Saturday, April 22, 2006


Here's an excellent article about the "wet shaving" movement, and also about The Odyssey and the Bible. The basic idea, as espoused by shaveblog, is that it's better to ditch the cartridge razors and use old-school shaving techniques involving a shaving brush and either the classic safety razor, or, if you're really hard-core, a straight razor. It's not clear to me what exactly is "better" about this; if your beard grows at the rate mine does, even the world's greatest shave is going to look pretty much like any other shave by lunchtime. Judging from the religious fervor of shaveblog, I think the idea is that by eschewing the cartridge razor, you can evolve to some higher form of being.

I had my own run-in with "classic shaving" back when I was an undergrad and decided that it would be cool to learn how to use a straight razor. I could be just like those old British explorers, able to bring a little touch of civility to the hygiene process even deep in some 19th-century African jungle, or maybe like Teddy Roosevelt inbetween brokering a peace deal between Russia and Japan and bagging a lion. So I bought one, read up about how to use it, and promptly spent about 45 minutes in front of my mirror carving up my face trying to shave it. I looked more like somebody who had fallen into a briar patch than a man satisfied with a clean shave.

So I put away the straight razor, never to use it again, and returned to my old shaving ways, the sort that would never be put in a Details magazine profile: hot water and cheap disposable razors. Yes, folks, I use no shaving cream, and the fanciest I go is when I splurge for the twin-blade-and-a-lubricating-strip generic models with the plastic handles at the supermarket. I just timed myself, and the whole shaving process takes me about two and a half minutes. It's cheap, it's fast, and I get a good enough shave.

Lately I've been considering going to a cartridge razor. I actually used to use one, and I honestly don't remember why I switched to disposables. It may have either been a problem with keeping the razor handle clean, or an issue with trying to find the right kind of blades. Any thoughts? I've tried electric razors once or twice, and those never shaved close enough for me. Or does anybody have a convincing argument for why I should spend ten minutes longer every morning and go old-school? Or a good tutorial on how to use a straight razor without bloodying myself beyond recognition?


At Saturday, April 22, 2006 at 4:55:00 PM PDT, Anonymous doafy said...

Good lord what an article! You need to start wet-shaving just so you can be like this guy.

I understand the ritual. I always enjoyed some part of the ritual that was shaving my legs back when I shaved my legs. My friends would not understand why it took me 45 minutes to get a good shave when they did it in 5.

As to being too hairy to deal with this, I get you there too. (obviously. we have the same genes in that sense) But that's where an occasional really good shave would be appreciated the most as far as I can tell, because *you* as opposed to lesser men, can really tell the difference.

I'll also say that every guy I know who has gotten a really good barber shave (7 hot towels and all) has said that it's totally wonderful. You ought to get one the morning before your wedding.


At Saturday, April 22, 2006 at 5:11:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Mike said...

The multi-blade cartridges are worth it. I switched to disposables for a couple years to save money, but not once in that time did I get a nice shave.

A month ago I got my first electric, and I am in love with it. I keep it here on the desk in my home office with a little mirror, and absent-mindedly shave when I need to take a break from the screen. No cuts, no mess.

At Saturday, April 22, 2006 at 5:29:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Mike said...

This guy in Slate didn't have a good experience with being shaved by a barber:

My barber used to shave my sideburns with a straight razor and hot foam. It was never an ecstatic experience for me. I think people forget (and ads encourage us to forget) that the best of all possible shaves is just going to make our faces like our foreheads, not grant us perfect, renewed skin.

At Sunday, April 23, 2006 at 2:34:00 AM PDT, Blogger Adam Villani said...

Holy crap, I've read more of the shaveblog guy's writing now. This dude is truly insufferable. I guess my desire to not have to spend any more than a couple of minutes and a few cents every day shaving makes me less of a man.

At Sunday, April 23, 2006 at 6:45:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Mike said...

Yeah, I feel like the shaveblog guy is trying to sell me something. I've read everything he says a dozen times down through the years in various books and articles, and tried much of it myself. Yes, you can get a good shave with traditional tools. No, the shave is not so good as to be a life-changing experience.

At Sunday, April 23, 2006 at 8:58:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Erich said...

I've never used anything but an electric razor, but I'm not a really hairy person. I also used the same electric razor back when I was shaving my head.

At Sunday, April 23, 2006 at 12:08:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I could get rid of any part of my hygiene routine, it would be shaving (followed closely by clipping my toenails). Since I work at home and I'm not that hairy, I only shave every other day, but I still find it an uncomfortable procedure, no matter what kind of razor I use. I've tried electric and found them too tuggy and hard to clean. Cartridge razors are too expensive. I used to enjoy getting a straight-razor shave when I went to the barber back in Nashville, but that was mainly because someone else was doing the work. So now it's all disposable twin blades with a lubricating strip for me (plus shaving cream ... though I miss my no-longer-on-the-market shaving cream which squirt cream onto the tip of an old fashioned shaving brush). I shave down the face to get the bulk of the stubble, and then shave up to get closer to the skin. And whichever way I do it, the chin and the lips are still a pain.

I wish I could grow a beard, though even that needs to be kept trim. I used to wear a goatee, and that was annoying too. Electrolysis may be the answer.


At Sunday, April 23, 2006 at 1:16:00 PM PDT, Blogger Adam Villani said...

The shaveblog guy is coming from that school of salesmanship where he's not filling some need you have, he's essentially just telling you that way you've been doing things for years is inferior, and that if you only spent ten times as much money and effort on this everyday thing, you'd be a much better person. It's the same attitude that sells a lot of gourmet foods, oxygen bars, etc. There may be some marginal benefit to these luxuries or some joy in the occasional indulgences, but they're not the kinds of things you want to restructure your life around.

In a similar vein, I like reading Esquire magazine because it has lots of entertaining writing and useful advice, and certainly there are times when one wants to know how to look like less of a shlub and more of a classy guy.

But sometimes I just have to laugh--- there's a feature in the April issue (the one with Rosario Dawson on the cover) where they show you the components of a "premium wardrobe that works with your budget." Then they show you a spread of a guy decked out in his $1000 wardrobe, the same dude with $2000 worth of clothes, then $3500, then $5000. First of all, $1000 is at the high end, not the low end, of what I'd pay for a suit, two shirts, shoes, a watch, a belt, and a tie. Second, the guy looks just as stylish at $1000 as he does spending five times as much. I'm sure there are some subtle differences--- better fabrics, a custom-tailored fit, other nice touches--- but overall it looks like the important thing is more to select the proper $40 shirt than to spend $200 on a shirt when it's an ugly shirt, or one that just doesn't work on you.

Mike, you once said that a good suit doesn't do anything for the inner you, but it sure helps the outer you. Good advice.

At Monday, April 24, 2006 at 9:37:00 PM PDT, Blogger Arb said...

Doaf, it's hard to find a barber who will do a proper shave anymore, though.

I wanted to get one the first time I was in a wedding (my cousin's, in Nashville). After a lot of research, the only place I could get it was at the "Rodeo Drive Beauty Salon", in Brentwood. Needless to say, when I walked in the front door, the receptionist immediately said, "You must be Ted, aren't you?" Anyway, the "fabulous" stylist also did a great job with the shave -- it really was worth it.

The second time I wanted to try it was for my sister's wedding in Columbus. The only guy willing to do it was my old barber, from back in my having-hair days when I was in high school. He'd never really done it before though -- it was one of those "theory" things with him. It was OK.

For my own wedding, then, I just gave up -- I shaved myself in the morning, using my usual routine. Besides, with the ceremony in the morning, you can't really find barbers willing to wake up at 6am on Saturday. (Humorous aside: my mother was fretting about "how is Brigid going to have her hair done that early?" We later realized that it was *my mom* who was worried about having her hair done that early. Funny how pronouns tend to get mixed up with parents sometimes. :)

There was a nice little men's-only father-and-son barbershop in Evanston around the corner from where I lived, which I used to use a lot when I had hair. They did straight-razor shaves there as well -- sideburns and the neck were always done straight-razor for everyone -- but I never went in there for a proper shave. Never really had a reason to.

Primarily, the reason today seems to be fear of the various blood-borne diseases. It seems a little silly at first -- but, on the other hand, if you do thousands of them, the odds do get a little worse.

Overall, I'm with Adam on this. With a little experience, I get a pretty darn satisfactory shave in under 10 minutes from start to finish, with disposables, which, considering the amount of surface area I have to cover, is pretty good. I'm only a quarter wop, though, so I don't grow it quite as fast as Adam.

All in all, I think that in theory, this stuff all sounds good, but in practice, you can do quite well with a decent disposable and an efficient technique. That said, if you *do* get the chance to get a proper barber shave, well, by all means, pick one up. It is *so* choice.

At Tuesday, April 25, 2006 at 12:52:00 AM PDT, Blogger Adam Villani said...

"We later realized that it was *my mom* who was worried about having her hair done that early. Funny how pronouns tend to get mixed up with parents sometimes."

Putting on a wedding makes this SO true. Mothers make a habit of expressing their own worries and tastes in terms of other people. "What would other people think?" means "I don't like it."

Also, just to set the record straight, I'm only 1/4 Italian, too (itself split between Sicilian and Venetian). 3/8 Irish (some small amount of which may actually be Spanish), 1/8 English, 1/8 German, 1/8 Swiss. And if one determined Canadianness the same way one determines Jewishness (i.e., it's carried through the mother), then I would be Canadian, since my English-Irish maternal grandmother originally hails from Canuckistan.

As far as ethnic traits go, I'm fairly hairy, though it's brown and not black. And my skin comes in that extra-pale variety that burns but does not tan.

At Tuesday, April 25, 2006 at 12:26:00 PM PDT, Anonymous doafy said...

There's apparently a place down here in Long Beach that's super cool (barbers have lots of tatoos, give you a beer when you sit down) that does good shaves. My buddy Nick got his mohawk redone there and a really good shave. He was touting it to Lance the other night.

At Friday, April 28, 2006 at 1:34:00 PM PDT, Blogger xradiographer said...

Another Canuckistani (of Filipino ethnicity) is also trying the wet-shave experiment.


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