Is it okay to wear fragrance on a dinner date?

Food and fragrance have always been intimately intertwined – as intertwined as our sense of taste and smell. Little wonder, then, that many of perfumery’s most alluring notes come from popular culinary staples.

Both Thomas Clipper’s Coast and Mountain, for example, feature cardamom, while City and Atlantic share a sweet-and-spicy nutmeg note, with the latter also incorporating a deliciously creamy hit of vanilla too. My personal favourite, Country, meanwhile, utilises ginger and black pepper to add a piquant zing and also features saffron which adds a slightly leathery, honeyed softness. So popular are ‘foodie’ notes in perfumery that there’s even a whole category of fragrances – known as ‘gourmands’ – which place edible notes like chocolate, vanilla and honey at their heart.

Wearing fragrance in a food setting, however, is an etiquette minefield every scent-loving man needs to know how to navigate. The appeal of fragrance, after all, is largely contextual and what works well on a date in a nightclub or bar, when you want to stand out from the crowd and make an impact, doesn’t necessarily work for a date in a restaurant – a place already full of exciting, nostril-teasing aromas and one packed with people there to savour their food, not your cologne. 

That doesn’t mean that you can’t wear fragrance on a dinner date, of course, just that you need to be mindful of what you wear and how you wear it. The trick here is to smell good but not too good.

First rule then, should be to go easy on the application because applying fragrance is a lot like enjoying a fine wine: a glass or two will make you confident and uninhibited; a bottle and half, however, and you’re suddenly that guy talking VERY, VERY LOUDLY that nobody wants to be near.

Which is why it’s just as important to spray responsibility as it is to drink responsibly. Most fragrance experts suggest applying no more than 2-3 sprays to stay on the right side of intoxicating (if you’re blending your Thomas Clipper colognes try one spray of each). For a restaurant date, try applying to areas not exposed to the air – like your chest or collar bones – rather than your neck or wrists and the effect will be subtler (as well as slightly longer lasting) and will also encourage your date to get closer to check out what you’re wearing. Ideally, they shouldn’t be able to smell you beyond an arm’s length.

As Debrett’s A-Z of Modern Manners wisely puts it, ‘People don’t want to be able to smell you before they see you.’ They certainly don’t want to smell you over the smell of their starter. 

You might also want to try matching your fragrance to the mood of your food so that it complements rather than clashes with your dining experience. Given their understated, minimalist freshness, Atlantic and Coast (or a combo of the two) would be great for a lunch date, while the spicy Country perfectly suits more exotic cuisine and Mountain has a more opulent vibe (think secret-assignation in a cosy, private, low lit restaurant booth). 

Of course, one of the big pluses of the Thomas Clipper range is that the fragrances are designed to be combined, allowing you a more bespoke, individual to approach to fragrance wearing – a big plus in my book if you want to make an impression on a dinner date and don’t want to smell like every other man on the street. In a sense, it’s similar to the ‘fusion’ trend in food, where two established cuisines are combined to create something new - and even tastier - in the process.

One final suggestion, before I rush off to my own dinner date (wearing the sensual, smoky Country): keep your fragrance choice consistent. Having a ‘signature’ scent you wear on consecutive dates helps build up an emotional association for the person smelling it - and is especially important at the start of relationships when consistency, familiarity and reliability are fundamentals. Mix things up too much, too often, and you’ll come across as flighty and capricious. After all, when someone has a favourite dish in a restaurant they hate it when the recipe changes all the time – and you want to remain that favourite dish right?