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.