Although this is discussed far and wide as well as already having made an appearance on my New York Dad’s Blog, The Dapper Dad cannot ignore discussing shaving since it is part of every man’s often daily routine (even those of us with beards and mustaches must trim and shave to keep things in some semblance of order). I do believe it should not, however, be seen as a chore. You should look forward to it as one of the few moments still left to yourself before the blizzard of kids, significant other, work, appointments, to do lists and the rest of the daily grind hits you.
I know it certainly does not replace the real thing, but consider this ritual the closest you’ll get to a day spa, but without having to use mud and cucumbers or spend a fortune (and, unfortunately, minus the massages). The bathroom or shower is already full of steam and you are hopefully feeling a bit revived from dousing yourself with water. Now that your whiskers are at their most vulnerable whip up a nice lather with a brush, smell the eye opening pepper, tabacco or musk that your shaving soap slaps on your face and commence the shave. Rinse. Towel off. Put some cream on your face so it does not become a raisin. And off you go singing Zip-a-dee–doo–dah (until of course you open the bathroom door and your daily grind is their waiting for you! And it’s usually whining about something!).
To talk about shaving in more detail, you really have to talk about blade preference and selection (I am much more opinionated on the use of a shaving brush and soap versus cream). There are three basic kinds of blades: straight blade, safety razor or even-safer multi-blade razor and my humble opinion on the three (going by aforementioned order) is: crazy, closest shave and best for travel.
A straight blade is something only my grandfather (and still a few old school barbers) could use after doing it everyday for 70 odd years, you need that steady hand and unthinking sweep of the hand with the blade at just the right angle. And yes it does induce “razor envy” when I find anyone who does it regularly in this day and age. One of the most common blades is by Dovo in satin stainless (Solingen, Germany is renowned for its stainless steel and razor blades in particular – the call it the City of Blades).
A safety razor (a.k.a DE or Double Edge) is really a great compromise. Your face has to get used to the burn as you learn, but it shaves closer than any disposable you are using. If you want a solid first DE, again look to the Germans and Dovo’s subsidiary Merkur Solingen (yes… the one that produces everyone’s favorite starter – the Merkur HD – seen in the picture above). Otherwise you can do some research and find some great deals on vintage DE’s at online auctions. Make sure to get a box of blades (I will not bother getting into that debate!) and switch them out when you feel them getting dull (if it hurts and you are nicking yourself switch out the blade. If it still happens your technique and angle is wrong).
The Mach-conFusion end of the spectrum with its dizzying array of blades (how many will the eventually be able to fit into that tiny strip?) and even more daunting price tag, has the benefit of carry-on travel ease of use. Believe me when you have to hit the road for just a couple of days and do not want to add to the nightmare of air travel by checking your overnight bag this is the way to pack. Then again if you can take the train none of the above applies! If you want to go all out and spend a ridiculous sum of money on a really sleek looking multi-blade set I would for the Art of Shaving Gillette Chrome Series Manuel Shaving Set with stand and fine badger brush (not sure if a vibrating razor with a…spotlight?! is worth the extra $50).
Now here is where my opinion is unwavering. Brush and soap only. I am not debating this point. It is the only way to prep for a shave – period. I would spring for a badger brush right-off-the-bat unless you want to add brush burn to razor burn. My personal favorite is one I purchased from Fortnum & Mason in London, but everyone has their own personal favorite (e.g. Kent, Edwin Jagger, Vulfix etc.) and it is fun to try out a few and get different shaving experiences from each.
The soap/cream is really a matter of taste. Scented or Unscented. More or less glide. Richer lather Etc. etc. So try a couple out to find your fit. I was quite surprised to find what a nice shave Nomad from Crabtree & Evelyn gave me (they also happen to have some very nice badger brushes). Then again I also like Proraso and Taylor of Old Bond Street. So many choices and luckily so much shaving to do!
The wet shave itself is pretty straightforward and here is how I do it (to each his own on finding variations that work):
- Use hot water (CAUTION: Content is very hot so don’t blame me if you dunk your hands or face under the faucet!)
- Use your slightly wet brush (water should not be dripping from the brush!) to whip up a thick lather (think of Santa’s beard) in a wide mouthed mug or directly in the soap dish if that is what you are using.
- Apply lather with brush to your face and neck using a circular motion to help the whiskers stand up and salute the razor (unless you like ingrown facial hair?)
- Pull the razor with the grain or across it – never against it (unless you like ingrown facial hair?)
- Wash your face to get the residual soap off and rinse your razor and brush (hang the brush upside down for optimal storage… do yourself a favor and buy a bush stand)
- Apply cream/balm (unless you have gashes from shaving do not use alcohol-based after shave… if you do have gashes you should be worrying about technique or replacing/sharpening your blade not about which after shave to apply!)
- Now admire your masterwork in the mirror and whistle appreciatively!
For more tips and incredibly detailed discussions (CAUTION: incredibly detailed!) about shaving you can go to Badger & Blade. I’m guessing if you cannot find an answer there you are out of luck!