Every time I stroll down the men’s grooming aisle at my local drugstore to pick up some deodorant or Brylcreem, I can’t help but notice the shelves of colognes and aftershaves. Gillette’s green and blue goo aftershaves seem to sell well, as do the notorious AXE body sprays.
However, as my eyes drift down to the lowest shelf, I’ll usually spy a selection of hardly touched colognes and aftershaves. Among them you’ll find fragrances that once sat in Grandpa’s bathroom — English Leather, Old Spice, Aqua Velva — but are now overlooked or snickered at by the younger generation.
I’ll be honest. I used to turn up my nose at these colognes and aftershaves too. I figured if they were being sold in a drugstore in plastic bottles for $5 and not at a department store in fancy glass bottles for $50, they probably smelled awful. Without an endorsement from Diddy, how good could they be? Oh, the power of branding on my feeble mind!
But one day, I decided that instead of relying on my fallacious reasoning to judge the quality of these forgotten drugstore colognes and aftershaves, I would bust out some good old-fashioned empiricism. I headed over to my nearest drugstore and filled up my handbasket with every single cologne and fragrance they offered. The lady at the checkout lane gave me a funny look and noted that she’s never seen a guy my age buying the stuff in my basket. I just smiled.
The total on my receipt for the six different products was $41. The most expensive bottle was $12.
After a week of testing these colognes and aftershaves, I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by my findings. I actually thought all of the drugstore colognes and aftershaves smelled great and will probably start using them on a daily basis. Because my go-to cologne is so expensive, I usually just wear it on special occasions. These bargain drugstore aftershaves and colognes will allow me to invigorate my freshly shaved face and dab on a bit of fragrance every day without breaking the bank.
Below are my thoughts and a bit of history on the six drugstore colognes and aftershaves I tested. Enjoy.
Pinaud Clubman is the oldest bargain aftershave on our list. Since 1810, Pinaud-Clubman has been making the world smell manlier with their wide range of grooming products. Walk into any traditional barbershop and you’ll likely find Pinaud-Clubman aftershave sitting on the shelves; it’s part of what gives classic barbershops their distinctive scent.
What it smells like: Pinaud Clubman is pretty potent stuff. You'll find hints of orange, lemon, jasmine, and lavender with a warm musk background in this manly concoction. It also has a nice antiseptic alcohol smell to it. You'd think smelling like rubbing alcohol would be a bad thing, but somehow Pinaud-Clubman makes it work.
Price: $7 for 6 oz.
Aqua Velva Ice Blue
Aqua Velva got its start in 1929, not as an aftershave, but as a mouthwash for men. Crazy, huh? It wasn’t until 1935 that Aqua Velva started getting pitched exclusively as an aftershave. Aqua Velva’s biggest selling point has always been the cooling menthol that soothes away razor burn.
Throughout the years, Aqua Velva produced several TV commercials to cast itself as the scent of choice of manly men. In this spot, 1950s cartoon guy learns what happens to guys who don’t wear Aqua Velva:
Aqua Velva was responsible for Pete Rose’s all-time MLB record for hits. If only Aqua Velva could have imbued Rose with the practical wisdom needed to understand that betting on your own team isn’t a good idea.
Even the Lone Ranger and Tonto wore Aqua Velva. Hi-yo, Silver!
What it smells like: Aqua Velva leaves a nice, clean, masculine smell that’s heavy on the menthol, but also includes hints of vanilla, lavender, and oakmoss. The smell is initially potent, but fades to a pleasant manly oakmoss smell very quickly. This was my second favorite scent out of all that I tried.
Price: $5 for 3.5 oz
Before they got into the “Man-Your-Man-Could-Smell-Like” body wash business, Old Spice made cologne and aftershave. Chances are your grandpa probably wore the stuff. If I were a bettin’ man, I’d even wager that the manly, charming scent of Old Spice played some kind of role in your eventual birth. Old Spice has been sold in its iconic buoy-shaped bottle since 1938.
What it smells like: Old Spice has a nice, spicy smell to it, hence the name. You’ll find overpowering notes of sage and cinnamon when you apply it. As it fades, it leave a pleasant musk and cedarwood scent.
Many believe that today’s Old Spice cologne isn’t the same as the original. Aficionados swear there was a subtle change made to the formula after Procter and Gamble acquired the brand. Even with the tweaking, this is still a solid, timeless, and manly fragrance. Good to have in your collection.
Price: $10 for 6.38 oz.