Odor Eaters: B.O. And Why Men Buy Cologne

Apparently men need to be tricked into wearing cologne; then they love it. But do we?

According to a story in the new issue of the Economist, selling men on scent is a tricky business, and a lot of companies have to couch it as "aftershave" and "deodorant." But a new breakthrough study reports that men are so sensitive to the way they smell that - get this - "when a man changes his natural body odor it can alter his self-confidence to such an extent that it also changes how attractive women find him."

In the article (a section of which is oddly titled, "Born chicka wah, ker-ching chicka ching,") the author explains that perfume and cologne use fall into three basic categories: masking odors; pheromones; boosting natural smells. These all are sort of real and mostly psychological. And it's the psychology that's important: which kind of explains why guys drenched in vile scent apparently have no problem attracting women.

But, what I wonder is, does the confidence a scent imparts actually offset the negative associations some of us have with cologne? A lot of women, after all, hate it with a visceral passion. "Cologne" as a concept can signify cheesiness, vanity, a certain horrible hybrid of B.O. and chemicals, and middle-school nerds awash in Cool Water. It's one of those ingrained double-standards a lot of people just can't fight. While women are encouraged to change scent with their mood, the same behavior would seem suspect in a man. The much-ballyhooed metrosexual backlash led to a lot of pieces claiming women just wanted manly smells - B.O., sweat, that kind of honest stuff.

So, if a lot of women hate cologne - not all, obviously - why does the wearing of it create such confidence in men? Are they that susceptible to lame "Axe Effect" style campaigns? Do they feel that bad about their natural odors? Are they that convinced that "cologne" equals seduction and effort? And if that's true, why is it so hard to get them to wear it in the first place? Is it more that they need to be convinced, but once they are, they are sold? Or do they require this kind of scientific justification to feel okay about wearing perfume? Or - and here is a big question? - do men not know how women feel about cologne? Inquiring minds - and noses - want to know.

The Scent Of A Man [The Economist]