warmth. You can wear it to work under your three-piece suit or when traveling. It should also be noted that Burberry stresses the sensuality of the scent (think stimulating ingredients like grapefruit and vetiver), making it a go-to for date nights and parties.
Curious about the difference between Eau de Parfum and Eau de Cologne? Scroll to the bottom of this article for a breakdown.
2. Chanel Bleu
BEST CLASSIC SCENT
A classic cologne is one that is instantly recognizable in a crowd, stands out as the centerpiece on your dresser, and has stood the test of time. Fragrance staples like Acqua di Parma Colonia and Ralph Lauren Polo certainly meet the criteria, but it’s been Chanel Bleu that has set the bar for both modern and vintage scents. You get a mix of aquatic and woody scents that men find empowering and women find irresistible. Chanel makes this scent in a variety of intensities, but the Eau de Parfum version provides a long-lasting scent that’s not overpowering. Twelve hours after applying it and you’ll still notice subtle hints of vanilla and sandalwood resonating from your skin.
3. Paco Rabanne Invictus Legend
BEST COLOGNE FOR YOUNGER MEN
There is something about Paco Rabanne’s fragrances that exude spirit and vitality. Invictus Legend is a manly, energetic scent that opens up with sweet tones of grapefruit, then leads into floral notes of geranium and soft spices, culminating in a mature blend for coming-of-age and playful types. Wear it to work if you want to feel and smell like the CEO, or at fancy lounges to outshine every seasoned bachelor posted up at the bar. For college-aged men, this scent will instantly set you apart from your peers wearing Nautica cologne or, god forbid, Axe body spray.
4. Versace Eros
BEST EVERYDAY SCENT
For the man who requires only one bottle of cologne in his grooming cabinet (or dopp kit), Versace Eros is calling your name. Named after the Greek God of love, this fragrance boasts a unique, masculine scent that falls right in between sweet and salty. While this cologne is great for everyday use all year long, it’s one of the best colognes for summer, in particular. It features notes of seawater and leaves a hint of “sunny warmth” on your skin. The eye-catching bottle also speaks towards the fragrance’s divinity, highlighted by a bold design created by the fashion icon herself, Donatella Versace.
Amazon has an incredible deal on this cologne right now, and you can purchase a 3.4 oz bottle for just $54 via Amazon Prime.
5. Creed Millésime Imperial
BEST LUXURY SCENT
Creed is a name synonymous with exclusivity, top-grade performance, and wealth. If by chance you can swing an expensive cologne, you’ll find Millésime Imperial to be well worth the $300+ price tag it carries. No question. This is a royalty cologne with evocative ingredients, from iris to sea salt, that will transport you to the beautiful seaside of Sicily. Sillage is arguably its greatest attribute, as the scent trail it leaves behind is both attractive and steady. Having this gold-plated bottle sitting on your grooming shelf also stands as a declaration for your taste in upscale scents.
6. CK Everyone
BEST UNISEX FRAGRANCE
The iconic fashion staple has come a long way with its men’s fragrance line, as exemplary with CK Everyone. This gender-neutral fragrance is the perfect pickup with a musky base and uplifting notes of organic orange, as well as blue tea accord that is poetically pleasant on the nose. The fragrance also gains cool points for its eco-conscious approach, formulated with naturally derived ingredients and alcohol, and packaged in recycled materials. Talk about a win-win for couples who love to share each other’s fragrances and give back to the environment.
7. Dior Sauvage
BEST COLOGNE UNDER $100
The Benjamin mark is where you’ll usually find some of the top sellers and performers in the men’s fragrance market. So if you’re looking for a top-tier cologne that still comes in under $100, reach for Dior Sauvage. Complex in composition, yet raw in scent, Dior Sauvage evokes grandeur and summons compliments no matter the gathering. Powerful notes of Italian bergamot and spicy Sichuan pepper are what give this universally loved fragrance its aromatic moxie.
8. John Varvatos Travel Size Fragrance Set
BEST TRAVEL SET
What you want most from a fragrance set is variety and John Varvatos’ collection of mini-colognes gives you just that. Four of the brand’s top performers – Artisan, Artisan Pure, Classic, and Vintage – come bundled in this affordable offering, each designed to accentuate your appearance in multiple ways. For instance, Vintage’s blend of juniper berries, madras wood, and suede accents gives off a rugged masculine presence, while Artisan Pure embodies cunningness with its unique mix of crisp, woody, and citrus notes. It’s exactly what you need to keep your scent game fresh on long business trips.
9. Fulton & Roark Palmetto Solid Cologne
BEST SOLID COLOGNE OPTION
Fragrance in wax form sounds weird AF, but the best solid cologne is actually a more practical and discrete option for guys who want to apply their favorite scent in an inconspicuous spy fashion. Fulton & Roark Palmetto Solid Cologne lets you have your James Bond moment. Palmetto features a complex layer of scents compiled of citrus, cedar, incense, magnolia flower, and pepper spice, which culminate in a refreshing, clean aroma that takes you back to your morning shower. The tiny metal tin also makes it an ideal EDC item to keep at your work desk drawer or gym bag.
10. Tom Ford Oud Wood Eau de Parfum
BEST COLOGNE UNDER $200
Just like the brand’s refined clothing, Tom Ford’s fragrances are distinctive and crafted from the most expensive ingredients, but they’re not so in-your-face or gaudy. This special formulation is made using a resinous wood called agarwood — the most expensive wood in the world — to create a fragrance that smells, quite frankly, phenomenal. It’s for the artisanal man with exquisite taste.
11. Hawthorne Tailored Fragrances
BEST CUSTOM COLOGNE
Today’s man is all about having their subscription services groom them. However, having a different cologne sent to your front door every month does make it more difficult to identify your signature scent. Well, what if there was a company that could personalize a cologne based on your body chemistry and personal style? Meet Hawthorne.
This innovative men’s grooming brand has you take a 22-question quiz and uses that lifestyle data to create personalized scents with natural ingredients. What you end up with are two awesome options (Play and Work) that work interchangeably throughout the day and smell phenomenal. Check out SPY’s Hawthorne for Men review for more insight.
12. K by Dolce & Gabbana
BEST SUBTLE SCENT
Scent can be a powerful communicator and an overpowering one will send the wrong message. Like the best men’s cologne, K by Dolce & Gabbana is a subtle Eau de Toilette fragrance that is clean and effective without coming on too strong. This fragrance also encourages men to embrace their inner highness, thanks to the bottle’s cool crown-shaped stopper. The combination of cherry pepper with citrusy and woody notes results in a bold, standout redolence fit for a king.
13. Carolina Herrera Bad Boy
BEST NEW FRAGRANCE
An oriental-inspired scent that has left its mark with many critics and fragrance connoisseurs, Carolina Herrera Bad Boy takes you by surprise with herbal and spicy accords that awaken your olfactory senses. Hints of mint, cacao, and vanilla tickle your nostrils and give the body plenty of vigor, making this a great morning cologne. Bergamot and sage add a layer of botanical refreshment into the mix as well. Then there is the dope lightning bolt bottle design that can double as a decor piece for any bachelor’s bedroom.
14. Henry Rose Fog EDP
BEST ALL-NATURAL SCENT
Henry Rose is far from a celebrity fragrance cash grab. Actress and climate activist Michelle Pfeiffer created this unisex fragrance line with “100% ingredient transparency,” creating non-toxic scents made from safe synthetics and natural ingredients. Of the five options, we love Fog for its fresh and musky aroma, which calls back to the light, breezy days of Fall. Effervescent notes of vanilla and vetiver will serve as an open invitation for those around you to take a closer whiff.
15. Nautica Voyage Eau de Toilette
BEST COLOGNE UNDER $50
Great colognes don’t have to break the bank. Nautica currently sells one for as little as $14, and according to its rave reviews, it smells quite expensive. The fashion house’s water-inspired theme is upheld with a scent that one reviewer calls “a bowl of honeydew and cantaloupe at a Jamaican all-inclusive resort.” You’ll want to spray it sparingly as it is powerful; spray it in the air and walk through instead of applying directly onto your body.
16. GUCCI Guilty Pour Homme
MOST VERSATILE SCENT
Guilty by Gucci is a good way to sport the brand (in scent-form) because unlike the fashion house’s clothing, you don’t have to shell out thousands — or even hundreds — to rock it. Right now, you can order Guilty by Gucci for just $95. It features an aromatic scent with notes of lavender, lemon, and orange flower that make it highly versatile, so you can wear it anytime.
Pro Tip: If you go looking, you can find great deals on Gucci Guilty cologne. However, buyer beware. This is a commonly counterfeited cologne, and there are a lot of fake Gucci colognes for sale online. We strongly recommend purchasing this scent from official retailers like Sephora or Nordstrom.
Is There a Difference Between Perfume and Cologne for Men?
When shopping for cologne, you may notice that some men’s fragrances are called perfume instead of cologne. So is there a difference between the best perfume for men and cologne?
In fact, each of these terms does have different technical meanings to fragrance makers. Perfume (also known as Parfum or Extrait de Parfum) refers to fragrances that contain 15% to 30% perfume oil, while products categorized as Eau de Parfum contain between 15% and 20% perfume oil. However, a Eau de Cologne product only contains 2% to 4% perfume oil. Because of this, perfumes have a more potent and longer-lasting fragrance.
The best cologne for men should note on the bottle or packaging which category it falls into, with Eau de Parfum at the high end of the intensity scale and Eau de Cologne at the low end. Eau de Toilette falls somewhere in the middle.
However, most people don’t know or care about these technical ratings. Here in the United States, cologne is used to refer to all fragrances for men, whether they’re technically a Eau de Cologne or a Ea de Parfum pour Hommes. As a result, men’s perfume and men’s cologne can be used interchangeably in most contexts.