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15 Manly Smells

June 26, 2015 7 Minutes

This article is via The Art of Manliness, authored by 

Brett & Kate McKay.

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.

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 Nightor 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.


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