Very true. This is another topic that has gotten its fair share of over-exposure, but I insist on adding fuel to the fire. The debate rages: straight blade, safety razor or even-safer razor? My humble opinion is this: crazy, closest shave and best for travel.
A straight blade is something only my grandfather could use after doing it everyday for 70 odd years, you need that steady hand and unthinking sweep of the hand with the blade at just the right angle. And yes it does induce “razor envy” when I find anyone who does it regularly in this day and age. Below is a beautiful example made by Dovo in satin stainless (Solingen, Germany is renowned for its stainless steel and razor blades in particular – the call it the City of Blades). A safety razor (a.k.a DE or Double Edge) is really a great compromise. Your face has to get used to the burn as you learn, but it shaves closer than any disposable you are using. If you want a solid first DE, again look to the Germans and Dovo’s subsidiary Merkur Solingen (yes… the one that produces everyone’s favorite starter – the Merkur HD – shown in the picture below). Otherwise you can do some research and find some great deals on vintage DE’s at online auctions. Make sure to get a box of blades (I will not bother getting into that debate!) and switch them out when you feel them getting dull. The Mach-conFusion end of the spectrum with its dizzying array of blades (how many will the eventually be able to fit into that tiny strip?) and even more daunting price tag, has the benefit of carry-on travel ease of use. Believe me when you have to hit the road for just a couple of days and do not want to add to the nightmare of air travel by checking your overnight bag this is the way to pack. Then again if you can take the train none of the above applies! If you want to go all out and spend a ridiculous sum of money on a really sleek looking Mach-conFusion set I would for the Art of Shaving Gillette Chrome Series Manuel Shaving Set with stand and fine badger brush (not sure if a vibrating razor with a…spotlight?! is worth the extra $50). Now here is where my opinion is unwavering. Brush and soap only. I am not debating this point. It is the only way to prep for a shave – period. I would spring for a badger brush right-off-the-bat unless you want to add brush burn to razor burn. My personal favorite is one I purchased from Fortnum & Mason in London, but everyone has their own personal favorite (e.g. Kent, Edwin Jagger, Vulfix etc.) and it is fun to try out a few and get different shaving experiences from each.
The soap/cream is really a matter of taste. Scented or Unscented. More or less glide. Richer lather Etc. etc. So try a couple out to find your fit. I was quite surprised to find what a nice shave Nomad from Crabtree & Evelyn gave me. Then again I also like Proraso and Taylor of Old Bond Street. So many choices and luckily so much shaving to do!
The wet shave itself is pretty straightforward and here is how I do it (to each his own on finding variations that work):
- Use hot water (CAUTION: Content is very hot so don’t blame me if you dunk your hands or face under the faucet!)
- Use your slightly wet brush (water should not be dripping from the brush!) to whip up a thick lather (think of Santa’s beard) in a wide mouthed mug or directly in the soap dish if that is what your are using.
- Apply lather with brush to your face and neck using a circular motion to help the whiskers stand up and salute the razor (unless you like ingrown facial hair?)
- Pull the razor with the grain or across it – never against it (unless you like ingrown facial hair?)
- Wash your face to get the residual soap off and rinse your razor and brush (hang the brush upside down for optimal storage… do yourself a favor and buy a bush stand)
- Apply cream/balm (unless you have gashes from shaving do not use alcohol-based after shave… if you do have gashes you are not going to be worrying about which after shave to apply!)
- Now admire your masterwork in the mirror and whistle appreciatively!
For more tips and incredibly detailed discussions (CAUTION: incredibly detailed!) about shaving you can go to Badger & Blade. I’m guessing if you cannot find an answer there you are out of luck!