While many of the traditions, habits and hobbies that men have can be shared with women, the beauty of shaving is a distinctly manly ritual. The allure of the barbershop is in a similar vein as shaving, but not even the feel of a leather chair, the smell of sandalwood cologne and good conversation with gentlemen from the neighborhood touches the deeply personal feeling of giving yourself a good shave. But the ritual of shaving turned into the chore of shaving, that five minutes in the morning you have to do because it’s what a gentleman does to get ahead at work, score a date or whatever. The chore has found a resurgence among shaving aficionados, transforming that five minutes in the morning back into the luxurious ritual that men looked forward to.
The evolution of men’s shaving looks very similar to the evolution of tools and the evolution of man. The ancient Greeks used to pull their beards out by hand, whisker by whisker, then, probably when someone was sick of the constant agony of doing this, crafted a knife specifically for shaving. The blade gave way to the machine of the safety razor, named such because it was marketed to be safer than a straight razor. Built of heavy steel, iron or aluminum, the safety razor was a butterfly opening hunk of metal that took a double sided razor blade, a bit safer than the knife most men shaved with but still not something to juggle with.
The disposable razor evolved from the heavy bit of metal your grandpa used to a sleek, slim handle sporting cheaper razor blades in a cartridge. Cartridge blades, while sporting more blades that give a clean shave, wear heavily on the face, taking layers of skin along with hair. The evolution of shaving oils, creams and soaps was shaped by the evolution of the razor, essentially meeting the immediate needs of the public and developing wisdom for future generations.
The importance of a shaving cream is nearly as important as a sharp blade when it comes to shaving. Men’s facial hair is a thick, coarse hair that needs proper lubrication and forming before any shaving is done. A thin oil is rubbed into the cleaned face, coating the hairs so soap and lotions can absorb into the whisker and not be washed away when applied. A brush is used to life up the hairs on the faces, properly warmed and moistened with warm water. The brush, which should be pure boar or, even better, badger hair, is rubbed into a bowl of shaving soap or cream until a nice froth develops. A lesson I hold onto when whipping up a shaving cream is that the soap should resemble a nice head of Guinness, firm yet light, frothy yet complete.
The shaving cream is applied to the face in a circular brushing motion, like stirring the cream into the face, lifting the hairs up and coating them. If you get razor burn, this is probably the step where your troubles begin. Not lubricating the hairs well enough causes them to become more difficult to cut, hence making the razor work harder. If an analogy helps, imagine driving down a road of smooth road then coming upon an untreated patch of dirt. The feel of the ride will be noticeable and actually have an effect on the road and your car. Your razor will slide down the lubricated patch of skin, get caught up on a dry patch and irritate the skin, causing microscopic tears and cuts. Quick
Tip: Three ounces of Isopropyl alcohol with two aspirin dissolved in it and sprayed on the razor burn will clear it up real quick. The alcohol sanitizes the skin, killing any bacterial that may have slipped in and the aspirin will alleviate the pain and cause blood to rush to the site, cleaning up the wound quickly.
Taylor of Bond St, Proraso or The Real Shaving Co.
A good shaving brush is also important, with two types of animal hair available; board and badger. Boar is the more affordable of the two, but are stiff and hold less water. For the ultimate shave a badger brush is highly recommended, as they create more lather and are kinder to the facer.
The Business End
Okay, so you’ve lubricated your face with oil and properly frothed shaving cream, right? Now the fun part: the razor. If you do opt for a straight razor, go for it but do as much research as humanly possible. You’ll need to learn how to strop the razor, hone after a time, hold it, shave with it and aftercare. It might sound like a hassle now but once you have mastered these basic skills, you’ll be able to shave with any blade, once you make it sharp enough.
The whys outweigh the hows when it comes to straight razors. The razor itself is an investment, unless you inherit one from a relative or find one in an antique shop. If you did, hop on YouTube or visit The Art of Manliness for tips on how to restore that blade. If you need to buy a new one, make sure of two things when shopping for a blade: less is more, more is less and shavettes are nice to start with but not where you want to end up. A straight razor will cost more than any other razor you’ll ever buy but will never need disposable blades, will last your lifetime and probably a couple of generations worth of lifetimes and will most likely be the simplest tool you’ll own.
Maggard Razors or Whipped Dog Razors. Seriously, both have amazing straight razors.
A brief word on shavettes: A shavette is a straight razor modeled razor that uses a single sided disposable blade yet shaves the same way as a straight razor. While it does shave and shaves pretty well, the blades wear out quickly, need to be replaced often and give a less consistent shave than a solid blade. For learning technique, I won’t turn the shavette away but if you want to jump into the water, dive into a straight razor and, very carefully, practice.
If you quake at the thought of holding a sharp blade against your throat every day, try a safety razor. These are those solid hunks of metal that hold onto a double sided razor blade that your grandfather used once upon a time. For an everyday shave, I actually prefer these because they’re just as quick as a disposable cartridge shave, give a much better shave and the blades cost a fraction of the price as a pack of disposable cartridges cost. Also, there’s something that’s uplifting about knowing you have a sharp razor blade held against your face in the morning and surviving it that really brightens up the day.
Parker Shaving, Merkur or Edwin Jagger
Post Shave Clean-up
The post shave cleanup is also important. What’d your dad do? Splash some Old Spice or Aqua Velva on his face? Well your dad also worked with machines that were stamped out of solid steel, never used a telephone, rooted for the same team year after year despite how they were doing and only grunted when he nailed that board through his hand. You carry a cell phone that you never use as an actual phone but let’s move beyond that. So you think you can splash scented alcohol on your face? No no no no.
Try Proraso After Shave balm, The Art of Shaving Lotion or Burts Bees if you want a natural route. An aftershave lotion is important because it rehydrates the face, softens the skin that, let’s face it, you just lowered down by a layer with a razor blade and helps maintain a healthy face. Try to avoid anything with alcohol in it as it dries out the skin and inhibits healing. If you want to use the alcohol/aspirin spray for razor burn or want to wear a scented aftershave splash, use an unscented lotion first.
Shaving is a ritual that most try to speed their way through in the morning but with a little learning and some investment, shaving can become a rewarding activity. For anyone who isn’t exactly sold on this, check out this gentleman’s YouTube video about his morning ritual. The comfort, skill and ease with which he shaves illustrates that traditional shaving can be just as speedy as a cartridge razor, cleaner and significantly cheaper in the long run.
Also look at his zip up folder of straight razors and tell us that isn’t cool.
geofatboy YouTube Channel
Art of Manliness Instructional Video
A Penny Shaved
Moustache & Blade Show (Podcast)
How To Grow A Moustache