For decades the marketing language surrounding men’s shaving has been all about ‘convenience’ and ‘speed’, that your morning shouldn’t include time honored rituals so much as they should a race against the clock. For those that consider shaving a struggle, something to ‘get through’, it’s time to carefully reconsider how you trim your facial follicles.
Increasingly, men are turning to the time-honored shaving rituals of their fathers and grandfathers: the straight razor shave. Though when you hold a traditional straight razor side-by-side with a disposable it may seem like a daunting experiment with potentially bloody costs, trust us when we say once you master this skill you’ll never look back.
The Tools of the Trade:
The Razor: Obviously, this is the most important piece of shaving kit you’ll need. Though you might suffer some sticker-shock when you first look into straight razors, it’s important to know that above all when you’re buying a straight razor you’re buying something that will last a lifetime.
What you want above all else is to have a blade made of quality tempered steel. Handle materials and weight are a personal preference, but the metal is where the razor really does its work. To test the quality of a straight razor’s blade, presser your thumb along the side of the blade and flick it off the sharpened edge with a medium amount of pressure. You should hear a metallic ring emanate from the razor, the louder and clearer, the better the steel (think flicking a wine glass with your fingertip to see if it’s real crystal).
The Strop: Stropping your blade smoothes the rough edges off your blade and sets the edge in perfect alignment. A finely stropped edge is what gives straight razors their superior shave.
The most common strop is the hanging strop. Hanging strops consist of two parts: one canvas strip and one leather strip. Just like with your razor, buying a quality strop counts for something.. Cheaper models use coarse canvas and leather that will eventually dull the blade and reduce its lifespan.
Shaving: Always Have a Plan
Most men have a specific way they approach their shave; starting on the left or the right, against or with the grain. When it comes to straight razor shaving you have a little less flexibility when it comes to approach, so here’s the generally accepted methodology.
- Always hold the blade at roughly a 30-degree angle to your skin. Any more you risk cutting yourself. Any less and you won’t get at the hairs.
- Starting with the left or right cheek, pull your skin taught with your opposing hand over your head. This will help to raise the hairs and give a more even surface for the blade to run over.
- Always start by shaving with the grain, and only start straight razor shaving against the grain once you feel you’ve mastered the skill.
- Beyond practising your technique and following the rules above, there are a few other things you can do to improve the quality of your shave. Always allow your beard hair to soften, either in the shower or by wrapping a hot towel around your face. When possible, use an exfoliant on your face before shaving to clear away oil, dirt and dead skin cells that dull your blade and cause it to drag over the skin.
Ultimately, using a straight razor is about taking the time to really think about the act of shaving. It not only provides a superior level of closeness when compared to the more typical shaving methods, but it also gives a man an added sense of luxury and ritual.