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The Sweet Ritual of Shaving

With the right brush and soap, it doesn’t have to be a chore

Oct. 20, 2010
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One thing many men dread—right up there with death and taxes—is shaving. With the hassle of slapping on some canned shave foam and scraping it off with a cartridge razor, it’s about as much to look forward to as a trek through a clump of thorny bushes—never mind the razor burns, nicks and ingrown hairs.

But there is a better way. It’s the traditional wet shave, a ritual of sweet pleasures that turns the torture of the everyday shave into a welcome anticipation. All you need is a sharp razor, a quality shave brush and lather shave soap or cream—and a touch of experience.

For me, the best shave is with the straight razor, also known as the cutthroat. You can use the razor of your choice and still enjoy the pleasures.

Whatever your choice of razor, the traditional wet shave requires proper preparation to set up the beard and the face. That includes shaving after a shower, not before. At that point you only need a couple of minutes to whip up an incredibly luxurious lather that is loaded with moisture and gives the skin a comfortable cushion and the razor a smooth glide. Some wet shavers opt for a pre-shave product to help prepare the beard.

Despite the massive commercial offering of brushless shave creams and gels in aerosol cans and tubes, traditional wet shaving with the brush has a niche market for men looking to make the shave more of a pleasure than a chore. Karen Tibbitts, proprietor of Soaps & Scents at Mayfair Mall, says she has noticed an increased interest in the traditional wet shave, especially among younger men.

“They’ve watched their fathers do it,” she says, “and I believe they’re going with the premise it’s environmentally friendly rather than using aerosol cans and that it’s a finer, better shave.”

Most men who visit her shop have some knowledge of wet shaving, she notes. They have a general understanding of shaving brushes and what products they put on their skin.

“They buy the better badger brush,” she notes, “and use the nicer shaving soap—one that’s moisturizing, not irritating, and doesn’t give them those icky bumps.”

Soaps & Scents’ line of quality wet shaving products includes Pre de Provence from France, Musgo Real from Portugal, Caswell-Massey from the United States and Crabtree & Evelyn from England. The shop also offers a selection of badger-hair shave brushes.

Also at Mayfair Mall, L’Occitane has a range of quality men’s wet shaving products from France. Bath & Body Works throughout Milwaukee carry a line of quality lather shave creams by Proraso of Italy under the name C.O. Bigelow. It’s good stuff.

Most products for traditional wet shaving are available only online.

Perhaps no one can match the British for the proper shave. It is not surprising, then, the British Isles produce some of the world’s best wet shaving products. Castle Forbes is often regarded as the point of reference for a great lather shave cream. Penhaligon’s stands next to it. Geo. F. Trumper, Truefitt & Hill, Taylor of Old Bond Street, D.R. Harris and Edwin Jagger are also top-notch British wet shaving brands with a wide range of products. Mitchell’s Wool Fat shaving soap has a devout following.

The German shave soap Tabac carries its own cult following. Also good is Gold Dachs. Musgo Real cream and Proraso give excellent shaves as well. Domenico Caraceni 1913, from Italy, is regarded on the same level as that of Castle Forbes and Penhaligon’s, but it carries a hefty price.

The French shave soaps and creams are lovely and loaded with shea butter. Provence Sante Verlaine receives my biggest nod. Institut Karité, Lothantique Le Collectionneur, Pre de Provence and L’Occitane are also nice.

America has a relatively good share of lather soaps and creams. Mama Bear, produced in Florence, Wis., has a big following among wet shavers. Ogallala Bay Rum, also produced in the United States, is almost a religious experience among wet shavers fond of the scent. Several artisan creams are worth considering, including those from Al’s Shaving Products and The Gentlemen’s Quarter.

The best route to luxurious lather is a quality shave brush. Badger-hair brushes are the most popular, followed by boar. Some men like the synthetics. Badger brushes generally come in four grades of softness, starting with “pure,” the coarsest, and moving up to the “best,” “super” and “silvertip,” the softest. I prefer the softer badgers for creams and the coarsest, plus the boars, for soaps. Of course, no law dictates this preference.

Quality brushes include such brands as Thater, Simpson, Rooney, Vulfix, Muehle-Pinsel, Semogue, Edwin Jagger and Omega, among others. Whatever your preference, though, remind your little ones that the brush doesn’t need a haircut, as one customer at Soaps & Scents discovered when he didn’t think of it.


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