I ride the city bus regularly and thus I can attest that not all of the smells one encounters whilst riding are those I would consider pleasant. Aside from the uplifting whiff of diesel penetrating the morning winter air (which I do truly enjoy), it’s usually a multi-national mélange of B.O.

Today, however, nose deep in a book as I rode downtown, I was caught off guard. I sniffed the air. I smelled a man. Naturally there were several men on this crowded bus—I wasn’t smelling all of them. I was catching the scent of what a man is supposed to smell like. I looked up as a middle-aged African American gentleman took his seat in front of me. I took a deeper whiff–cologne in the morning with a light overlay of cigarette smoke. I was in heaven.

The aromas that scented my childhood and adolescence were Calvin Klein Obsession for Men (dad) and Channel No. 5 (mom). In our family we believed that good people smelled good. It was simply a matter of proper breeding. Yet it appears there has been a shift in the cultural mindset. Today, evidently, we prefer people who don’t introduce themselves with their scent, no matter how delicious it may be. I wonder how the fragrance industry is making out these days. Are middle-aged black gents keeping the biz afloat?

Several years ago I worked as a barista at Starbucks and as my manager had not one ounce of compassion in her, I was frequently scheduled the early morning shift days on end. I never liked the thought of the 5:00am arrival, but once the customers started to emerge from the dark, begging the brew that would get them through the early hours, the chill morning was forgotten and I became excited to watch my regulars pour though the door. I loved three things especially: their suits, their deep, raspy baritone voices still unaccustomed to the day, and their just-showered morning man-smell mixing with freshly ground coffee. Aftershave, cologne, shampoo, pomade—these business-ready men were an olfactory delight. Sandalwood, pine, cedar, spices, leather, and evidently iced mango according to Ralph Lauren. Yes, this is what men are supposed to smell like.

But the man on the bus caught my notice because he was something of a rarity. It’s not so often (and certainly not often enough) that I encounter men who, for lack of a better way of stating it, catch my nose. So here is the question I have: When did everyone stop trying to smell good? When did neutrality of scent become the goal?

I would love to hear from my male readership in the comments section: Guys, what happened to the aftershave?


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