You may not be going out as often as you used to these days, but just because you’ve cut down on socializing doesn’t mean you have to cut down on wearing the best cologne. A scent is something you also wear for yourself. Fragrance can instantly change your mood, which is why we often reach for one before events, whether they’re at the boardroom or a bar.
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 best colognes 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. There are even tons of unisex options for men and women alike that have come into the limelight in recent years, so you shouldn’t rule anything of that nature out either. Gift sets are also a stellar option when unsure about a scent that might look great on paper, but you aren’t too sure you’ll love it 100% after a couple of wears.
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.
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, an 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 an Eau de Cologne or an Ea de Parfum pour Hommes. As a result, men’s perfume and men’s cologne can be used interchangeably in most contexts.
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. Yves Saint Laurent Y Eau de Parfum
We mean it when we say it: Yves Saint Laurent Y Eau de Parfum is going to be under everyone’s Christmas trees this year and there’s no doubt about it. This fragrance embodies both a sophisticated yet forever young spirit at the exact same time and gives us a masculine scent. Each bottle has a base of vetiver beneath notes of bergamot, ginger and sage that are sharpened by a bite of apple, giving a full, fresh feel to the fragrance. Usually, you don’t want your cologne to be too bold, but the new Yves Saint Laurent cologne is bold without being overbearing. Best of all, YSL’s newest fragrance ambassador is none other than the iconic Lenny Kravitz. So, if you should trust anyone, it should be him.
2. Tom Ford Black Orchid Parfum
Tom Ford is famous for many things, but his intoxicating fragrances certainly top the list. Back in 2006, Black Orchid was the very first Tom Ford Beauty collection item. The unisex scent just got a makeover, but it still is all about Ford’s fascination with the elusive black orchid. “To me, it is the perfect flower… luxurious, elegant, pure and sophisticated,” he has said. The newest iteration amps up its signature note, as well as ylang-ylang and black plum.
3. Le Labo Santal 33 Eau de Parfum
Unisex fragrances are becoming more and more popular each year as gender roles for men and women diminish year after year. Which, in our eyes, is dope. Treat yourself with the genderless fragrance of your dreams with Le Labo Santal 33. This fragrance is as intoxicating as it gets by introducing a use of cardamom, iris, violet and ambrox, which situates perfectly to bring to a smoking wood sensation of Australian sandalwood, papyrus and cedarwood. If you thought that wasn’t enough, you’re right, it wasn’t. The scent is topped with some spicy, leathery and musky notes to give Santal 33 an almost confusing delicate and brut fusion. This is something you genuinely just have to give a shot on your own to know.
4. Bvlgari Man Glacial Essence Eau de Parfum
You could travel to Cervinia, one of the highest mountain peaks in the world, in the Italian and Swiss Alps. Or, you could save yourself a lot of effort and just spritz on Bvlgari Man Glacial Essence Eau de Parfum instead. It captures all of that fresh mountain air without having to strap on your hiking boots. Glacial mountaintops are the muse behind the icy blue bottle, with matte silver accents that take cues from the metal used for Bvlgari watches. The woody Fougere has top notes of juniper berry, ginger extract and geranium essence; a heart of Australian sandalwood, orris and Artemisia essence; and a base of Alaskan cedarwood essence, clearwood accord and musks.
Curious about the difference between Eau de Parfum and Eau de Cologne? Scroll to the bottom of this article for a breakdown.
5. Dior Sauvage
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.
6. Kiehls Musk Eau de Toilette Spray
From your favorite face cream comes an incredibly well-crafted genderless fragrance ready for no matter what your day calls for. Made with bergamot nectar, orange blossom and musk, this loosely luscious scented cologne is great for guys who like to rock a brighter spritz on the daily. It’s definitely one of the lighter, more floral scents on our radar, but the musky overtone really hones the bottle down into with a very masculine overtake you still love and need in your everyday scent.
7. Prada Luna Rossa Carbon Eau de Toilette
Just leave it to Prada to create one of the most distinctively mischievous blended colognes that the world has yet to see. This sensually delicious masterpiece is great for wearing just about anywhere, but we love this cologne for date night and bedroom play. By combining notes of lavender, green bergamot from Italy, patchouli and amber, this is the type of cologne that will keep partners smelling their own clothes again and again after hugging up on you. It’s seductively masculine in its creation. Trust us. You’ll want nothing more.
8. Acqua di Parma Colonia Futura
Since launching in 1916, Acqua di Parma has always been a deeply Italian brand, emphasizing the juxtaposition of both the simpler things in life and ultimate luxury. Their new cologne is all about Italian citrus, with the right mix of clary sage, lemon and vetiver. What makes it even more impressive is it’s made with 99% natural ingredients — a first for the brand — and the packaging also underwent an eco-conscious makeover.
9. COACH For Men Eau de Toilette
You don’t always have to trust us, so in this case, you can trust The Fragrance Foundation, who named the COACH For Men Eau de Toilette was named the winner of the company’s 2018 Frangrance Awards. By combining fresh-smelling, electric, zingy top notes such as green nashi, kumquat and bergamot with a woody, suede, amber base, this scent is deeply masculine yet refreshing in nature. No wonder why COACH is considered a luxury because spraying this on will make you feel as high-end as it gets.
10. Polo Ralph Lauren Deep Blue
Ralph Lauren is literally making waves with its newest fragrance by looking to the power of the ocean. Pro surfer and two-time world champion Gabriel Medina is the brand partner of the scent, which might be the closest thing to a trip to Hawaii these days. In fact, Hawaiian green mango is the note that pops in the blend that evokes salty seawater and fresh fruits, with cypress oil and deep ocean accord rounding out the mix. Even the bottle, in blue and silver, takes its cues from the swell of an ocean wave.
11. Viktor&Rolf Spicebomb Eau de Toilette
We can’t hate on a cool-shaped bottle. Viktor&Rolf’s aptly named “Spicebomb” Eau de Toilette is a grenade you’ll actually want to get your hands on. This all-masculine cologne is an explosively scented fragrance that gives notes of chili and saffron with the heavy-bodied roundness provided by leather and tobacco. By adding notes of bergamot and grapefruit, you better ignite this thing with more than one spray. You’ll leave the house feeling indestructible.
12. Ellis Brooklyn Salt Eau de Parfum
Spritz, inhale and say hello to the beach. Essentially summer in a bottle, it’s all about salty skin and the sun on your face. Ellis Brooklyn recently introduced Salt, along with Sweet, as their first gourmand fragrances and it was worth the wait. Warm and spicy, Salt features notes of ylang-ylang, Tahitian Tiare and ambergris. Encased in an eco-conscious glass bottle sourced from an Ecocert supplier, the clean fragrance is made in the USA, vegan, cruelty-free, and free of parabens and phthalates.
13. Chanel Bleu
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.
14. Henry Rose Smyth Eau de Parfum
The newest unisex scent from Henry Rose will be the apple of your nose. That’s because wearing it is like sporting a crisp green apple. The other top notes are water and melon-pineapple sorbet; the middle notes are apricot nectar, star jasmine and white tea; with a dry down of sheer white woods, sandalwood and layered musks.
15. Ermenegildo Zegna Essenze Roman Wood
The forest bathing trend is a fad that’s actually good for you — and it only seems to be getting more popular. If a walk in the woods isn’t feasible, this earthy scent is the next best thing. Roman pine mingles with bergamot, cedarwood, amber and cypress, so if you close your eyes, you can pretend you’re in the middle of a forest.
16. Tom Ford Oud Wood Eau de Parfum
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.
17. Byredo Lil Fleur
Ben Gorham founded Swedish company Byredo in 2006 to express emotions and memories in products. It’s no coincidence that fragrance is linked to memory and Byredo’s fragrances are especially great at triggering specific moments in time. Their latest unisex floral offering, Lil Fleur, was inspired by teenage emotions, with top notes of cassis, tangerine and saffron, with a heart of damascene rose and leather, and a base of blonde woods, amber and vanilla.
18. Skylar Willow
When Cat Chen found out her then four-month-old daughter was allergic to fragrance in 2015, she decided to do something about it. She created Skylar, one of the first hypoallergenic fragrance companies, which is also clean, cruelty-free and made in Los Angeles. Unisex scent Willow is cool and woodsy, delivering a calming sense of serenity. Top notes of heliotrope and willow, middle notes of pine resin and fir balsam, and a base of incense and wood resin will bring you right into nature.
19. Mr. Burberry Eau de Parfum
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.
20. Paco Rabanne Invictus Legend
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.
21. Versace Eros
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.
22. Hawthorne Tailored Fragrances
Today’s man is all about having his subscription services groom him. 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.
23. Creed Millésime Imperial
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.
24. CK Everyone
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.
25. John Varvatos Travel Size Fragrance 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 give 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.
26. Fulton & Roark Palmetto Solid Cologne
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.
27. K by Dolce & Gabbana
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.
28. Carolina Herrera Bad Boy
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.
29. Henry Rose Fog EDP
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 their 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.
30. Nautica Voyage Eau de Toilette
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.
31. GUCCI Guilty Pour Homme
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.