Lost Among Europeans

How I shave

Following last week’s post on yogurt, here is another one about a minority craft. Shaving has become an enjoyable task for me, in the last few years. It wasn’t always one.

My shaving gear

I was the first boy in my class to shave. Mom, ever obsessed with cleanliness, told me, when I was twelve, that I had a shade in the mustache area, and needed to start shaving. After the first few times, the novelty and the excitement of growing up had passed, and had given way to razor burn. At one point I had a large red mark above my lip for a week. I hated shaving, and started doing it less and less.

Then, for my thirteenth birthday, mom bought me a mug of Old Spice shaving soap, and a brush. The idea was retro, and appealed to me. Happily, the soap and brush helped my sensitive skin, and life was better. I still had trouble areas, and in particular, a facility for ingrown hairs and razor burn in my neck.

Over the years I got a bit better at shaving, and changed razors, from several models of Wilkinson Sword, to Gillette Mach 3. I still had sensitive skin, and problems in the neck. I couldn’t shave more frequently than every other day, or it became painful.

Throughout, I kept using shaving soap and a brush. When I moved to the US, it was difficult to find soap. Part of it was not knowing my way around, but in this country, shaving soap is a specialty-store item. At some point, I don’t remember how, while browsing the net for places to buy shaving gear, I stumbled on an article about shaving with an old style, double-edged, aka safety, razor, like the ones in old films. I was intrigued, and kept looking for more information. It made sense to me that a single blade, held lightly on the skin, would do a better job of cutting hair than a multi-blade cartridge.

I bought a safety razor, and found a forum for people shaving with vintage razors. There I got pointers on technique, as well as references of good stores in New York. After a couple of weeks, I was extremely happy with my shaving routine. I’ve been using the double-edged razor for over two years, and in that time I’ve had no razor burn, no ingrown hairs in my neck, an very few nicks.

Razor and blade I’ve gotten some people to try this too. I helped my running team-mate Liz put a shaving kit together for her husband, who used to have irritations, and he really enjoyed the improved experience. Anthony recently converted to brush, soap, and double-edged, and is delighted. I’ve made a new page on shaving resources on this blog, as a guide for people who want to try all this.

So here’s my routine: I splash warm water on my beard and neck. I soak my brush in hot water, and then I swirl it on the soap until it starts to make lather. At that point, I apply the lather to my skin. I don’t need a thick layer, like they show you in commercials for foam. I just need enough to make my skin slick, and my hairs wet. Then, holding the razor gently, with the ends of my fingers, I start my first pass, cutting in the direction of the hairs (with the grain). I don’t need to apply almost any pressure - the weight of the razor does the work for me. I can hear the pleasant crinkling of my stubble getting cut. After I finish the first pass, I apply a new layer of lather, and start cutting across the grain. This is good enough most days. Sometimes, for an extra good finish, I make a third pass, against the grain. Then I splash some cold water to get the soap off my skin, dry with a towel, and apply a few drops of after-shave.

This is a pleasant ritual for me. Lathering my beard with warm water is relaxing. The crinkling sound of the razor has its charm. The whole process cannot be hurried - when you hurry you get a poor shave, or a cut. Yes, it takes more time than using a multi-blade razor, but not much more. It’s all very Zen.

I’ve recently bought a straight-edge razor, and I’m learning to use it just for the sport. I think it had something to do with watching, many years ago, an episode of Brideshead Revisited, in which Jeremy Irons shaved his beard off with a straight-edge. It seemed effortless, and in a few passes he was clean shaven. I’ve grown a beard on a few occasions. Shaving a beard with a Mach 3 is painful and tedious. With my safety razor, it is no longer painful, but it still is tedious. I think this is the last area of shaving where I want to improve. So far, though, I much prefer the safety razor to the straight-edge.

My two razors

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