Seeing Reality Behind GQ Magazine's Fragrant Smoke.​

What's all this yakkity-yak I hear about the sin of wearing too much fragrance? This is a problem that is simply overblown.

Seems like you can't get away from the "wearing too much" issue whenever the subject of cologne comes up. Sometimes people are so afraid of "too much" that it's the only thing they talk about regarding scent. Late night talk show hosts make jokes about wearing too much. One night I saw The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn (on late night American network television). In his monologue of inane frat-boy wink-wink jokes, he suddenly started a new one: "And guys, about cologne," I remember him saying although I can only paraphrase him, "only two hits -- like this: bap-bap!" he said, slapping one side of his face, and then the other. Then he put on a dim-witted, inside joke-style smile and gazed into the camera. The laugh-track rolled.

That's it--wearing too much was the whole joke. You tell 'em, Craig. Sure are funny. In his defense, I guess there are even dumber things on TV.

The same fuss appeared recently in the American edition of GQ magazine's October 2002 issue. "Small Ball: When it comes to fragrance, less is more" is the "Personal Best" column for the month. It purports to be some form of guide to wearing scent.

"Whether you're an everyday spritzer or a Saturday-night special, you should always strive for subtlety -- no nose appreciates being clubbed by cologne," says the page-long story's author, Peter Rubin, who adds, "this odorous phenomenon is widespread." I guess we better worry. The consequences can be dire, even "reactions you're not really looking for from your date: sneezes, raised eyebrows, sudden 'please take me home right now' headaches." Maybe Rubin is relating some of his personal experiences here, and it's therefore his own embarrassment making him such a Chicken Little. (In the real world scent alone doesn't kill anyone's impression of anyone else.)

GQ's solution?

"It's easy if you keep it simple and (we can't stress this enough) low-key." GQ is even so afraid they can't stop telling you about how much they stress this scent-panic. How does GQ recommend scent application? "one spray on your neck and one on your wrists or the crooks of your elbows," so two sprays total, or, an extremely light dusting. But that might still be too much, the magazine says: "when in doubt, underdo it." Cripes. A forum member I know who read the same article said the author would probably be overwhelmed by use of a scented hand-soap.

The payoff for following GQ's hyper-fastidious scent etiquette? "Everyone who knows you will silently thank you." Perhaps, in other words then, all the people you know now are silently cringing when you come around! Dang, maybe this is the source of all my problems! Maybe that's why I'm such a loser! It's not me -- damn! -- it's been this damn bottle of friendly juice all along instead!

"Small Ball" isn't the right headline for this Personal Best column. "No Balls" describes it better.


Now let me give you the straight dope. GQ's thoughts, conclusions, and advice in this piece are nothing but offensive. Rubin's article reflects what can only be called a paranoia about wearing a fragrance, and it magnifies that paranoia to a stupid and useless fever pitch.

You put on too much scent one day? Big deal. Naturally one wants to avoid doing so, but if you do, damn I say, tomorrow is another day. You have too much on and someone at work tells you to cool it? Sounds great. The excuse is ready for you to use. Yeah, you tell this person, I'm trying something new and haven't figured out how potent it is. Good thing tomorrow is another day, isn't it? If it's someone you don't like telling you not to wear so much you can easily say: you stop farting so much pal, and I won't need so much after shave.

Shift the subject too. Say, yep, got too much on today, regret that, but I love the scent itself when I get it right. Makes me feel so much better than my usual B.O., know what I mean? Or even mention your story of the scent -- your mom gave it to you, say, she used to buy you new underwear, now she buys you this. I don't know, but it's not hard to make something up.

Surprisingly, I've usually found people like hearing any story you have about a scent, and that story usually is that you think it smells great and makes you think of something good. Damn good reason! Nothing to be ashamed of. In my experience, people are only ready to make fun of scent wearing at first -- because they've seen too many TV jokes about it or something -- but when they hear a little about it they're almost stunned, and it becomes a curious field they don't know about. Then they are interested. Even the bothersome bruisers who are themselves horribly vain -- they fear wearing a fragrance would interfere with their no-frills/football-player/guy's-guy image of themselves. See if the story of your scent makes anyone interested. My bet is that they'll leave surprisingly respectful of you.

Another thing to do is pick uncommon fragrances to wear. Often it's the simpler, more pop, and more common scents that people over-apply. Smell a lot of different scents at fragrance counters and pick one you like that seems less like all the others. If you sniff a lot you'll notice which ones smell stereotypically like "cologne" in your mind. It is usually these stereotypically cologne-esque ones that trigger the "he's wearing too much" button in other people's minds. Wear something completely different and watch how you never get a you're-wearing-too-much comment. Find a tea-based scent, say, and it won't stand out in other people's noses the way the common scents do.

Further, if you do wear something unusual and accidentally get too much on, many people won't figure out it is cologne. They'll think you keep your coat or suits or jeans in some kind of special drawer or closet made of some rare wood! Pretty funny

Oh, but yeah, that's right. I remember now. There was a time when I was around a guy who was wearing too much. Silly of me to forget.

It was at a party last month. A guy there was wearing too much cologne. Worse, it was a standard, uncreative, common scent that I imagine he put on as his I'm-going-to-party-yay! scent. Whoops, faux-pas on his part, I should say! Five feet near him and you got it like skunk roadkill. What a loser. He'll never get laid. Whatta rube.

But no. The guy was just a guy like me. He was just a guy who was engaging and fun at the party, telling stories and laughing just like everyone else. Talking with his hands. Being fun with the people he knew and kind and thoughtful toward people he was just meeting that night. A perfectly nice guy and a gentleman in the modern sense of partying twenty- and thirty-somethings. Nobody gave a rat's ass that he had on too much potion. Any joke or advice to him about that would have been completely inappropriate and would have made you into an asshole. If he was wearing too much, and we all smelled it, all it meant was that he wanted to come and have a fun time at the party. Nothing could be more admirable.

I try not to put on too much and I think I succeed in proper subtlety 19 days out of 20. But to have this concern elevated to the level GQ has is just stupid and equates a harmless error with mortal fashion sin. What does GQ do in the mornings? Look at men's fragrance bottles sitting on their dressers and think they're bombs? Does GQ think only of all the danger a fragrance offers? GQ's advice is nothing but a night-light to keep us safe from the dark. The writer probably wets his bed if he puts on one spray too many. Rubin is fussy, dainty, and paranoid about wearing too much. Doesn't mean you or anyone else needs to be. Your scent day isn't the rest of your life.


Special thanks to Imran Lilani for first showing me GQ's piece, and to Renato Alessio for his thoughts on it.