White With Foam

Yeah, I’m into shaving. Over the years I experiment with all sorts of shaving products, and test many techniques. There’s the pre-shave and after-shave lotions, beaver-tail brushes, dozens of different kinds and brands of foams/gels/creams in cans/canisters/tubes, etc. There’s the electric shaver that Norelco made famous, advertising ad nauseum every Christmas. I try cans of sickly-scented 5 for a $1 product, precious little cups of imported French crème the price of Eggs Benedict at the casino buffet, and everything in between. I use vintage 1950 style safety razors, Bic throwaways, some treacherous roll-out-the-blade device (anybody else try this deadly contraption? What were they thinking?) and even a straight razor with which miraculously I don’t cut my throat, just bleed profusely.

For years I remain faithful to Wilkinson blades — remember them? — but they vanish, and more or less become Schick products (in the US). The current iteration is called Xtreme 3, and they’re excellent, almost as good as the old Wilkie Swords. I have yet to try Dollar Shave Club or any of those services, only because I don’t know a soul who has, and have nobody with whom to discuss its virtues. No, I don’t trust what I hear advertised, even when it’s my main man Jim Rome doing the pimping.

I’m a big fan of Caswell-Massey colognes, but after trying many of their overpriced shaving products over the years, I’m thoroughly unimpressed. For the last decade or so I use a shaving soap made by an American company called Van Der Hagen, a product I find only on the bottom shelves of Walgreens, practically invisible (but see below!). It costs all of $3, lasts me months, and works perfectly, better than products that cost literally five times as much. I own a high-quality shaving brush, but not the top of the line because the sole distinction between these products at this level is the handle, which has zero effect on the shave.

My routine: rinse with hot water, lather with the brush, shave, rinse, then lather/shave/rinse all over again. If I’m showering afterwards, I touch up whatever remaining rough spots I feel with face soap and a second razor. I have neither beard nor moustache, and never did.

On my last trip to my neighborhood Walgreen, I discover that the store is rearranged, the shaving products relocated. Van De Hagen soap is still available — praise the lawd: the number of products that seem to count me as their sole customer and vanish from the shelves over the years has me ever-wary — but it’s behind a locked plastic shield. Curious. But even more curious, there are now other Van Der Hagen products I never knew about — brushes, razors, mugs, etc.

I ask a be-smocked hunch-backed hag to open the display case for me. I also ask her why an item like this would be stashed so securely, and she croaks, “Because when they steal ‘em, they take ‘em all, not just one. Rat bastards.” Sweet thing. Somebody steals shaving soap? Shit, I’m the only person I know who still even uses it. I understand why some of the meds are secured, and even razors – they’re potential weapons. But shaving soap?

Anyway, I buy their soap plus a product I’d never seen before called Shave Butter. (No, shave is not a verb here. Ugh.) You squeeze out a dollop about the size of a nickel, and rub into the area you intend to shave. Don’t bother to rinse afterwards (says the label), just rub it into your skin because it serves as a moisturizer, too. After two applications, I’m sold. Although I’m not ready to give up the brush and soap.

Years ago I encountered a magazine article (in Esquire?) describing shaving techniques. It emphasized the importance of preparing the area to be shaved, retelling a tale about Abe Lincoln who, as a strapping young Kentuckian, earned a reputation as a world-class wood-chopper. “If I have 30 minutes to split a rail,” he allegedly said, “I’d devote 20 minutes sharpening my axe, and ten minutes swinging it.” The applicable lesson: When shaving, allow ample time to rinse thoroughly and lather generously, preparing the surface for a closer, smoother, easier shave.

More recently I visited an internet site addressing the same topics, advising that best results are obtained when shaving against the direction of the growth. E.g., shave the neck from the throat up to the chin, not down from the chin. Similarly, shave cheeks south to north. The site, targeting metrosexual styles, had similar suggestions for shaving 0ther areas, from heads to toes. Who knew? (While this has proven useful as well, I don’t want to think too much about people shaving their toes.)

You’re right if the meticulous approach to shaving sounds at odds with my overall nonchalance regarding styles, clothes, hair style, and general appearance. I stop wondering about this myself long ago. Let some grad student or shrink figure it out and concoct a theory.

Anyway. all this started as a (big hairy) shout-out to Van Der Hagen, which looks like it’s finally emerging from marketing obscurity, at least locally.

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26 Responses to White With Foam

  1. Jeff Hansen says:


  2. Lu Senz says:

    This is a surprise, considering your general grungy and shabby appearance. Maybe you should mention that this time-consuming meticulous shaving regimen is put into practice what, weekly? Monthly?

    Nice seeing you guys last Sunday but if I were you, I’d steer clear of Don Tequila after the way you and the rest of the Steelers animals tore up the bar after the game. Yeah, you wuz robbed. Yeah, that’s the NFL.

  3. Old Timer says:

    Remember this one? With the cuckoo?

  4. Diesel Fitter says:

    You must be ancient. I haven’t seen a shaving mug and brush in a bathroom since we cleaned out my grandfather’s medicine cabinet when he died in 1982, and it looked like even he hadn’t used them since the Eisenhower years. Do you lather up your balls with the brush, too?

  5. guido says:

    No, Diesel, he doesn’t. Lathering his balls is my job. And I usually use my hands. Why do you ask?

  6. Fran G'Panni says:

    So the reason you haven’t posted anything in 45 days is that you were in the midst of your lengthy shaving rituals. Izzat it? 🙂 Nice to see you back, happy christmas, and when are you coming to Key West? We’re open for party.

  7. E.O. Hippus says:

    I have super-sensitive skin and always bleed when I shave, no matter what products I’ve tried. Got anything to suggest I try other than growing a beard or wearing a mask (I mention these because everybody else does).

    • Squathole says:

      I had that same issue for many years, too — just couldn’t shave 2 days in a row without turning beet red and bleeding. Worse in the winter (up north) so I figure cold and dry conditions had something to do with it. I started using moisturizers after shaving, and switched to what was called back than a “medicated balm” shave lotion. That helped. Eventually, as I aged, my skin toughened (I guess). Best I can tell you.

      Altho more recently, when I started shaving some shall we say non-traditional areas, they were sensitive in the way my face had been years before. But turns out this was mostly a matter of getting used to it. I moisturize everywhere now, too.

      Having said all this — yeah, maybe it’s easier just to cut off your head. Grow a new one.

      • Ted Williams' Head says:

        That won’t work. Trust me on this one, at least, won’t you? Inquiring (and decapitated) minds want to know.

    • Piles says:

      E.O — This may sound contradictory, but it’s essential that you keep your blade very sharp and thoroughly rinsed, especially if your skin is sensitive. Also, try not to go over and over the same area(s) when you shave, which is another reason to use a sharp, well-rinsed blade. You won’t have to.

  8. Joe Balls says:

    Shaving is just curse handed down to men by the cruel, psychopathic god that created us. I suspect it also confirms that god is female.

  9. Ted Ed says:

    I tried shave butter once — I put it on toast. They should label butter butter. Better butter. Whatever.

  10. Living Will says:

    Shaving brush, soap, straight blade — talk about retro! do you use bear grease on the old pompadour, too? How about Windex on your open cuts?

    • Squathole says:

      No bear grease — no pompadour! I’ve considered turtle wax on the ever-expanding bald areas. And no Windex, but WD-40 helps the joints. No, not those joints. Or THAT joint.

  11. Flaming Yon says:

    As a guy who has been manscaping for years, now, I heartily concur with you (and Abe Lincoln) about the prep work. When I do my chest, I lather and rinse with the hottest water I can stand, then use a thick hair conditioner rather than shaving creme or soap. You can find these in dollar stores: they’re not very good as conditioners, but excellent for setting up the area for shaving. And the sharper the blade, the closer the shave.

  12. Camille Toe says:

    My face is one body part I DON’T shave, thank the gods. It’s tedious enough keeping the rest of the machine pin-up perfect. But at least there are products now that don’t smell like ass and burn like acid. You have no idea what it’s like to run around the house with trying to cool your flaming armpits. Well, maybe you do.

    • Squathole says:

      Yeah, I do. Nothing quite like it. Even worse than raw nuts, which is something YOU have no idea what it’s like. 🙂

      • Camiel Toe says:

        I always got a kick out of seeing men walking around with little pieces of bloody toilet paper stuck on their faces when the cut themselves. A real GQ look. I don’t see that at all anymore.

  13. Stan Garde says:

    I learned to shave with a brush and shave soap because that’s how my father did it. I switched to canned shaving cream, tried a whole bunch, and settled on Barbasol. I agree — seems there’s not much difference in quality among them, just price. Barbasol is sold at dollar stores. Two flavors to choose from.

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