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Grooming: Scents

“Do you have any suggestions about scents? I know it’s mostly a personal choice, but I was wondering if you had any advice. I’m looking to move out of my Axe-scents since I’ll be turning twenty this year, and that tends to be more of a teenager’s scent.”

A great question, and thanks for the submission! First, your instincts to ditch the Axe (or Tag, Bod, and other body sprays) are correct. These scents are not only targeted for the teenage sets, but I’ve also heard a number of people (women and men) complaining about these fragrances. Across the country, young men are using these sprays in over abundance; as if the more spray you use, the more masculine you will be perceived (for more reading on this phenomenon, check out this NY Times article). So, toss out the sprays, and opt for a more mature scent.

Now, there is a right way to do scents, beyond these sprays. As you said, it’s a matter of personal choice, however, I have some tips, to find your personal style. First, it’s important to understand that there are two (typical) ways to do scents: cologne and aftershave. I’ll discuss each of these choices, individually, followed by general rules for wearing scents…

Cologne

When discussing men’s fragrances, the most common reaction is to reach for the cologne. Colognes are the strongest and most noticeable way to do scents, so I would advise to tread lightly. These fragrances are typically activated by body heat, so be aware of where you put cologne (pulse points, versus spraying it on your shirt). Also, all fragrances smell different on each person: just because your dad has worn Old Spice for as long as anyone can remember, doesn’t mean that this scent will work for you, like it has for him.

When selecting a scent, you’ll need to actually go to a store and see for yourself (sorry, no online buying on this one). If you’re in a relationship, I suggest bringing your significant other (“Sig-O”) along with you. Let’s be honest, their opinion is probably important to you. If you’re not in a relationship, bring a friend. If you’re not out, or only newly out, make sure to bring someone who is understanding about your identity (I’ll speak more about Trans-specific shopping a little later).

So, you’ve got your friend or Sig-O in tow, and you’re facing the cases or shelves of fragrances: now what? First, if you’re at a department store, avoid getting attacked sprayed directly by the salespeople. How can you identify each individual spray, if you have another scent lingering on your shirt? Typically, department stores will have cards to test out sprays: use those. If this is your first foray into scents, ask yourself what types of scents appeal to you: citrus, woods, spices, flowers, musk, or some combination of these. Once you have a type (or two), narrow things down from there. Personally, I have a very sensitive nose, so I have to take a break when choosing a scent. Take a few minutes, walk around, and come back to the fragrances (a good opportunity to buy your friend or Sig-O a cup of coffee). If you’re at a drug store, there may be less opportunity to test out sprays: sometimes there may be a tester bottle available. Again, avoid spraying it directly on you, at this point in the process.

Once you’ve narrowed things down to a few different scents, try them out on your wrist. Remember, things smell different for each person. Placing cologne on your wrist will give you a correct characterization of how it will smell on a regular basis (remember, pulse points). Also, move around a bit, after applying cologne: the scent will react to your body chemistry, so working up a slight sweat may change it, subtly. You want to make sure your scent works both at rest and while moving around. From there, it’s all a matter of taste. Get your friends or Sig-O’s opinion, and go with it. If, later, you find you don’t care for the scent, try something else. But at least you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for.

Be aware, cologne can be expensive. If you want, go to the stores, find what you like, then check out the prices online. Also remember, a bottle of cologne should last you a year or more (if you store it correctly, out of direct light, it can last up to five years).

When choosing a cologne, your age is also something to consider. I know many of my readers are in the 18-24 range, so here are a few “younger” colognes that I’ve heard positive things about:

  • Lucky You, for Men (this is my personal choice to wear when going out)
  • Davidoff, Cool Water
  • Abercrombie & Fitch Colognes (any of them, from what I hear)
  • Swiss Army, for Men
  • Intimately Beckham (David Beckham’s line)

These are just a few; and remember, these may not work for you, personally. But, it’s a starting point, if you’re at a total loss. If you’re interested in more mature scents, let me know, and I will add those to the list.

Aftershave

Aftershave is, as I’m sure you guessed, what you apply after you shave. It comes in a variety of forms: liquids, lotions, balms and gels are the most common. The purpose of aftershave is to close your pores, after you shave, and leave you smelling good. So, when buying aftershave, you have to consider not only the fragrance, but the feel of it, and your own complexion, as well.

Since aftershave is applied to the face after you shave, the fragrance won’t last as long as cologne. If you’re going for lasting fragrance, go with colognes. That being said, I’ve found aftershaves add enough fragrance for my day, on most occasions. Also, be aware, if you’re applying aftershave liquids or gels, after you shave, it may sting. This is not usually true for lotions or balms.

An important note: depending on your own complexion, aftershave may dry out your face, or aggravate any acne. If this is a factor, look for oil free aftershave balm , particularly from the companies that do acne treatment (Neutrogena, Nivea, Clearasil, etc.).

If you choose to do cologne on a regular basis, but want to use an aftershave to soothe your skin after shaving, make sure to do an unscented aftershave, or one that compliments your cologne (same name/brand).

Wearing Scents

One rule to remember with scents: less is more. You want your scents to accent your personality, not dominate other’s perception of you. If the first or last thing a person remembers about you is your cologne, you have a problem. Of course, when used effectively, colognes can leave people with a very positive impression of you.

I would advise to never wear cologne for the first time to an important event, such as meeting a Sig-O’s family, interview or first day on the job. Generally, cologne is a “night out” type of accessory, and not something to use on a regular basis at work or school. For everyday wear, I would advise using aftershave as your fragrance, and save cologne for cocktails, dinner parties, or weddings.

When wearing cologne, as I said, it should be applied lightly to your wrists, neck (I do a dab behind each ear, and a dab on the back of my neck), and sometimes chest. Don’t use the “walk-through” method, where you spray it into the air and walk through the mist: this method can give you too much fragrance, and may harm your clothes. You can also apply cologne to the back of the knees. Sounds strange, but applying it there will make the scent rise throughout the day.

Considerations for Transmen

Heading into the cologne department in a large store can be a bit intimidating. However, by bringing a friend or Sig-O along, you can ease some of this tension, as well as get their input.  Make sure that your company on this trip validates your identity: having someone who is questioning your gender will make this process more challenging than it needs to be. If, at this point, you don’t have anyone who validates your identity, reach out to the community, and find other Transguys who can help. Ask to meet up at a mall, for instance, and get their advice on colognes.

If you’re on T, just starting T, or about to start T, be aware that your body chemistry is going to change. This means that the way colognes or aftershaves smell on you may change as well. You may find that colognes that used to work very well on you, no longer smell as nice. If you’re about to start T, or in the first year of T, I would suggest getting a small bottle of cologne, first. That way, if you find you need to change things up because of a change in body chemistry, you’re not wasting money.

Also, in the first year of T (or years, for some of us), acne is an inevitability. So, when choosing an aftershave, I would advise something in the “skin care” lines, that is oil-free. These won’t make the acne go away, but it will at least ensure you’re not making the problem worse.

I hope this answered your question! If I missed something, or if you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Good luck!

Cheers – Mason

Grooming: The Barber Shop

I don’t know about you, but getting my hair cut has been a struggle for many years. Some people want to give me a “feminized boy cut” others didn’t know how to work around bad cowlicks, or stick-straight hair. Needless to say, I’ve suffered through more than my fair share of ugly haircuts (and I have photographic proof, if you don’t believe me). When someone suggested the barber shop, I was skeptical – skeptical and nervous. And with good reason: the first barber shop I walked into, promptly informed me that they didn’t cut women’s hair, and shooed out the door before I could even defend myself. It was another four years before I tried the barbershop again. Now, I don’t think I can ever go back.

But, before you walk into any old barber shop, I thought I would share with you some of what I have learned, some suggestions, and, as always, considerations for transmen. Of course, comments or questions are welcome (just don’t ask for those photos of my bad haircuts!).

Research

By now, you may have guessed that “research” is, in fact, my favorite word; and barbershops are no different. Not all shops are alike: some shops are manned by ignorant, sexist, brigands whom I would rather not give my money to. Take, for instance, my first barbershop experience. The shop was empty, dirty and, clearly operated by individuals who would rather pass up my money than open their minds to gender diversity. As horrible as that experience was, I’m thankful I never had the opportunity to hand over my money to them. Nevertheless, don’t walk into the first barber shop you see.

First, ask the community. If you know other transmen in your area, ask them where they get their hair cut, and who they would recommend (and for that matter, who they would avoid). No transmen in your area? Go online, and ask around: look for reviews, post some questions, and see if you can find anything helpful. If you can’t find anything that way, drive by a few places first. Does the outside of the shop look clean? Are guys walking out with haircuts you might like? How many people are in there (a packed house can be a good indicator here)?

If you don’t know where to find a barbershop, one of my favorite sites, Art of Manliness, has a helpful barbershop locator: http://artofmanliness.com/barbershop-locator/

Barbershop etiquette

Barbershop are not the type of place you make an appointment, or put in your name to be seen. This is a strictly “first come, first serve” deal. When you walk in, take note of who is there before you. Those guys are going first. Typically the barbers are paying attention to this as well, and will make eye contact and a gesture to the next guy up, but pay attention as well. If the barber calls you up, and you think someone is ahead of you, say something. It’s courteous.

Barbershops, at least here in Northern New England, are as much about conversation as they are about hair cuts. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t take part in the conversation, or just listen in. But it does help to loosen up the nerves to chat with the folks there. Your barber may ask about you, where you’re from, what you do, who you’re related to in town, etc. If you don’t want to chat, that’s ok, but be polite about it: answer briefly, and maybe, ask them about their family, or home, or anything else. I know the few barbers I have seen chatted my ear off about their kids, growing up in some town I’ve never heard of, or anything else. I was happy to listen, because that meant I didn’t have to do the talking.

Also, after your cut, don’t forget to tip. Personally, if the cut costs $14, and I like the cut, I hand them a $20. That may be a little high for a tip, but if this person is going to be cutting my hair regularly, I would want to establish a good relationship; for a business, part of that relationship is money.

Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk

Well, truthfully, this is more about the talk than the walk. One of the most intimidating factors in the barbershop is the language. The first time I went in, and the barber asked me what I wanted, I stammered out some kind of description that probably made less sense than a two year old. So, a few tips on language.

Do a little research on what you want (there’s that word again: research). Personally, brining in pictures was never my style. Don’t ask me why, but I just couldn’t bring myself to cut pictures out of GQ and bring it to a barber shop. Thus, I had to rely on my research. I spent some time on google, looking for different examples of haircuts that I liked. There are several great resources out there. Here are a few examples:

I try to be a clean cut guy, so a “fade” was the best option for me (here is some info on different types of fade haircuts: http://www.bukisa.com/articles/414477_different-types-of-fade-haircuts). When I initially walked in, with no language and no concept of what I wanted, I told my barber that I liked it short, but not so short that you could see scalp on the sides. He translated that to what he calls a “3-2-1 on the side, and finger-width on top.” This has been the perfect cut for me. But, again, this is just my personal experience and style. The point is, if you can’t find something you like online, make sure you can describe to a barber what you want.

Considerations for Transmen

The barbershop is one place that “passing” is particularly stressful. If you’re pre-T, early on T, or not planning on T, the fact that you were FAAB (female assigned at birth), may be more apparent to a barber than other people. A barber may notice things like a lack of facial hair, sideburns, or balding and receding hairlines. Personally, if you are worried about not passing, I think it may be helpful if you figure out how to ask for exactly what you want, in barber shop terms first, then try going to a barber. If you can find an LGBT friendly barber, that may be a good place to learn the ins-and-outs of getting a good cut. Or, if that’s not an option, try a supercuts, or some other “unisex” hair place, so that gender isn’t an issue. If you feel comfortable, and you like a cut you get somewhere else, ask the person behind the scissors what they did (guard on the clippers, what style, etc). That way you can tell the barber what you want.

If you have a bad experience, like I did, just remember, if they’re that mean, you don’t want to give them your money.

Also, this obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, but bringing my wife along to places has given me some credibility. She went with me to the barber, and told the barber exactly what she wanted for me. Something about the wife taking control gave me credibility with the barber, and passing didn’t seem to be an issue.

I hope these tips help, and, as always, please feel free to ask questions!

Cheers – Mason

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