Chaps (Ralph Lauren)

Cheap cologne is often pigeonholed as the crass working man's accessory, a crudely-executed and aspirational representation of whatever is in vogue at the moment. With few exceptions, the juice found for under $15 a bottle usually needs no help being stereotyped. Aqua Velva, Brut, Skin Bracer, Preferred Stock, and Gravity have been worn for generations by middle and lower-income guys who just want to smell good in a very basic way without getting into the finer points, the nuances, of more expensive fare. There's nothing wrong with being an Aqua Velva man, or the player who bathes in Gravity when Friday evening rolls around. Those guys spend their money on other things, and fragrance is only an afterthought to them.

Of all the cheapies in the oh-so extensive catalog of masculine cheapies, the original 1979 version of Chaps is the one cologne in disguise. I recall visiting CVS as a teenager and finding bottles of the usual stuff there, with Chaps hobnobbing alongside other sale items. It seemed to be right at home next to the Brut and Gilette aftershaves, sporting an uninspired brown glass bottle and a gaudy, paper-thin plastic cap from some sub-minimum wage Chinese factory, a very sad silver fleck job rimmed with jagged edges. Chaps ran for about $15 a bottle, depending on its size, and seemed on the outside to be the one item worth less than its asking price. Surprisingly enough, the cologne inside that hideous bottle smells like it's worth at least four times the amount on the sticker.
Powdery barbershop fougères are a popular scent category for cheapies because the basic ingredients that comprise them are readily available and very inexpensive - all you have to do is throw some limonene, linalool, coumarin, and a drop of oakmoss in there, and you have the basic framework for something that could potentially be much fancier. Chaps is one such powdery barbershop fougère, and ranks among the best of those cheap and "basic" masculines. It opens with an invigorating burst of lemon, orange, and lavender, each note surprisingly clear and well-blended. Within twenty minutes the patchouli - which is a little heavy-handed - steps forward to compliment an ever-present sandalwood. The wood is made somewhat leathery by touches of oakmoss and bitter spice (is that sage in there?), yet Chaps powders considerably as a dry vanilla/musk accord overtakes the aromatics. Dry patchouli and musky powder is all that remains of the scent after a few hours, and isn't particularly distinguished, but one thing can be said about it: Chaps smells very mature. It never smells like cheap teeny-bopper cologne. One can envision Steve McQueen as Tom Horn, or even Burt Reynolds as Malone wearing Chaps while being a major bad ass. This stuff is made for men - BIG men. It has the fast appeal that compliments a guy who lives his life hour to hour, full of excitement and intrigue, never stopping to look back or form regrets. You may not like him, but you have to respect him. And you have to respect his cologne.

Alas, this version of Chaps has been discontinued and replaced with some sort of Kohl's exclusive gimmick that represents all that has gone wrong with men's cologne since 1979. The vintage version works, if only because it is simple, concise, and utterly masculine. Nothing to lose sleep over if it can't be found, but really worth purchasing if it is.


  1. Oh, that bottle!

    I just cannot take Chaps seriously. :)

    1. Ha, understood. Try it anyway though.

  2. But in fact was a very serious stuff. I'm still looking for it or a very close similar replacement with no luck so far.


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