When we think of fragrance, we tend to think of luxury. Expensively packaged, celebrity-endorsed and backed by lavish marketing campaigns, many fragrances are offered up as an entry point to the finer life. But not everyone can afford to splash out on a £50 bottle of eau de toilette or a £150 boutique scent.
There are times, too, when you’d rather save your favourite fragrance for special occasions, preferring to turn to a comparatively less expensive ‘workhorse’ scent for everyday use.
But can you get a decent fragrance for minimal spend? We took a cold, hard look at the fragrance market’s entry-level options to find the 10 scents under £20 worth buying.
Oud By Library Of Fragrance
At £15 a pop, Library of Fragrance colognes are not only great value, but their breadth of choice is pretty much unbeatable, too. Skip the bonkers ones like Lemon Meringue Pie, and opt for Oud, Sandalwood, Ocean or Amber, which are all classic scents worthy of your bathroom cabinet.
They also do one called Pumpkin Pie – a smell which, according to research by The Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, has the ability to increase penile blood-flow. Just putting it out there…
£15 for 30ml cologne, from Boots.
Paul Smith Extreme
One of the better Paul Smith fragrances, the 30ml bottle of Extreme may be small, but the fragrance itself is big, bold, woody and spicy, packed with nutmeg, cardamom, rosewood, sandalwood and a sensual dose of musk.
Its creator, acclaimed nose Olivier Pescheux, also worked on the hugely successful Mont Blanc Legend fragrance, so you know you’re on to a good thing with this one.
£15.88 for 30ml, from Feelunique.
Ben Cohen Eau De Toilette
Consider yourself a fan of Abercrombie & Fitch’s hugely successful Fierce fragrance? Then you’ll probably like this signature scent from former England rugby union winger turned anti-bullying campaigner Ben Cohen, which is very similar in smell, strength and design. But not in price.
£10 for 100ml eau de toilette, from Superdrug.
Bench Urban Original 2 For Him
Fresh and fruity – thanks to notes of lemon, grapefruit and apple – but with a rich, musky and vanillary dry down, this fragrance debuted in 2013 and is a solid option for fans of Boss Bottled, a similarly fruity (but significantly more expensive) scent characterised by its top note of apple.
£20 for 100ml eau de toilette, from bench.co.uk
“Tabac is the string vest of aftershaves,” says Lizzie Ostrom, author of Perfume: A Century of Scents, of this corner shop-chemist classic.
“It is deeply uncool yet clinging on for dear life in certain quarters.” Tabac’s punchy blend of lavender, sandalwood, carnation and tobacco will come as a shock if you’re only used to contemporary fragrances, but it’s a shock worth subjecting yourself to.
“It’s a busy old scent but multifaceted,” says Ostrom.
£9.99 for 100ml eau de cologne splash, from Fragrance Direct.
Activist By The Body Shop
One of four affordable fragrances The Body Shop has created specifically for men, Activist is a warm, spicy and woody number with a slightly medicinal, tobacco-y edge that is energising, uplifting and boasts impressive staying power once sprayed on the skin.
Great for daytime use and generously sized for the price to boot.
£15 for 100ml eau de toilette, from The Body Shop.
Launched in 1792, this timeless fragrance may be cheap as chips, but it’s anything but cheap-smelling. Formulated with a now classic combination of bright, crisp citrus notes and aromatic herbs like lavender and rosemary, it’s perfect for the office or summer holidays and not unlike (a dramatically cheaper version of) Acqua Di Parma Colonia or Dior Eau Sauvage in character.
As it’s an ephemeral, lightweight cologne, you’ll need to reapply often but at least at this price you can easily afford to.
£11.66 for 100ml eau de cologne, from Boots.
Thoughtfully branded, Topman’s fragrances are always worth investigating. In the past the high street behemoth has worked with the likes of acclaimed fragrance designer Azzi Glasser to come up with relaxed, especially wearable fragrances.
This one is fresh and perky. Remember that if you do like this, or any other of Topman’s fragrances, it’s worth grabbing a couple of bottles because, much like the retailer’s clothing, styles don’t stick around for long before being replaced.
£10 for 100ml eau de toilette, from Topman.
Beyond By David Beckham
As celebrity fragrances go, Becks’ offerings aren’t bad at all. Indeed they can’t be, if they’ve managed to survive ten years after his first fragrance launched.
Beyond, Golden Balls’ second offering, is a versatile number that’s perfect for evening and especially good for younger guys (it’s not too challenging to wear), featuring grapefruit, spicy black pepper, a crisp ‘mojito accord’ and a touch of creamy vanilla.
£14.86 for 40ml eau de toilette gift set, from Amazon.
Old Spice Original Aftershave
“It’s lasted for generations; perhaps because the price point makes it affordable, but maybe just because it’s good,” says Liam Moore, founder of fragrance magazine ODOU, of this underrated classic.
With its heart note of carnation (one Moore reckons has helped this scent earn its reputation for being the epitome of masculinity), it’s a scent that really needn’t be reserved exclusively for dads and granddads – so be bold and give it a go!
£7.50 for 150ml aftershave lotion, from Amazon.
As James Craven, Perfume Archivist at Specialist Perfumery Les Senteurs pointed out in our feature on How to Buy Fragrance Online Without Smelling It, not all expensive fragrances are good and not all inexpensive fragrances are bad.
There’s only one way to find out though, and that’s to try a few for yourself. Happy spritzing.
Are you a fan of any of these inexpensive eau de toilettes? Or have you come across another budget scent that’s a steal?
Let us know using the comments box below.