We're just wondering: Is it okay to tell a dude he smells?

Posted at 4:05 PM Jan 20, 2010

By Andrea Grimes

When I'm not informing you fine dolls of ladynews, drinking myself into a whiskey-fuel'd stupor or writing my master's thesis, I am a teaching assistant here at the University of Texas at Austin. Which means that every semester, I am put in charge of 60 or so students and told to tell them things that are true.

There is one thing, however, that is true that needs telling that is, perhaps, tacky: undergraduate dudes wear way too much cologne. Jersey Shore levels of cologne. But instead of wearing said smells out to the seaside or a club, they're here in Austin on packed buses, in crowded lecture halls and tiny classrooms.

Thus, my question to the internets is this: is it rude, inappropriate or creepy of me to tell a young guy when he smells like Calvin Klein jizz-bombed CK all over his Longhorns hoodie before handing him over to Tommy Hilfiger, who proceeded to give him a prolonged and vigorous swirly in a toilet filled with Tommy For Men? You know, in so many words.

I am not, for the record, one of those people who can't walk through the perfume aisles of department stores. I wear perfume or smelly-good lotion every day, myself. But this morning, I very nearly bailed off a packed bus to campus because the guy I was standing next to smelled so incredibly strong. I can't imagine any lady (or man, if that was his game) finding that attractive.

I propose looking at it from the "something in your teeth" angle. I'd like to be told if I had a big hunk of spinach on my front tooth or if I was trailing TP on my shoe. I'd also like to be told if I smelled so strong those standing next to me felt the inclination to hold their breath for minutes on end or risk public vomming.

Presumably dudes are doing this to make themselves more attractive to others--but if you can't stand within a couple feet of someone without their nostrils burning, how are you ever going to get close enough to them to tell them you want to be tied up and called Timmy? I mean, I guess you could just yell that out loud, but that might send the wrong message.

The next time I encounter one of these fragrant dudes--invariably 18 or 19 years old, invariably fresh-faced and bushy-tailed--would I be out of line to say some version of, "That's quite a cologne you have on, but it's really strong. Maybe next time cut back on the overall amount." In a pleasant, friendly and sisterly way. A way that says "I want you to have the sex, sir, but you are doing yourself a disservice." Or am I asking to be told off like the gripey, old, lady-fuddy-duddy I am?


Paul said:

Well, speaking as someone who had to look up how to put on cologne last year, I'd prefer to be informed if I'm fucking it up. I'd guess most guys follow the examples commercials provide, which involves hosing down your torso.

RachelB said:

I agree with Paul in principal, but if these are mere 18-year-old babes, you run the risk of hurting their feelings. From observations in the field, I gather that it can be tough being a guy (surprise boners isn't just the name of a crappy improv comedy troupe), and telling one he's wearing too much cologne would be more like a woman's mother telling her she looks fat than the spinach-in-teeth example. Instead, why don't you start making an announcement to your classes that you are allergic to most perfumes and colognes, and that the chemicals cause your throat to close up. A good prop for this speech is a hypodermic needle, like the kind food allergy sufferers carry around in case they accidentally eat peanuts. You don't have to use it, unless that's the way you roll. Just show it. I had a teacher in sixth grade who did this, so I know it's a real allergy (or maybe she just really hated cologne to). It doesn't solve your on-the-bus dilemma, and it is technically a bold-faced lie, but it achieves your goal without making a freshman shrivel with embarrassment and start skipping your classes.

I always hated that in Girl Scouts, we could earn badges for makeup application. But maybe boys would be better off if they had to learn sexy-man basics in Cub Scouts, too.

Lindsay said:

I agree! It's absolutely fine to tell him. So long as it IS in that "sisterly" sort of way. Preferably not if front of his pals. Of course.

I would say, don't dish it if you can't take it. If you would feel horrified and/or offended that someone would point that out to you, then don't do it.

I think most people would want to know.

BorgQueen said:

There should seriously be PSAs on this subject, lol. I think, like Paul said, these commercials that show Dude practically showering in their cologne are doing guys NO favors. Here's my 2 cents: Guys if you have a nice, clean smelling soap (I am partial to Irish Spring) and a nice, clean-smelling shampoo and conditioner, all you would really need is a deodorant and you are good to go. Cologne should be for special occasions and then the best method is the spray-and-walk-through. The very worst that will happen is the scent wears off after a few hours. MUCH better than funking up every room you pass through and some ladies like a more natural scent on men anyway.

Paul said:

Okay, see, that's different than what I read. I read wrists, pits, neck, behind the ears. And I nixed the ears so I could breathe. It's hard to try to smell nice...

lilspotteddog said:

I live in Saudi Arabia and can tell you that young Arab men must have vats of cologne arrayed around their compounds ready for full-body dipping at all times (despite islamic prohibitions against alcohol and the Kingdom being the steward of the holiest of islamic sites...I could go on). Of course, young Saudi women drown themselves in scent as well so it isn't solely a young male issue. In fact, it isn't a youth issue as even older Saudi men and women do the same thing. As a westerner, I do not have the cultural status to comment on this in any fashion, sisterly or otherwise. Sure, I find it terribly cloying, annoying, and socially disruptive. I've got co-workers who have prolonged sneezing fits when a particular Saudi co-worker shows up at the office dragging trails of scent behind her so thick they almost form a fog in the hallway. We don't like it but our choices are to deal with it or leave.

BorgQueen said:

Paul, like I said, just my 2 cents... I do prefer more natural smellin' dudes, but that is just me =) I would probably avoid the pits... I assume you wear deodorant anyway so if that is scented it could be too much. Also when you get warm/sweat, the smell will get stronger. Don't stress though, as long as you are clean, you should be good to go.

Beej said:

I think as long as it's, like, not someone you see everyday. Cause chances are if he's 18 he will think you're a bitch but really remember it and change. you have to be ok with some 18 year old you don't really know thinking you're a bitch for a few minutes.

Ladyonequestion said:

I had a similar dilemma (kind of). Do you say to a 17 year old boy (in a sisterly way) that his eyeliner looks kinda stupid and he needs to practice with pencil? I've got nothing against the wearing eyeliner, I'm all for self expression, but not poorly applied!

emonxie said:

I would tell them. Gently, politely as can perhaps, but I'd tell them. Whether their pungent aura came from a bottle or hygiene practices that relate to some variation on personal beliefs, addictions, or excesses.

Here's the thing, I smoked for 20 years. I grew up in a smoking household. As a smoker, I couldn't smell how horrific, how utterly repugnant, I smelled. That'd I'd ever worried then to even bother sloshing my pits with clear stick is amazing to me now, because now that I've had a couple plus years to regain my sense of smell, wow, have I discovered so many things that stink. Intolerably. As in to high heaven, or whatever high the kids are up to these days.

Do you remember when you would walk into a department store and women would seem to leap out from the clothes racks to mist you? Where I'm from originally Lazarus was the department store that would do that. Even as a smoking teen that hit of aerosol agony reeked awfully.

Now, with clear sinuses, standing in a queue or waiting at a crosswalk or on the transit by someone with an Axe bath or had just hot boxed a ciggy or had just finished a bowl of beets is like having those mist sprayers hitting you up relentlessly, soaking like formaldehyde into your sinuses with lasting persistence, and no matter how shallow you breathe you can see the smell, hear the odor, taste the rainbow. The ass end of it.

So either tell them, kindly and gently as can; or alternately, never ever give up smoking.


Juny said:

Well, like almost everyone here just said, I also think it's ok as long as it's in a sister-like manner. But remember, some dudes are just assholes, and will be offended anyway. In my case, I would definitely like to be told.

q said:

Just a late night refugee from Topless Robot, but I can't help voicing my support for women telling us when we stink. I would never have ended up with any long term relationships or my wife had I not listened to advice from my female friends. And frankly I'm too lazy not to just let my wife pick what I smell like at any time.

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