It should go without saying that part of living a stylish life involves a good grooming regimen. Like many #menswear folks, I abandoned modern shaving technology a few years back and began using safety razors and a shaving mug (it should come as no surprise that it was inspired in part by Put This On’s segment on grooming). The experience has definitely improved my opinion of the shaving process, but I find that even after a few years the results I get are still somewhat varied. Sometimes I’ll get a great lather and a wonderful shave and others I’ll get less than magnificent results.
Over the weekend I stopped by my local barber for a quick trim (for the time being he will rename nameless since I have enough trouble getting an appointment already and don’t need any more competition). He’s a real pro and also offers straight razor shaves to his customers along with traditional haircuts. I’ve never gotten one, but since he clearly knows his stuff I took the opportunity to ask him for tips while I was getting my ears lowered. Here’s what he had to say.
First off, the preparation for the shave is of critical importance. Here’s how he recommends setting up: fill your mug with piping hot water, drop your brush head in, and let it sit for a few minutes. This achieves a couple of things. First, it helps moisturize the soap puck and allows it to deliver a rich, creamy lather. Secondly, and more importantly, it helps sterilize the brush. A damp brush is a potential breeding ground for bacteria and it is very important that you negate that risk. From my barber: “If you don’t make sure your brush is always clean then one day you’ll have a bacteria problem and rue the day that you used it to shave.” Wise words. In fact, I was informed that using shaving brushes in barber shops is illegal for that very reason – they are very difficult to disinfect. Historically, a barber would have a named brush and mug for each patron of their shop in order to keep everyone’s face clean and healthy.
Once you’ve thoroughly heated your soap puck and cleaned your brush you can pour out all of the remaining water (hold the puck down with the brush if it isn’t stuck to the bottom). The moisture left on the soap should be the perfect amount to get a rich lather going. Too much water will create a diluted and bubbly lather that isn’t well suited for shaving.
As for the physical act of shaving, my barber had surprisingly little to say. According to him, a good shave depends greatly on your own preferences and skill level. Do what is the most comfortable and effective for you – just be gentle to your skin.
When you’re done shaving it is important to wash and store your tools properly to ensure a clean and effective shave next time. Wash all of your tools off with cool water and let them dry in a open space. Make sure that your brush is hanging from its handle, not sitting on it. Hanging it upside down makes sure that it dries well, thus increasing its useful lifespan and keeping bacteria at bay. My barber underscored this several times: a freshly shaved face and bacteria does not end well. A wet brush sitting on its handle in a dark medicine cabinet is asking for trouble.
I asked his opinion on straight razors, since that is what he uses on his clients. He told me that it is a tool best left to the professionals. Straight razors are a tool that was created for someone to use on your face, not for personal use. A good straight razor is also prohibitively expensive and requires a complex maintenance regimen to be effective. If you’d like the straight razor experience then stop by your local barber’s chair to try it, he suggests.
At the end of the day, a morning shave should be an enjoyable experience, whether it’s something that happens every day or only occasionally. Hopefully these expert tips will allow you to put your best face forward every time.