I really did miss shaving.
I know I just lost most of you right there. Given the popularity of the neo-70s hipster beards, shaving, amongst men, is on the wane. But this past week as I played Wooly Willy with my face and began carving away six weeks of follicle growth, I was reunited with my manly ritual and reminded just how satisfying a good shave can be.
It is my opinion that the reason most men don’t like to shave is that they don’t know how to do it right. To this end I humbly offer, Dave’s Guide to the Superior Shave.
With a little effort in your Google search engine you can find many a good guide to shaving. I’m certainly not the first nor the last to weigh in on this noble subject, but I have two cents to share on shaving and it’s here I’d like to share them.
First of all, I’d like to remind you that shaving is as old as civilization itself. Romans shaved their faces. The Chinese shaved their foreheads. The artful removing of facial hair is indicative of a man capable of self examination. Shaving, done right, takes a little time and at its best requires a mirror, setting the ideal opportunity for self study and, pardon the pun, reflection.
The grooming industry for the modern male has made shaving quite ridiculous and unnecessarily expensive. The shaving aisle at your local drugstore is crammed with razors made with space age technology and cans of foams and gels and goos touting all manner of competing superiority.
Shaving should be simple, a mirror, a razor, warm water, and soap. A towel is nice and for the occasional rushed shave I have found an alum block to be handy. A good aftershave can also be helpful, especially if you use your lady’s favorite scent.
I am by no means a Luddite, but I am a bit anachronistic and often find older technologies to be superior to the modern. Modern technologies are most often driven by convenience, while those of earlier days were based more on effectiveness. Many times these two values do not quite meet. The most convenient method is rarely the most effective and the most effective invariably requires a bit of effort. So it is with shaving.
To be precise, what most men do with their faces in the morning is referred to as a wet shave. A very important distinction, especially when considering the alternative irritation of a dry shave. The key component of this then is water and it’s effective delivery. I prefer to shave in the bathroom. The convenience of water, a mirror and a basin all in one place makes it almost a foregone conclusion. I fill the basin with warm, almost hot clean water and then splash said water, liberally over my face. If I have been slack in my shaving habits and allowed for the development of a few days growth, I soak a wash cloth in the water and hold that on my beard for a few minutes. The hot water serves to soften the bristles of your beard and makes for a much more comfortable shave. In terms of shaving creams, convenience has really let the modern man down. Nothing can compare to a well made shaving soap applied with a badger bristle brush.
Why specifically badger? God and nature have seen fit to make the badger’s hair especially water absorbent. This makes for an excellent shaving brush as it creates another opportunity to deliver warm moisture to your beard keeping it soft.
The initial cost of a good shaving kit, soap, brush and razor, may seem off putting at first. But these are mere initial costs and you will find that the maintenance of these items much cheaper than the repeated purchase of their disposable counterparts. A good bar of shaving soap may put you back twelve or fifteen dollars, but I can attest the last bar I purchased was well over eighteen months ago and is only half way gone.
Dip the end of your badger brush into the warm water and then shake off the excess water. The key to developing a rich lather with your shaving soap is to not get the brush too wet. This is why we took the extra steps of moistening the face beforehand, too much water on the brush makes for a very sloppy lather. Rub the brush in circles over the surface of your shaving soap until a thick lather is formed. Then take the brush to your beard and apply the lather in a circular motion as well. The goal is to lift and suspend your whiskers in the lather. The razor can do it’s job more effectively if the hairs are perpendicular to the surface of your face.
Now that you have lathered your beard it’s time to approach your razor. As you might guess I am not a fan of the modern multi-bladed razors that populate the market. My beard is thick and the multiple blades just clog up and render the razor useless. In fact for the gym and travel purposes I keep single bladed disposables on hand and find them far cheaper and superior to the Mach whatevers.
My razor of choice is my father’s safety razor from the sixties. As a child, playing at shaving at his side on a Saturday or Sunday morning, this was the razor he’d give me. Fully made of metal, there’s a ferrule on the bottom of the handle that you unscrew which opens the top of the razor and allows for double edged blade to be dropped into place, due to this function these razors are sometimes called “drop blade razors.” When I was little he’d give me this razor, sans a blade, and I’d use it to remove Barbasol foam and imaginary whiskers from my face. Today, I use that very same razor. Replacement blades are still available. I buy my blades online either through Amazon or other specialty shops. Currently I’m enjoying a Japanese blade called Feather. Samantha usually buys me a few packs of blades for Christmas and that’s more than enough to get me through the year.
With your beard fully lathered it’s now time to begin shaving. The great thing about my safety razor is that it’s relatively heavy. I don’t apply any pressure and just allow the heft of the razor to do it’s job. Start by shaving with the grain of your beard. Also shave the softer areas first and allow the lather and moisture to further soften the more coarse hairs of the chin and sideburns. My shave usually follows this order of operations; cheeks, the down growth under my jawline, then the up growth of my throat. I return to my sideburns and finish with my chin. Currently, I’m rocking a most impressive moustache and so there’s nothing to be done to the upper lip other than marvel at the one of the joys of being a man. Before I became aware of just how great a moustache could be (thanks, Dad) I would finish the shave with my upper lip.
It is at this point that convenience and effectiveness sharply diverge. If this is a week day and I’m preparing for work this is a sufficient shave. However, if it’s the weekend, date night or the Monday after a few days growth, there’s more to be done. With my beard, one pass is a decent shave, but if I’m really looking to impress, nothing beats the three pass shave. By taking the time, to rinse, lather and shave three times, each time changing the direction of the razor’s pass; with, across and then against the grain. I achieve the perfect shave. My cheeks are as smooth as the proverbial baby’s bottom and Samantha can’t help but coo and fuss over how great my face feels, which is worth every second of additional groom time.
After I’ve finished with the razor I rinse with cool water, to re-tighten the pores, and apply a light splash of Bay Rum aftershave. Your scent is, of course, subject to your own personal tastes, but if you have a lady, stick with what she likes. Once it’s applied you won’t be able to smell it any more anyway.
A note on nicks and cuts, all veterans of shaving understand that these do occasionally happen. I find the alum block to be the best way to stop the flow of blood. Tissue paper looks stupid. Styptic pens hurt like the dickens, but the alum block stops the bleeding with a minimum of discomfort.
So there you have it, the superior shave. A ritual of manhood that when properly done helps raise our higher natures, brings our more civilized natures to the forefront, and hopefully just might help ignite your woman’s wilder nature. Couldn’t hurt, right?