15 Manly Smells

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 23, 2009 · 266 comments

in Diversions, Travel & Leisure


Smells can conjure up some powerful memories. The smell of pine needles can take you back to childhood Christmases or the smell of a laundry detergent can remind you of home. For me, there are certain smells that I’ve come to associate with manliness. Whenever I smell them I think of my dad or grandpa or some aspect of my boyhood and my initiation into the rites of manhood.

And apparently, I’m not alone. For fun last week, I asked Art of Manliness Facebook Fans and Twitter followers what smells they thought were manly. The response was overwhelming. I decided to pick a few of my favorite responses and make a post out of it. So without further ado, I present 15 manly smells.

Hardware Store


The hardware store is a smorgasbord of manly smells: paint, wood, fertilizer, metal. It’s all there. As a boy, there was a local hardware store that my dad would go to. He’d lug my brother and I along. We’d open up all the drawers for the hinges and nails and play hide-in-seek in the door displays. Like many local hardware stores, it went out of business years ago when the Big Box stores moved in. The building was torn down and replaced with an upscale shopping center. But whenever I drive by the corner where it once stood, I can still smell the manliness that once emanated from that place.

Shoe Polish


The smell of shoe polish is a distinctively manly smell. For many men it conjures up images of brave soldiers shining their shoes to a mirror polish. For me, whenever I crack open a can of Kiwi black shoe polish, I’m instantly transported to my childhood den. About once a month, my dad would pull out his wooden shoe polish kit and take all his boots to the den to polish them. He usually watched In the Heat of the Night or Magnum P.I. while he did it.   The warm smell of shoe polish and leather filled the entire room, and it would usually linger there for an hour after he finished.

Cut Grass


For many men, mowing the lawn is the bane of their existence. But even if you hate the actual chore of mowing the yard, you can’t deny that the smell of fresh cut grass is pretty darn manly. I love the smell of the grass bag as I empty it into a trash can. And I actually quite enjoy how I smell after I mow the yard. It’s a combination of cut grass, gasoline, and body odor. I’ll even delay taking a shower just so I can revel in my manly scent.



I haven’t worked with wood as much as I would like to. But whenever I do, I always try to savor the smell of sawdust. I can remember when I first gained an appreciation of sawdust. It was at that old hardware store I mentioned earlier. Out back, they had a lumber yard, and I remember getting big whiffs of sawdust as I watched the workers saw wood down to size for my dad. The smell of sawdust also brings back the memory of my dad showing me how to sand my first pinewood derby car. Good times.



The warm, rich, smokey smell of an aged scotch whisky. There’s nothing like it. To the first timer, the smell of scotch can be off putting. But once you get past it’s initial pungency, you’ll discover a symphony of smell. Each scotch has its own distinct smell, but they all share some general characteristics. You’ll definitely smell the smokey peat used during the malting process. But if you get in closer, you might catch the subtle fruity smell of apples or cherries. There’s also a hint of licorice, which reminds me of kind old men. Taken together, you’re left with a scent that will put hair on the chest of any man who takes a whiff. Scotchy, scotch, scotch.



I think every man’s affinity for the smell of gunpowder began at some fireworks stand out in the country. That’s where mine did at least. Every Fourth of July, without fail, the parents would take my brother and I to a fireworks stand on an old country road. I can remember being overwhelmed by the smell of gunpowder as we ran up to the stand. After we filled up our paper bags, I would often stick my nose in it and take a nice big whiff. I was smelling danger. And manliness.

The smell of spent gunpowder is just as appealing, too. The smell of spent shotgun shells or the way an area smells after you fire off a round from a pistol is definitely manly.

Original Old Spice

Old Spice.jpg

Go to any men’s section in a department store, and you’ll see a stand selling $60 bottles of cologne with foo fooey scents. Walk into any local drug store and you can find manliness in a bottle for less than 12 bucks. Before they made deodorant, Old Spice was known for it’s cologne. Chances are your grandpa did and still does wear Old Spice. They still make the cologne, but it doesn’t get much play these days, which is a shame. Based purely on anecdotal evidence, women seem to love a man who wears Old Spice cologne. It reminds them of their grandfathers. They’re not hot for their grandpas, obviously, they’re just keen on the smell of old fashioned manliness. When they get a whiff of you sporting Old Spice they’ll instantly associate you with a time when men were men. Quit dousing yourself in Calvin Klein or gassing yourself in a cloud of Axe body spray and get some Old Spice.



It’s sunrise. The sky is still gray with a hint of orange and yellow on the horizon. You go over the fire pit and begin to strategically place dry leaves and small twigs into a tepee shape. You light a match, and watch the leaves smolder. And then it reaches you- the first bit of smoke from a campfire you made all by yourself. You suddenly feel more manly. But the smells don’t stop there. Throw in some maple, pine, or pinon logs and you up the manly smell quotient a few marks.

And the campfire smell stays with you when you go home. It gets in your clothes and in your hair. You never really notice it until you walk into a clean house. The contrast between your smokey smelling self and your antiseptic home gives you one last chance to revel in the manly scent of a campfire, before you watch it get washed down the shower drain.



I love walking into a barbershop. You know why? Because they all smell so damn manly. A barbershop smell is a mixture of Barbicide, shaving cream, musky smelling hair, and cheap (and free) coffee. If you’re going to an old barber shop, it may also smell faintly of tobacco from the days when men would smoke a cigarette and put out their butts in the ash tray on the barber chair arm rests.

Pipe Smoke


Image from Curtis!

Not many men smoke pipes these days, which is a shame because people are missing out on the sweet manly smell of pipe tobacco. Cigarette and cigar smoke can be acrid and obnoxious, but pipe smoke is, well, just pleasant. A whiff of a nice clove or cherry wood blend summons images of kindly older men in tweed jackets sitting in a chair next to a warm cozy fire with an old dog nearby.



Nothing beats the smell of well worn leather. Some of the manliest pieces of clothing and accessories are made from leather- leather jackets, leather boots, leather briefcases, leather saddlebags.  The smell of leather  reminds me of riding horses with my grandpa. I loved walking into the storage area in his barn where he stored all his tack and taking a deep breath. I remember thinking “Man, this is manly.”  And like a fine glass of scotch, leather only gets better with time.

Your Grandpa’s Chair


It seems like every old man has a chair that’s just for him. After years of sitting in it, the seat conformed specifically to the contours of his body and his scent has been permanently stamped into the upholstery. At least that’s how my grandpa’s chair was. That’s him sitting in his chair with me on the left and my little brother, Larry, on the right. One my fondest memories was going to my grandpa’s house in Bosque Farms, New Mexico for Thanksgiving. We’d sit on his lap and he’d hold us in his big strong hands. His chair smelled like the pinion wood he’d burn in his cast iron stove, the barn that he kept his horses in, and the sweat of a man who worked hard even in retirement. In a word, it smelled like pure manliness.

I miss that chair.

Gun Cleaning Solvent


Another ritual my father had when I was growing up was cleaning his government issued gun for his job as a Federal Game Warden. It was usually done on the week nights after dinner. He’d bring his gun cleaning kit to the kitchen table and place a white cloth in front of him on which he’d place his revolver. I was always fascinated by all the different size brushes in his kit. He’d then slowly open up the bottle of Hoppe’s No. 9 gun cleaning solvent. It filled the entire room with a rich, warm smell.

The first time you smell gun solvent it’s pretty jarring, but then you get used to it, and then you start to like it.



I love tearing open a bag of Kingsford and letting that waft of charcoal goodness hit me right in the nose. It’s a smell that tells my mind and body that summer is officially here. But the smell only gets better when you throw a match on them and watch them turn from black lumps of coal to glowing red stones, ready to cook any meat you throw on it.

Bowling Alley


In their heyday in the 1950′s, bowling alleys replaced the fraternal lodge as a place for men to gather and bond. Perhaps that’s why I associate the smell of a bowling alley with manliness. The combination of lane wax, piles of bowling shoes that have been worn by thousands of people, and cigarette smoke mix together to form that distinct bowling alley smell that permeates alleys across the country.

I know there are some other smells that you all think are manly. Share them with us in the comments!

{ 260 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Helen June 23, 2009 at 8:13 am

I miss that chair too!

2 russds June 23, 2009 at 8:23 am

Man, so true. I would have to add cigar smoke though. Even though you stated it can be “acrid and obnoxious”, my dad used to smoke them, and whenever i get a whiff, it reminds me of him.

3 The Plainsman June 23, 2009 at 8:29 am

I never penpointed the combination of smells that reminded me of winter evenings at my grandparents’ house until one day.
It was winter and after a long drive from the city, my wife and I finally made it to the family cabin in the mountains west of Denver. We settled in and I replaced my overcoat with a ragwool sweater and poured a scotch, then I went to light the woodstove. After successfully getting the fire started (in one try, mind you) I settled back with my drink.
Smelling the wool sweater, the wood smoke, and the scotch took me right back to my younger days visiting my grandfather, who smelled exactly like all three at once. (Yes, I do realize that grandpa drank… ;) )

4 Joe June 23, 2009 at 8:52 am

Nice list, a couple more I can remember is the smell of going into the old feed store with my dad and the old feed mill. All the different grains and feeds around along with different fertilizers made up one unique smell. Also the smell of walking into a mechanics shop and you get the smell of those tubes of grease. And the smell of a strong pot of coffee brewing also brings back memories, that and the way the old tan colored Listerine smells.

5 Thousandwatts June 23, 2009 at 9:03 am

I would second the pipe smoke, woodsmoke and the Hoppe’s No. 9, all three really bring on the memories.
I would add the smell of Brut,
also the aroma of WD-40.

6 Jon June 23, 2009 at 9:08 am

Nice reference to Will Farrell as Ron burgundy.

7 Steven June 23, 2009 at 9:21 am

Scotch, Old Spice, and Charcoal. Definitely the mark of a man.

8 Johan June 23, 2009 at 9:23 am

One word, Sweat.
Well, of course too much of it, but women love the smell of man’s sweat, a man who has worked hard all day long out in the field is very attracting to women.
Trust me ;)

9 Johan June 23, 2009 at 9:28 am

*NOT too much of it, sorry.

10 Mark June 23, 2009 at 9:28 am

It’s a shame that more men don’t smoke pipes? Tsk tsk. Tobacco’s certainly something I hope we all can partake more of ;)

The smell is nice, comparative to cigarettes, but it’s still just the lesser of two evils.

11 Perry Clease June 23, 2009 at 9:33 am

I second the smell of coffee being a manly smell. A couple of more:

The smell of metal working, forging, kind of an oil on hot metal. My father used to do that and taught me a good bit of it.

The smell of warship. Having spent a lot of time at sea when I was in the US Navy when I visit warship museum such as USS Midway the first thing I notice is the smell. Kind of a paint, hydraulic fluid, boiler exhaust, salt air mix.

The smell of coal, not charcoal (well that too) but anthracite. My uncles on my mother’s side were all coal miners, some of my cousins too. I remember them coming home all covered in coal dust and how tough they were having to do that kind of work. Then there was the smell of the coal stove and “stoker” (furnace) in my grandparent’ house.

12 phil June 23, 2009 at 9:39 am

the smell of cars… oil, burnt gas, rubber.

13 Josh June 23, 2009 at 10:02 am

I can think of 2 that make me just want to start combing my chest hair. The smell of an old airplane cockpit. I worked B-52′s, and the smell of 40 years of sweat, burnt food, tension, and hard work just can’t be beat. I’m sure it’s one of those acquired smells, once you get it, you got it.

Same with the smell of an old car. Nothing beats getting into an old car (that hasn’t been completely restored from the ground up) and taking a big ol whiff and just smelling the years.

14 Ed June 23, 2009 at 10:07 am

The smell of shoe polish takes back to the weekly Saturday night ritual of polishing my shoes prior to church the next day. My father emphasized the need for the polishing and the attendance at church. We would drag out the shoe shine box that he had made as a boy during the depression out of an old apple crate (he worked as a street shoeshine boy) and shine away while we watched TV. I still have the shoeshine box with the 5 cent price for a shine whittled into the wood. I treasure it.

15 mark June 23, 2009 at 10:13 am

I can’t believe you left out burnt two stroke! The smell of motorcycles! Although they’re (sadly) no longer manufactured I can still get my two stroke kick whenever someone is using a petrol lawnmower.

That’s a two for the price of one. Is there such a thing as nose heaven?

16 Robert Cox June 23, 2009 at 11:07 am

I must agree with Mark – Certain types of Engine smoke strike the tone of manliness – Be it a classic 67 Mustang being tuned, to a modern powerhouse of a new Charger, to even a cruiser motorcycle, either of Foreign or Domestic Production – any of these conjures up the image of your James Deans, your Steve McQueens.

17 Steven M. Puma June 23, 2009 at 11:08 am

I would add a few more:

1. Cigars, especially the smell of a cigar-store humidor.

2. Sandalwood or Almond shaving cream.

3. Fresh dirt.

4. A nice, clean, dog. Even better, a nice, clean puppy.

5. An old house.

6. Anything that reminds you of your grandpa.

But my all-time favorite has to be campfire.

Cool post!

18 griffisr June 23, 2009 at 11:08 am

I am really happy about this. It brings a sense of good nostalgia, plus a lot of these are some of my favorite things. The little Tweet escapade we had was enjoyable- I didn forget to mention that I have a new found love for Lagerfeld Classic(cologne). It has that old musk that reminds me of my grandpa. http://www.fragrantica.com/images/perfume/nd.1309.jpg

19 griffisr June 23, 2009 at 11:09 am

did* forget to mention…

20 Cutter June 23, 2009 at 11:13 am

Great list, but you forgot a very manly smell: BACON.

As for other smells, I returned to wet-shaving with a badger brush a few years ago, and the accumulated soaps in the brush produce an aroma that reminds me of my grandfather. Very manly, and nothing like the cheap cans of foam guys tend to use nowadays.

I’m also glad to see you included pipe smoke. I smoke an occasional pipe myself; I love that smell. I have a friend who used to work at a tobacco shop, and when I’d visit him there, I loved to hear the great stories told by the elderly men who’d frequent the place. They’d smoke a pipe or cigar, lean against the counter, and tell us about hunting in Africa or fighting in Korea or how his dad had met John Wayne. It was great, and those smells remind me of that.

I’ll also add machine grease and (like someone else said) WD-40. And if you ever made a list of manly sounds, I’d suggest a chainsaw, a shotgun being pumped, the crackle & pop of a campfire, and the engine of a 1968 Mustang Fastback.

21 griffisr June 23, 2009 at 11:22 am

I like Cutter’s thoughts on the sounds. That’s something you don’t think of as often… in addition, I’d say the sound of shaving those burly whiskers with a fresh blade on the safety razor, the swish noise of a golf club grazing over the grass when hitting the ball, the sound of the grill when the fire initially ignites…

22 Adam Steer - Better's Better June 23, 2009 at 11:39 am

I used to love getting packages in the mail from my Pop (grandfather). I would revel in the smell of his pipe smoke as I unwrapped them. I actually keep a sealed bucket of his cloths in basement. I took them from his closet after he died. Every now and then I’ll open up the box and breath in the memories.

Thanks for the post.


23 Noslibob June 23, 2009 at 11:41 am

Wonderful topic. Certainly made me think. My grandfathers died before/soon after I was born. One was a guilder/framemaker, the other a shipbuilder. Imagine the smells I was never allowed to associate with them.

Two other things: Tiger balm and that garage smell, exhaust mixed with rust, metal and oil.

Oh, and the smell of welding.

24 Robert June 23, 2009 at 11:54 am

I couldn’t agree more with any of these 15!

Another one – not just “charcoal” or “campfire”, but the actual smell of bbq/grilling itself…men come out of caves inexplicably when a grill is fired up and a good slab of pork thrown on.

Another might be the distinct smell of hops – not beer – hops.

Maybe black coffee, brewed…although lattes have changed all that too.

25 paul June 23, 2009 at 11:56 am

Great list. I would not only add cigar smoke, though, but the smell of cigar boxes. That makes me think of grandpa.

26 Josh June 23, 2009 at 11:59 am

Love this article! Nice to know I’m not the only one who gets nostalgic from smells.

I’d have to add modeling glue/paint for all the times I did this with my dad and definitely concur with the car smells of oil and tires.

Also – why aren’t farts on here? Nothing manlier! LOL

27 Ric June 23, 2009 at 12:35 pm

You missed the smell of freshly burned racing fuel.

CAM 2, Sunoco Racing Fuel, VP all have their delightful qualities.

I’d buy cam2 perfume for my wife.

Not very pleasant but still very manly is the Methanol based fuel used from Briggs and Stratton Go karts up to Tip Fuel dragsters. Eye watering noxious stuff…but all in all VERY manly.

28 cl June 23, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Great list. Don’t think anyone has mentioned this yet; the interior smell of a wooden sailboat.

I keep reading about Old Spice in alot of posts, can anyone post a link to a webshop that ships to Scandinavia? Would love to try it out.

29 Brian June 23, 2009 at 12:47 pm

3in1 oil and WD40 were the standards for manly odor around my house. Also mineral spirits from my dad’s cabinet shop.

30 Matt June 23, 2009 at 12:55 pm

My pawpaw definitely had a smell. He was a prison guard at a minimum security prison farm. The kind where drunk driving accountants go. They were in charge of mowing public property. So when I was a kid in school I’d look out the window at orange jumpsuited prisoners pushing lawnmowers and my pawpaw watching over them with mirrored sunglasses and a shotgun over his shoulder.

When you are 10 years old it don’t get any cooler than that!

PawPaw always smelled like soap and freshly cut grass.

Now my father is a differrent story. He was actually born without a sense of smell, a condition called anosmia. Not having a sense of smell has few major effects. It makes you paranoid about BO. It puts you in fear of getting caught in a fire (cause you can’t smell the smoke) so his house is littered with smoke detectors. And you end up making your beloved son who has a perfectly good sense of smell check things out for you before you eat them. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been nose deep in a jug of milk that would gag a crocodile.

So strangely enough the smells that recall fond memories of my dad are rotten things. Smells the evoke the “Oh my GOD you didn’t just eat that!” response. Or the time he left some food in the back of his van… for a year. Somehow he never got sick from what he ate, he must have had a cast iron stomach or had built up an immunity over the years until he could literally eat garbage. It was a source of endless fascination and amusement when I was a kid.

31 Shaun June 23, 2009 at 1:09 pm

For me, it’s always been the smell of black coffee…especially the stuff that gets stuck to the bottom of the cup and makes a dark ring…ahh the smell of manliness :)

32 brian June 23, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Beer, Gas and B.O.

33 Bob Iger June 23, 2009 at 2:23 pm

While I don’t like the addition of any tobacco-related products to Brett’s list due to health concerns, I do think his list is pretty darn spot-on. Especially the leather and Old Spice.

I’d like to add two more smells to it.

First: Nothing beats the smell of Army-issued tents or clothing. When I smell this scent I instantly imagine army platoons marching in front of me.

Second: the smell of my Grandpa’s garage. It was kind of a metallic scent, I can’t quite define it.

34 Andy K. June 23, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Could you do a post on pipe smoking (the pro’s, con’s, the benefits, how to do it, etc)?

I’m a little hesitant to pipe-smoke due to health consequences/risks, but think it might be nice to indulge in once in a while…


35 Brian June 23, 2009 at 3:04 pm


I’m slightly concerned if AoM posts something about how to get into pipe smoking that I’ll be out buying one! Seriously, AoM, you have waaaay too much influence on my life. =P

36 Brett June 23, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Well be forewarned Brian….an AoM reader wrote up a great article about pipe smoking and sent it to me the other day. We’re going to publish in a few weeks. It unfortunately doesn’t discuss the health concerns, Andy. I think it’s one of those questions that’s very difficult to answer as you only smoke a pipe on occasion and you don’t inhale. I’m sure there will be plenty of debate on the subject in the comments section……

37 Kenny June 23, 2009 at 3:18 pm

The smell of axle grease and old spice reminds me of my grandfather, it’s what his shop always smelled like. The smell of that orange-scented hand degreaser and wood shavings brings me back to my childhood.

38 Josh June 23, 2009 at 3:36 pm

I haven’t been able to pin down the specific smells, but I have always found the way my dad smelled when he came in from working outside in the winter. It’s something of the clean smell of winter (what you get before it snows), a hint of sweat, and the slightest bit of whatever he was working on. It was a very clean scent, no fruity, flowery stuff, nothting of grease or oil or gas or anything of the like. Just clean.

To me, remembering that smell always helps me relax. I just wish I could figure out what was in it.

Also, the smell of the sea. Not the smell of beer, hotdogs and sand while you sit beside the ocean. The smell of the sea when you can’t see the land and there’s no sound but the wind in your sails.

39 Cutter June 23, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Nearly 40 responses and no jokes yet about the smell of napalm in the morning…

40 Joshua June 23, 2009 at 3:53 pm

A fantastic list. I read it with great approval and when I saw gunpowder I thought, “As great as gun powder smells, I really love Hoppe’s No. 9.” Sure enough…

I am also a big fan of coffee (my cup has more than a dark ring in the morning, it has a layer of grounds from the french press), WD-40, gasoline, and cigars.

41 Andy K. June 23, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Brett and Brian

Brett specifically:
I love how you read these comments! It’s great for a more… communal feeling?
I guess I’ll have to check out the health effects, and then give it a try (see if it’s fun/worth it).

I’ll be looking forward to that article! I LOVE this site!

42 David June 23, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Reenacting combines at least three of these great smells: campfires, gunpowder, and leather. It’s a great time, especially getting up just before dawn and watching the silhouettes of the men as they prepare the campfires for the day…

43 The Wingnut June 23, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Just going through this list with my wife, and she thought to add fishing and the smell of the scented baits. Also, it seems that rivers have a particular scent, different from oceans or lakes, and this is manly as well. I would add all bodies of water myself.

I would also add the smell of a hangar. An airplane hangar combines a large number of manly scents into one uber-masculine odor. Leather upholstery, old airplane scent, numerous fuels and oils and greases, and exhaust, both tubine and reciprocating. It’s unforgettable, and undeniably masculine.


44 Joshua June 23, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Also thought I’d add one – early morning dew. Manly because if you up early enough to smell it bake off from the rising sun, chances are you are doing something manly like (note how well it mixes with other popular smells):

- walking onto a job site, tools in hand (mixes well with gas, sawdust, etc)

- hitting the first drive down a glistening fairway (leather shoes and maybe a cigar)

- waking up in a tent (campfire AND coffee and maybe a body of water)

- maintaining silence in hunting post that you’ve been in way before sun up (gunpowder and the general musk you develop after 5 days in whitetail country)

45 Dave Lewis June 23, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Perry –

Thanks for reminding me about “ship smell”. I’m an old navy guy too and after 35 years I can still remember that smell. Red lead paint, bunker oil, steam, food from the galley, and gunpowder. Add several hundred – or several thousand – tired and often scared people. Put it all in a steel box and seal it up from the sunlight and fresh air.

I visited the USS Texas about 15 years ago. She’d been cold iron since the late 1940′s but when I went below decks I could still smell the ghost of that smell in the air.

46 MattC June 23, 2009 at 5:27 pm

I can’t believe you got Hoppes no. 9 in there–I thought I was the only person who loved that smell. I never thought of it as especially manly, but it’s a *great* smell.

47 MK June 23, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Vitalis. My dad used the hair oil for years until the “wethead” look was beat down by the blowdried dillhole look. Whenever I smell Vitalis, I see Dad slicking his hair, then running his comb through it until it was perfect.

48 Wes June 23, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Two-cycle exhaust preferably from a chain saw and sweat. I didn’t recognize it until I smelled it on myself after a hard day cutting wood and it brought back memories I didn’t realize I had.

49 Adam June 23, 2009 at 6:43 pm

I’ve been a competitive rifle shooter since before I can remember. My dad taught me firearms safety, shooting skills, sportsmanship, reloading, and firearms maintenance. He was my coach, mentor, confidant, and friend over the years. He taught me how to win and lose with dignity. I achieved great success on a national stage, and I can’t give him enough of the credit.

There were plenty of rough spots throughout my shooting career, and my dad wasn’t always perfect. But he was always there, and he never gave up on me. He taught me more about being a true competitor and a good man that I can put into words here.

I say all of this because of this post’s references to the smell of gun powder and solvent. For me, those two smells are more than an expression of manliness, they’re a reminder of how life’s lessons are passed from father to son.

50 VS June 23, 2009 at 7:51 pm

How about the smell of a brand new baseball? They used to come in a box, wrapped in tissue paper, not shrink-wrapped in plastic.

51 Skarabrae June 23, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Both of my grandfathers and my dad worked on the railroad so the smell of diesel is always associated with men for me. Also, the smell of a tackle box and northern pike always seemed pretty darn manly to me. And varnish.

52 Buster Cherry June 23, 2009 at 8:59 pm

gin, gasoline, candle wax, burnt hair, napalm, Aqua Velva, beer and so many others

53 Rob June 23, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Diesel fuel!

54 JOE MACIESZA June 23, 2009 at 10:02 pm

the one you forgot to mention i always loved visiting my dads body shop the smell of bondo and grinding always brings fond memories. i recently bought a new car and the smell in the dealership brought me back instantly

55 boony June 23, 2009 at 11:18 pm

For me, it will always be the smells I associate with the time spent with my dad While he was working.

All the smells of a fishing boat, but most of all, the smell of the sea.

It truly was his second wife.

56 Dan June 24, 2009 at 3:09 am

Fantastic list. I love almost all of the things you listed.
I just have to add a few…..

Motor oil.
Fresh cut lumber and sawdust.
Wood stain.

All very manly smells.

57 Kenney June 24, 2009 at 3:12 am

I worked in a tune-up shop for close to 30 yrs. Boss’s pipe tobacco, assorted auto chemicals, exhaust, oil, grease, rubber. Any of those aromas engages my nostalga. Most unhealthy, sure, but it really says “Man area”

58 Stephen DeGraaf June 24, 2009 at 3:47 am

Being a pipe and cigar smoker I’d say you have it wrong. Pipe tabacco can be just as arcid and obnoxious as a cheap cigar. A good quality tobacco smells good.

59 Ryan June 24, 2009 at 4:46 am

The smell of the auto parts store. A combo of bearing grease, gasoline, used motor oil and WD-40.

Also add the smell of fuel stabilizer, my Paw Paw would treat the fuel in his boat every year. Last year, I put fuel stabilizer in my generator getting it ready for hurricane season, the smell took me back…

60 Joey June 24, 2009 at 4:52 am

the smell of sambuca always reminds me of my grandfathers and my father.

61 John June 24, 2009 at 5:18 am

How about MEAT. Nobody mentioned the smell of rotting flesh. Nothing better than walking into a butcher’s shop if you can find one….

62 Kevin June 24, 2009 at 6:22 am

Gasoline is one of my favorites and can only be considered manly. Brasso smells offensive at first, but then you begin to love the smell as well. I wonder what I’m doing to my lungs sometimes.

63 Adam June 24, 2009 at 7:25 am

Good list! I just wanted to add the smell of cement mixed in a wheelbarow. One of my grandpa’s built almost all of my mom’s sister’s houses. The smell of fresh mixed concrete always reminds me of him.

64 Alison June 24, 2009 at 7:44 am

Engine oil/grease

My dad would smell like that after working on the family cars, my older brothers would smell like that after working on their cars, and my husband smells like that every day, as he is a mechanic. Too much is too much, but just the right amount of grease on his tan forearms, smelling manly…WOW. That is one hell of a manly smell.

65 Cowboy Bob June 24, 2009 at 8:36 am

I wanted to go back to the Old Spice bit. Sure, it’s manly. But I’m not sure it’s the right choice if you’re into dating: “That smells like OLD MAN! Almost as bad as Stetson!” I use both, I’m not chasing babes anymore, so I don’t care if I smell like “old man”, especially since I’m almost 50. But younger guys may want to think twice about Old Spice, classy as it is.

66 Eliot Ness June 24, 2009 at 8:39 am

I haven’t every really looked at a Bowling Ally as a manly smell…. I would definitely add WD40 to the list.

67 Tommy June 24, 2009 at 8:40 am

I thought this was going to be another bullshit list like the smells “real man could whitstand”, but you have actually made outstanding, great list.


Personally I find the smell of train station, this burnt disel very pwoerful, nostalgic and manly. Reminds me great metal monsters that could shake all the windows in house when going by.

68 Joe June 24, 2009 at 9:27 am

Aqua Velva. Whenever I put some on after shaving, I feel manly and confident!

69 Josh June 24, 2009 at 10:19 am

@Cowboy Bob:

I wear old spice and I’m in my mid-twenties.Oddly enough, it’s not the women who disparge the cologne, but the other men. They seem to think I’m doing something wrong because I don’t smell like fruit.

70 Josh_H June 24, 2009 at 10:25 am

Bay rum. ‘Nuff said.

71 Dave June 24, 2009 at 12:29 pm

My grandpa wore Old Spice. He also ate pig’s feet and drank Stroh’s beer. Now that is a manly combo of scents. He also had a drawer where he would store his cigars, cigarettes, and Cherry Borkhum Riff. Absolutely wonderful.

72 Terry June 24, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Curry combs, gun cabinets, sweat wet horses, pipes and the hot air smell of a garage in late July.

That was my grandpa.

73 Matt June 24, 2009 at 12:42 pm

the air after a lightening storm & freshly baked bread

74 Steve Treacle June 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm

What a lovely article! It reminds me of my Grandpa’s garage; I miss him so much. It is also really making me want to buy a pipe. Strange, for someone who has never smoked!

Funny, though, how one or two things haven’t crossed the Atlantic. I doubt many British men would list gunpowder or gun cleaning stuff!

75 Sean June 24, 2009 at 1:58 pm

You did not mention Pinaud by name….FOR SHAME!!!

More manly than sweat or black coffee!

76 Kurt June 24, 2009 at 4:08 pm

I definitely agree with the necessary addition of Pinaud, and I would also put forth Brylcreem. It has a very distinct smell that just screams manliness.

77 Mike M. June 24, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Manly and stomach-turning – the smell of jet fuel. Eau du JP-5.

78 David June 24, 2009 at 6:28 pm

the smell of my tackle box!

79 Hutch June 24, 2009 at 11:01 pm

Outboard motor exhaust.

80 Ken June 26, 2009 at 5:43 am

The smell of combining a corn field on a dry fall day – my dad in the combine and me hauling wagons with our old Farmall 806 diesel. Those are some great memories.

81 Julia June 26, 2009 at 10:54 am

I swear I never dated a guy who didn’t fill his lungs and let out a contented smile after passing near a car repair shop doorway. Cold places smelling of paint, dust, oil, gasoline, leather, sweat and many odors I would only adjective as gross, were (are) like flowers to their noses. Dusty places with aggressive chemical smells, like hardware shops and shoe repair shops, also rate very high in that list.

I don’t know if this is a manly smell, but onions getting golden in oil in a saucepan have an immediate possitive reaction in my husband’s mood. The smell of red meat being cooked in an gas oven, saucepan or open grill, of stew and of angel cake (yeah, I know) also lift his moods more than any other food smell. But that’s only because salami, cheese and olives don’t always smell very strongly I guess.

Though I can see some smells appeal more to men than to women, I’m not very sure I can pinpoint any particular smell I associate with manliness, that make me think of, well, men. Probably some faint trace of some very specific very expensive fragrance worn by very clean people mixed with just a dash of tobacco smoke. But that’s too much to describe, isn’t it?

This is a fantastic post, I love the chance to peep other people’s sensitivity. Thank you.

82 Bernie Franks June 26, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Julia, if we got into all the possible food-related smells, we’d never get out of here. But cooking up some onions in oil is one of the finer culinary-olfactory experiences.

83 R. J. Vincent June 28, 2009 at 8:55 am

I definitely agree with the hardware store smell. There used to be a great local hardware store where I grew up and you could smell the fertilizer as soon as you walked in the door. To this day, the smell of Scott’s Turfbuilder or similar fertilizer takes me right back to those days. I go to a traditional (and old) barbershop and it definitely has that manly barbershop smell. Great list.

84 John June 29, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Great list. I’m reminded of an Army attack helicopter pilot’s toast,

“Here’s to gunpowder and pussy.
One brings you into the world,
the other takes you out
and I love the smell of them both!”

85 Long John June 29, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Pine Tar

86 Derek June 30, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Great list. Some combinations I am fond of are wool sweaters and guns (before and after being shot) and the combination of smells in the morning of the campfire the night before, beer and Morning mist or rain.

87 Ryan June 30, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Great topic. I’ve often thought about it myself, and you’ve hit almost all of my favorites (the exception being WD-40, which others have mentioned). My list is as follows:

Hoppe’s #9
cosmoline (This comes from my love of old military surplus guns. Nothing smells quite like a 60+ year old gun, slick with cosmo, that’s been stuck in some Eastern European warehouse since the end of The War. Smells like history.)

88 Nathan Gilmer July 1, 2009 at 11:17 am

Two come to mind for me.

1) Motor oil and Gasoline. My dad was always a car guy these smells remind me of working with him in the garage.

2) Sign making vinyl. This one may seem weird to a bunch most of you. But my dad made signs for a living for a good portion of my childhood. The smell of the vinyl instantly takes me back to memories of my dad working hard to provide for his family. It smells like manliness to me.

89 Austin July 1, 2009 at 11:49 am

I agree with all the aforementioned scents, but I’d also like to add “salt air” to the list because, heck, what guy hasn’t dreamed of going on a Hemmingway-esque nautical adventure at some point in an old sailing vessel?

90 Barry R McCain July 1, 2009 at 7:23 pm

An excellent list. I am a fellar now in his 50s, enjoy your website much. I do use Old Spice, original of course, I spoke Capstan navy cut, the same as JRR Tolkien, I visit hardware stores often, etc., etc.,

Damn good list lads.

91 Patrick Bateman July 2, 2009 at 11:22 am


92 Emilia July 2, 2009 at 4:15 pm

YES! These smells are exactly what come to mind when I think of the best men in my life AT their best.

My dad shining his shoes for a date with my mom.

The smell of Old Spice left on my sheets after my boyfriend goes to work.

And the freshly cut grass my brothers and I would run across at our childhood home.

Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. This article made my day.

93 John Todd July 6, 2009 at 11:49 am

I’m now sitting here wondering what scents I will leave my children with… Pinaud is definately overlooked on this list, but I think you could apply the Old Spice section to many “vintage” aftershaves and colognes. The smell of trout on your hands, coffee as strong as rocket fuel, ribs and tri-tip smoked with mesquite, Armor-All on the car interior…

And the unmistakable smell of a deer carcass hanging in the garage. Venison good, deer innards bad!

Great, great article. Well done.

94 Lawrence July 6, 2009 at 4:39 pm

Dirt roads and the woods that surround them, especially in the morning. Humidors, Barbeque smoke, and old guitars are pretty great too.

95 patrick July 12, 2009 at 9:19 am

good blog, always is
good post, usually are

but don’t romanticize pipe smoking or any other kind of tobacco. Not to say you shouldn’t mention, just don’t romanticize it, and if you mention it, you might also mention tongue, throat, and lip cancer are just as bad as lung cancer.

96 Ralph July 13, 2009 at 12:33 am

Patrick, we’re adult men, we understand the harm smoking can potentially cause and some of us would prefer to enjoy ourselves, we can make choices for ourselves. Grandfather is pushing 80 and has used tobacco in some way shape or form since the 40s, does he know about the effects on his health? Sure. Does he care? No. His mantra is live your life to the fullest and enjoy it, and frankly that’s what my pipe and I intend to do.

97 Lauren July 13, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Great list! A lot of those smells make me think of my father, grandfathers and just men in general! Grass made me think of my father for sure! ha ha

98 ABBO July 15, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Let’s not forget fiberglass resin. Whether patching up a sailboat or a surfboard, it’s a smell from a manly act usually done in the company of your best buds. Also Old Bay crab / shrimp boil would have to be added. What about roasted oysters on the grill? I think the smell of seaweed would fit, because you would have to be near or on the water, which means fishing, boating or surfing, manly.

99 Bert July 23, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Two places will forever leave their manly olfactory mark on me in a positive way:

1) A blacksmith’s shop. I worked in one at a historic site for a number or years, and the combination of steel, coal (burned and unburned), sweat, tobacco smoke, rust, oil, grease, and wood is a whole other level of manly.

2) An old hockey arena. I played a lot of hockey in my younger days, and every time I head back to the 70-plus year old rink it reminds me of all the manly old buggers like my dad who played there before me. It has to be an old one though, the new ones don’t have the right smell.

100 Mike July 23, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Diesel fuel, old books, and shoe polish always make me smile.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter