I’m never sure how acceptable it is, even today, for a man to be fragranced. I don’t mean for him to smell. That’s fine – we expect blokes to smell. They smell of “manly” smells – sweat, engine oil, that sort of thing. But he’s not scented of scent. At least, until recently. There were a few cross-overs – things like Old Spice, which you might have found in your grandad’s bathroom cabinet, or Aramis, the sole presence of dad on your mother’s dressing table. I’m speaking from personal experience here, but hopefully it’s ringing true.
It also illustrates the migration of men’s fragrance from a bathroom necessity to something that sat alongside the Missus’s pots and potions – their masculine equivalent, albeit just the one. Preferably splashed liberally on raw, freshly shaved skin. No pain, no gain. That was in the 1980s – at least, for me. But attitudes were already changing. While the male fragrance market remains a distant second to women, it’s leapfrogging in terms of growth. In 1999, 42 per cent of men wore fragrance. Now it’s 63 per cent.
For some, however, there’s still a stigma to a perfumed man. In fact, you never see men’s fragrances described as “perfumes” or “scents”. Even “fragrance” is a bit dodgy. “Aftershave” has been the prevalent term, with its allusions to masculine practicality rather than preening.
It’s a long-standing prejudice. Back in the 18th century, foppish young gentlemen dubbed “macaronis” were denounced as “sweet-scented, simpering he-she things”. But kings were scented – Louis XIV was obsessed with the stuff. He washed his clothes in musk. Napoleon emptied two bottles of eau de cologne over himself every morning. Powerful men, powerful scent. So can we drop that hideous “metrosexual” tag when we’re talking about a man wearing musk? Leading troops into battle is far more macho than tinkering with a car engine.