Is there a more consistent entry on a man’s Christmas list than cologne? I realized that when I handed my list over to S. the weekend after Thanksgiving. There’s some point in every boy’s teenage years when parents think they require cologne each Christmas. I forget when I got my first cologne, but it was probably in the 12-13 range. I was somewhat chagrined to find a small bottle of Ralph Lauren’s Chaps cologne in my stocking that year. I was by no means a trendy kid, nor a kid who liked to attract attention to himself, so I certainly hadn’t asked for cologne. If I had, I’m sure I would have asked for what every other kid was wearing in the early 80s: Ralph Lauren’s Polo. See, it hasn’t necessarily always been choice on my part that has made me a contrarian. It was out of my hands sometimes.
Anyway, that small bottle in my stocking one year turned into an annual gift of a large bottle of Chaps from my parents. One year my dad even splurged and got me the gift set that included after shave (I was not yet shaving), soap, and deodorant. I remember busting out the deodorant early in 8th grade when I ran out of my regular Speed Stick. Shortly after lunch that day, my underarms broke out in a horrible rash caused by the fragrance in the deodorant. Damn that Ralph! As I said, I wasn’t trendy, so I accepted the annual gift without much fanfare. I didn’t know what else I should ask for, and every once in awhile some confused girl would tell me that I smelled nice, so why mess with an sure thing? At some point, Ralph got a little nutty and came out with a second Chaps fragrance that came in a green bottle. Perhaps in an effort to shake me from the fragrance rut I was in, someone got me a bottle of the alternate version one year. It didn’t go over well. I had a good thing going. I was comfortable with everything about Chaps, from its barely noticeable odor to it’s generic brown bottle. Now someone was trying to mess things up for me. I think I used this new flavor five times at most before the bottle was pushed to the back of the bathroom cabinet, not to be removed and thrown away for roughly ten years.
I went off to college in 1989 and a whole new world of fragrance opportunities opened up to me. Loitering in other people’s dorm rooms while waiting for my turn on Nintendo meant experimenting with new and exciting scents. By November, I decided that Benetton’s Colors cologne was the only thing that stood between me and a huge number of conquests in the second semester. I got the cologne but can’t honestly inform you I had much more success with the ladies in the spring than I had in the fall. Thus began a yearly cycle of me sampling other people’s colognes and requesting something new each Christmas. I’ve lost track of the different scents I’ve donned over the years, although I do know I’ve worn both Hugo and Boss by Hugo Boss, with more success than my attempts to branch out with Chaps.
While I admit I’m wearing better stuff than the insipid Chaps I rocked for most of the 80s, sadly I have fallen back into a rut. This year I asked for either of the Banana Republic colognes for men. I’ve worn and like both options. For the last three years, little else has been sprayed onto my skin. It might be boring, but it is protection. If I didn’t ask for something specific, there’s no telling what I might receive each year. You never know what some long, lost aunt or well-meaning neighbor might try to slip me. I’m only protecting myself, and everyone within smelling distance, if I make sure I get something nice to wear each year.
The question for my readers is: was there a cologne you consistently got at Christmas as a kid, whether you requested it or not?