Sitting at the sports desk today and gazing out a nearby window, I’ve watched a hundred scraggly tufts of unkempt facial hair (mostly neckbeards) go scurrying by shamefully. Occasionally a real beard passes by or a whimsical mustache, and I remember all at once that we’re chin deep into No-Shave November, or as I like to call it: November.
Soon the month will draw to its close. Some boys will be unable to bear the heavy weight of manliness any longer. They will go running for salvation in the shaving and shaving accessories aisles of whatever store people like that shop in.
Others will look upon themselves in the mirror and know that they’ve cultivated something truly glorious. In either situation, shaving will suddenly become very important. Even a great beard must be trimmed and edged carefully from time to time.
Whether seeking to smooth oneself completely or trying to keep an epic beard epic, a man must understand the tools of the profoundly masculine ritual of shaving.
In many stores you already know where that shaving aisle exists. It’s not far from the perfumes and the aisles of moisturizers and makeups. Rightly so too. This aisle full of “soothing” blue goos and lavish, scented foams also hosts an unnerving selection of ergonomically designed, lightweight, plastic devices that have somehow come to pass for razors in our time.
They compete upon their shelves to outnumber one another with tiny, delicate blades and lubricating strips and other such nonsense designed for the pleasures of soft, sensitive faces. Somewhere near are products that claim to brace, smooth, nurture and pamper the skin of the freshly shaven face. For consumers of these products, the act of shaving is apparently a traumatizing ordeal. That may be why there’s lipstick and chocolates between this aisle and the cash register.
Sometimes though, in this aisle there remains a sacred remnant of a bygone time. Sometimes it’s a whole other section unto itself. It’s the section your great grandfather would shop from and everything on its shelves looks old because they are things that rarely need replacing. It’s a small section where there’s Brylcream and hair tonic, gritty soaps, and combs made out of lead.
Most importantly though, this is where a real man’s shaving supplies are sold:
Shaving “Soap”– It comes in a hard chunk like a stone and smells like raw cedar mixed with gunsmoke and the sweat of an honest day’s labor. It usually costs less than $3 and lasts most of a lifetime.
Shaving Brush– It’s just a simple handle, carved from wood or bone and bristled with coarse hair. There are only two real options; the hair is either from badger or a boar. Do not even waste your time with synthetic-hair brushes. They will only fall apart. Applying shaving soap with a good brush lifts and softens one’s whiskers for the blade.
Styptic Pencil–There is no telling what this thing is made of. I estimate it was an unintentional but useful byproduct of the industrial revolution but there’s no way to be sure. When you’re getting used to shaving like a man, there will be blood. If there’s one thing the movie “Predator” has taught you, it’s that as a true gentleman, you don’t have time to bleed. When you cut yourself, swipe a styptic pencil across the wound to stop the bleeding. It helps but it doesn’t work miracles, I’ll discuss giving yourself stitches in a later segment.
Razor–This is the most important part and the one aspect that might require any significant expenditure, but treated with respect, it will never have to be replaced. Razors come in two styles; safety and straight. Safety is a term used loosely, but it does put some limit on how much of your face you can cut off or how useful it is in a fight. A straight razor favors the bold. Never shave naked. A straight razor is a simple handle with a straight piece of steel sharpened to a deadly, gleaming edge. The use of either device takes great focus and technique unlike almost anything else in modern society. I won’t get into technique here but I may later. For now, there are thousands of instructional videos and diagrams around the internet.
Aftershave?– I get mine at the liquor store a half gallon at a time. A splash of water, and a splash of anything over 100-proof does a pretty good job of cleaning out the pores and serves as a valid antiseptic. Rum is ideal for it’s bracing scent and a bay leaf can add great sophistication to its aroma.
You can take home all of these products for less than the cost of two months worth of most modern razors. You will use less water when you shave with these and will create far less waste. You will have to buy new soap, styptic pencils or blades for safety razors only rarely over a lifetime. A straight razor needs only to be kept sharp and will never need replacing though some versions nowadays do use a replaceable razor blade instead of a fixed blade. I have one of these and have replaced the blade only once in two years. Replacement blades for these and for safety razors come in packs of multiple blades for about $1.
The process of shaving with this stuff is not meant to be quick and careless. It is a rare exercise in actually paying attention to some task for a few minutes at once.
As men, we have little other ritual dedicated solely to ourselves. Enjoy this one. Take your time and savor it. You will find soon that you are getting a closer, better shave; a shave that you can take pride in. Then, stare into that mirror a moment longer and behold your epic manliness. You’ve earned it.