The best classic colognes for men throw individuality out the window. They keep it simple. They make you smell delicious. You don’t have to sojourn for decades through various continents to find your individual scent; you just need to smell nice.
While it is true that large brands dominate this list, that’s not wholly because of swollen marketing budgets (though when you’re enlisting Timothée Chalament and Scorsese, it does help). But well-known brands also pull in the finest perfumers to achieve standout, vintage fragrances. So, of course, the first remit of a classic cologne is that it must smell nice. But just as crucial, it must also have heritage. It must have gravitas.
Why bother with a popular scent? If you are new to colognes, I recommend diving into the classics first. They are the gateway drug into the olfactory delights of becoming a real connoisseur. This guide provides all of the scent notes so you can begin to develop your sense of style along the way. This is just the beginning of your journey into men’s colognes.
For a splash of the best classic colognes for men, read below.
For this assignment, I dug out some classics from my cologne shelf and trawled customer reviews on sites such as Reddit (quickly becoming a product review treasure chest), to produce the 8 final candidates. Overall the best classic men’s cologne is CK One because of its ubiquitous appeal, fresh smell, and versatility.
For this piece, I analyzed what makes a classic men’s cologne, classic. It had to have a fresh essence, universal appeal, an identity, heritage, or have had a sizable impact on the market. And it must have versatility in how you wear it. A smell that’ll impress in the gym locker room, as well as at a black tie event. That’s why the runner-up is Acqua Di Parma Colonia because of its zesty Sicilian top notes and its Italian heritage.
Our Top Picks
Why it’s Great: I’ve owned this scent for over ten years. Every time I return it smells as fresh and attractive as when I first wore it. The “One” references “one for all” as it was one of the first marketed unisex fragrances. Dreamed up by the perfumers Alberto Morillas and Henry Fremons, it sold around twenty bottles per minute not long after release. Now, it sits at a respectable 15 per second, showing its modern resonance. Speaking to Harpers Bazaar, the senior perfumer at Firmenich says, “It captures all of the aspects that make a scent a classic—to this day it is a modern fragrance that stands in its own category. Truly timeless.”
How it smells: The scent is green tea, mandarin, papaya, bergamot, lemon, nutmeg, violet and rose, with a base of amber and musk. It lends itself well to spring/summer use, daily use or a night out. The scent is invigorating, wearable and fresh. The scent is also in sync with the minimalist bottle shape, frosted glass and clean branding.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: A NY Times article highlighted one reviewer who suggested that its gender neutrality means the scents cancel each other out and leave an “anonymous”, “androgynous”, “beige” scent. While I wholeheartedly disagree with that, it doesn’t have the aggressive slap and punch of male-orientated colognes. Isn’t that the point?
Top Notes: Bergamot | Middle Notes: Green Tea | Base Notes: Musk | Size: 2.6 Ounce, 6.7 Fl Oz | Type: Eau de Toilette | Season: Summer
Why it’s Great: Creed is the oldest brand in this best classic colognes list. The brand dates back to 1760 when they made scented gloves for King George III of England. The brand has evolved from scented gloves for the royals to fragrances but remains exclusive thanks to its price tag. Aventus launched in 2010 and ignited the public’s lust. At only thirteen years old, the fact it is already a classic cologne is a testament to its vice-like grip on the imagination.
How it smells: Story time: This iconic smell is the result of complex collaboration. The sixth-generation Olivier Creed worked with his son Erwin and controversially Jean-Cristophe Hérault and Pierre Bourdon) It honors the brand’s 250th birthday and took Napoleon Bonaparte as inspiration. The Corsican blackcurrants related to Napoleon’s birthplace and the dry birch from Louisiana is where Napoleon was stationed for a time. Alongside notes of Italian bergamot, musk, oakmoss, patchouli and a sprinkling of fruitiness from the apple and pineapple. It creates an enticing, juicy and smoky scent.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: It’s expensive. That is potentially a dealbreaker. But sadly, we can’t do anything about the price.
Top Notes: blackcurrant, Italian bergamot, French apples, pineapple | Middle Notes: rose, dry birch, Moroccan jasmine, patchouli | Base notes: musk, oakmoss, ambergris, vanilla | Size: 3.3 Fl. oz | Type: Eau de Parfum | Season: Winter (applicable all year)
Why it’s Great: Well, Chris Hemsworth, right? Oh, there has to be more to your decision-making than just looking at an A-list celebrity and then buying the fragrance. Right… um… well, Chris Hemsworth (stay with us) is dressed in a buttoned shirt and suit. This speaks to the suave, masculine, high-achieving and work-oriented energy of this scent. Wow, I really pulled that together! This 1998-released fragrance will make your life slightly nicer, and perhaps infuse it with a few more compliments.
How it smells: The notes of apple, cinnamon and vanilla make it a brilliant fall fragrance, eliciting the cozy feelings of moving into Christmas. And what’s more signifying about this period than a cup of something warm in your paws and a logfire on? The cedarwood, sandalwood and olivewood do their utmost to whip up this Thoreau-esq. fantasy.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The criticism leveled is that it is a generic choice. But one of the best classic colognes nonetheless. Can a fragrance be too classic? Maybe that’s the stigma here.
Top Notes: apple, bergamot, cinnamon | Middle Notes: marigold, geranium, clove | Base notes: cedarwood, sandalwood, vetiver, olivewood | Size: 3.3 Fl. oz | Type: Eau de Parfum | Season: Winter
Why it’s Great: The recipe is unchanged since its launch in 1916, making it perhaps the most classic of colognes on this best classic colognes round up. It became the chic scent in Italy between the 30s and 50s. But then popularity waned in the proceeding decade and it was used mainly by tailors to freshen up their creations. LVMH’s 2003 purchase brought Colonia back into public consciousness. Rather than use glitzy campaigns, the brand highlighted the gorgeous Art Deco bottle and luscious scent to win over hearts.
How it smells: The scent pops with a Sicilian citrus waft at the top that then mellows out into the middle scent of lavender, rosemary, verbena, and Bulgarian rose. This is grounded by vetiver, sandalwood, and patchouli. Despite the woody notes, the fragrance errs on the zesty and floral side of life, making it ideal for spring/summer. It’s perfect for any occasion you feel you might be dappled by lemony sunshine.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: It’s not a year-round fragrance and isn’t shouty. So if you’re looking for year-round value for money with a loud intonation, this might not suit you.
Top Notes: Sicilian citrus fruit, sweet orange, Calabrian bergamot | Middle Notes: lavender, rosemary, verbena, Bulgarian rose | Base notes: vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli | Size: 3.4 oz | Type: Eau de Cologne | Season: Summer
Why it’s Great: Yes, Emporio Armani is a grand brand with an opulent exterior, but the real heart of this fragrance is, well, the smell. It is a well-rounded scent that neither suggests beach holidays, nor firewood, strong whiskeys and mahogany furniture. That’s why this is the best everyday classic cologne. Stronger With You is wearable every day, lasts for a long time, and has a sensational smell. What’s not to like? That’s why I keep wearing it.
How it smells: In my experience, this aroma will make you want to perform The Iceman’s breathwork on the bottle to breathe it all in. That’s how it feels. Overall, the fine balance means it is very versatile as daily office wear, a going-out fragrance, or just a casual little spruce on a Saturday while going about your chores.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: It lacks a strong identity. Or at least, in a market of clearly defined fragrances, this is blurred. There’s no weight to the advertising and the bottle doesn’t say much. This can be excused for its versatile and attractive scent.
Top Notes: cardamom, pink pepper, violet leaf | Middle Notes: sage | Base notes: chestnut, vanilla | Size: 3.4 fl oz | Type: Eau de Toilette | Season: Universal
Why it’s Great: The name translates to “wild water” which is a sublimely cool name for a fragrance. While Dior launched Eau Sauvage in 1966, it is showing no sign of giving up its gauntlet as one of the best classic colognes for men. The current King of England is even rumored to wear it. The upbeat, zesty blend makes this fragrance an ideal partner to have by your side.
How it smells: This is a classic citrus fragrance. It will feel lightweight and alive. This makes it brilliant daily wear or, if you have a winter fragrance already, then bring this into the mix in the warmer months. The pops of bergamot, lemon, and rosemary will ignite your olfactory nerve, while the oakmoss (fungi), vetiver (a grass), and musk (synthetic recreation of animal musk) give it a natural power. This rounded palette gives universal application.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: It would be generationally inconsiderate of me to point out any flaws in this highly acclaimed old-timer. Let’s show some respect to our elders and leave this fragrance, shall we?
Top Notes: lemon, bergamot, cumin, rosemary | Middle Notes: petitgrain, jasmine, patchouli, carnation, basil, coriander, orris | Base notes: vetiver, sandalwood, oakmoss, amber, musk | Size: 3.3 fl oz | Type: Eau de Toilette | Season: Year Round
Why it’s Great: This is one of the most iconic sets of advertising campaigns of all time. It is the advertising industry’s Platonic ideal of “the dream” made flesh. Just watch this… oh and this one. David Gandy is a man so penetratingly beautiful that they named the fragrance after his mesmeric eye color. Allegedly. But, what does it smell like? Does it work as a fragrance? Absolutely no idea.
How it smells: Only messing, welcome to part II: the smell analysis. This zany, mad-scientist concoction of ingredients is enough to have you salivating at the list alone. Sicilian mandarin and bergamot bring a little buzz, while the frozen grapefruit peel and juniper temper the mood. Then you take all of this careful, delicate arrangement of top notes and you set it on fire with the Szechuan pepper. That’s the wild side of this fragrance. It’s a spritzy, light-footed summer fragrance ready for a Big Night Out.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Perhaps you object to the overt sexualization in the only very slightly outdated TV adverts? That’s okay, it’s the enticing scent that counts after all.
Top Notes: Sicilian mandarin, frozen grapefruit peel, bergamot, juniper | Middle Notes: rosemary, Szechuan pepper, rosewood | Base notes: musk wood, incense, oakmoss | Size: 2.5 fl oz | Type: Eau de Toilette | Season: Summer
Why it’s Great: Bleu de Chanel is back in your subconscious in 2023. This is thanks to a cheeky, suave and haunting actor named Timothée Chalamet fronting the Martin f*cking Scorsese-directed new campaign. Chanel does not do half-measures. This classic cologne for men was concocted by perfumer Jacques Polge in 2010 to whip up a storm of zesty masculine allure. He did his job well.
How it smells: Away from the glamor of film directors, actors, and a chunky marketing budget, we come to the everyday user experience. U/FedIsFucked on Reddit claimed a girl complimented the fragrance saying, “You smell yummy.” Which is the end point of all the A-lister chicanery, right? To wear an attractive scent and attract other “attractive” people, right? So much attraction.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: While consumers report versatility, compliments and confidence-boosting effects, they also note its expense and somewhat classical cologne fragrance. In this list, that ain’t no negative!
Top Notes: Grapefruit, Lemon, Mint and Pink Pepper | Middle Notes: Ginger, Nutmeg, Jasmine and Iso E Super | Base notes: Incense, Vetiver, Cedar, Sandalwood, Patchouli, Labdanum and White Musk | Size: 1.7 fl oz | Type: Eau de Toilette | Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Buying Considerations for the Best Classic Colognes
Start small and then, carry on buying small quantities. This is the advice for the general population. If you are in the minority and have your fragrance and you know you will purchase it until you hop off this mortal coil, then buy bigger sizes, of course. If not, buy small, always. This gives you options to leave it on the shelf for a year or two, to try other options, and if it runs out quickly that means a) you’re putting way too much on, or b) you like it and it’s worth the money spent on it. Keep it classy. Keep it small.
There are different levels of fragrance pricing operating here. The first is the classic cologne from a reputable fashion brand, which comes out at between $60-$100 for 100ml (3.4 fl oz). These will go in and out of discount pricing, so it is always worth waiting for a sale to purchase. The product remains the same. Then, you get into the boutique range, i.e. Le Labo or Penhalogan in the $200 range. Finally, at the top of the pile are the classics that soar above the rest. Also known as, Creed Aventus. They make a product so damn irresistible and then charge $500 and upwards for it, only creating more demand, status and intrigue.
Each different type of fragrance will last for a different amount of time. A “perfume” is the strongest, followed by “Eau du Parfum”, followed by “Eau de Toilette”, followed by “Eau de Cologne”, followed by Eau Fraiche. This is due to differing concentrations of fragrant oils. A cologne should last for around 2-4 hours, meanwhile an “Eau de Toilette” may last two to three hours more. This is fragrance-dependent, of course.
Next, is the problem of how long it keeps in its bottle. Yes, there is a shelf-life. But there are myriad methods to extend your chosen bottle’s life to keep spritzing with consistency year after year.
Why you should trust us
I’ve been modeling for top brands for over a decade and writing for top fashion publications for over five years. In that time, I’ve attuned my nose to cut the bliss from the whiff. My senses were cut on designer fragrances. Be that from receiving gifts after walking the brands’ catwalk shows, or from loving but clueless Aunties over Christmas.
But, in the Duty-Free, waiting to fly to foreign photo studios for work, was where I discerned the subtle differences between brands, products and notes. I’ve come to know the classics pretty well through a blend of curiosity and tedium, and here is the brainchild of all that waiting. Enjoy!
The best classic cologne is one that is always ready for you. It is universally appealing, is applicable year-round, and can be used in various situations. That is why we recommend CK One as the best classic cologne. It has the hit of zest and refreshment that a good cologne should sport, it’s versatile and it smells seductive.
“Classic” means it has stood the test of time. Dior Eau Sauvage (1966) has remained a stalwart favorite for men through generations. But it’s the 1916 Acqua Di Parma Colonia that takes the prize home. Despite popularity waxing and waning, its recipe remains as fresh, vital and prescient as ever in the modern age. As a cologne from over a century ago, this might have to be the most classic men’s cologne.