It goes by a few names — classic shaving, wet shaving, extreme shaving. Traditional. Manly.
They all mean “testosterone” as far as I can tell.
Straight dope from an old hand
My colleague, Douglas Finch, has developed a few pointers for those who are thinking about shaving with a straight or double-edged razor for the first time. I asked him what he wishes he would have known, and here is what he came up with:
Give it time. “At first it seemed I cut myself every time I shaved. After some time has passed, it just doesn’t happen anymore even though I haven’t changed anything. My wife and I were very excited the first time I shaved and didn’t nick myself. Speaking of time, I actually spend less time in the morning shaving with the double-edged razor than I did with my electric razor. I have a set routine that I follow every morning.”
Try several different razor blades, don’t pick just one. “There are many different blades that are sharper or milder than others. Don’t start out with the sharpest ones. Start with a milder blade and work your way up. I personally found that a milder Derby blade works better on my skin than an extremely sharp Feather blade, and it seems to last longer for me. FYI — get a styptic stick, about $1 at Walmart. It stops the bleeding when you nick yourself. It stings a bit but stops the bleeding almost instantly.”
Get in touch with your feminine side. “Many companies are now catering to men’s health and offering a wide variety of skin care products. Try to get products that don’t contain alcohol, especially if you have sensitive skin.”
Shave in the way that best suits your individuality. “I usually shave three to four times in different directions. There is no right or wrong way. I shave once down then once up. The last two are in my trouble areas on my neck. I have to shave sideways, diagonally and up to get the area just above my Adam’s apple and below my chin. Hint — do a half swallow to raise your Adam’s apple up when you shave over it.”
Experiment with different blades, soaps and products. “Don’t get fixated into following specific trends. We all have different skin and shaving needs. Don’t get stuck into believing that there’s only one right way — it doesn’t exist. Watch several videos on YouTube and pick and choose which methods and products work for you.”
The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the process, Douglas says. “I personally will never go back to the electric or disposable razors.”
I’m going to stick with classic shaving for this column, the seed of which was planted by a co-worker several months ago. Douglas Finch approached me and asked if I had heard of this trend, men using straight razors or the old double-sided safety razor — the ones that open like a butterfly — to get closer-than-close to their own skin.
Not being a man, I had not noticed this new version of the man’s man, and now it looks like I’m tardy to the stubble-free party.
A look around the Internet and some calls to local hair experts convinced me Douglas is right. Classic shaving has resurfaced in a big way, and the industry has responded full throttle with all manner of tools, skin care products and tutorials for beginners to shaveophiles, the recognized name for shave slaves.
Real razor shaving took an uptick about a decade ago, going into a full lather over the last few years, said Karen Willey with ClassicShaving.com. I chose to call this company because I couldn’t resist its heading on the “help” section: “If you moustache us a question, don’t shave it for later.”
In a world that takes itself too seriously, who wouldn’t smile at that?
It has to start with the shaving brush, Karen said. “We tell people, ‘If you don’t change anything else, change the brush.’ We want them to feel the ritual of it.”
Once men lather up with a brush (badger hair is popular), they’ve entered a new sphere of shaving. Many of them become “brush geeks” who can tie up customer representatives on the phone for hours discussing bristles, handle fit and fabrication, country of origin, etc. Classic Shaving likes to put it this way: “Generally, shaving brushes, like most things, fit into one of two categories; the brush you need, and the brush you want.”
This is starting to sound like Camo Man and hunting guns, frankly.
Neophyte shaveophiles tend to start with the safety razors their dads used, Karen said. But the company’s best selling blade is the “Feather” surgical-grade straight razor, attractive to the most adventurous shaver. It stays sharp without stropping (I’ve been dying to use that word, for some reason), which is how such things are traditionally sharpened. These babies sell for hundreds of dollars, and there’s a model for women.
Now my insides are all quivery, imagining that thing going over my shins.
Many men opt for the disposable straight blade, also used by barbers for the hygienic, no-maintenance and no-sharpening qualities, Karen told me. But whatever the blade, it cuts through the inconvenience of classic shaving to reach an emotional center, she believes.
Not only are men remembering watching their fathers shave with traditional razors, the entire classic shave industry recalls a time when America treasured craftsmanship, Karen explained. “Maybe men are embracing that ... if you have one good tool, you don’t need 65.”
Make no mistake, however, the straight edge razor is a tool, and it’s a popular one with customers of Duluth Trading Post. Scott DeRuyter, marketing manager for the company that specializes in rugged work and outdoor clothing for men, said the wood-handled straight edge razor Duluth sells has been gaining in sales for at least three years.
The addition of that product to Duluth’s apothecary line came after the guy they call “the forager” — he’s the one in charge of scouting out interesting wares in the world — noticed straight razors re-entering the marketplace, Scott said. And since the company eschews trends, so he expects the razor to stay in inventory.
“These guys we sell to, the straight razor hearkens back to how you got ready for a Saturday night with the wife or church on Sunday morning. This is a shaving experience. Someone said, ‘It makes me feel like a gentleman again.’”
Ellen Saager of Ellen’s Cutting Edge in Walla Walla agrees that classic shaving is, well, cutting-edge once again. While she hasn’t shaved a face in years, she does use a straight edge on the back of her customer’s necks, she said.
“They love the way it feels, it’s so much slicker. I have a lot of older gentlemen who like it.”
The trend here mimics the national uptick, Ellen said. “It’s become popular to do this whole ritual these guys do every morning.”
What with the lotion, the special oil and the sharpening, it adds at least 10 minutes for guys who take three-minute showers.
It can’t last, Ellen predicted, “because it is so time-consuming. And how long are they going to go before they cut themselves? Those safety razors were notorious for slicing people.”
Nonetheless, as a barber, she said she celebrates a return to intentional grooming for the more hairy gender.
My friend Douglas won’t ever go back to the way he used to shave, he said. “It’s worth it. My beard stays away so much longer. I used to spend more time with my electric razor trying to get a close shave.”
His wife is also a big fan of his new habit, especially while cuddling, Douglas said with a laugh. “She likes it. A lot.”
Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or firstname.lastname@example.org.