There are many pathways through which someone arrives at the door of wet shaving, specifically traditional methods of wet shaving. The only other form of shaving is with a mechanical/electric device generally called an electric razor and it has only been around less than a hundred years and really only became a popular method since post World War II.
We often think about wet shaving in the context of it being a man's game but we must not forget women. They are an emerging force in traditional wet shaving as it is becoming something that women are exploring to replace the various methods of exfoliating and removing unwanted facial hair. Women have been shaving other parts of their bodies for many decades if not centuries. That being said, because I am not a woman I cannot intelligently comment on their special and unique needs directly but the principles, methods, and techniques utilized by men can also be applied for women, particularly when thinking about the removal of facial hair. So women, if you are watching, I'm not talking directly to you but I haven't forgotten that you are also here in the world of traditional wet shaving.
This brings me to another point. Does shaving the traditional way with straight, safety (DE or SE blade) razors make you any more or less gentlemanly? Well, in the famous words of the great popular philosophers, Forrest Gump and his mother, "Stupid is as stupid does." The short answer is absolutely "No!" Using traditional wet shaving methods and equipment does not make one a gentleman. Granted it may make you feel more refined and stately simply because by creating a special place where we can slow down and hearken back to a time and place in our history where the use of soap, brush, and some type of single blade instrument was the norm instead of the exception we effectively change our personal consciousness and reality, if only for 15 minutes or so a day. We escape the fast paced, constant media flooded world and travel back in time where there were such things as ladies and gentlemen who were polite, well dressed, well groomed, and well educated who had time to sit in quiet and to think and reflect. So, in total it takes a lot more than just shaving the traditional way to transform a modern man into a gentleman. What I can say is that shaving the slower, healthier, more ecologically responsible and more relaxing traditional way can help you not only get a superior shave but also improve your mental attitude and health. Whether or not you are or act like a gentleman is a totally different and more complicated thing and the definition of gentleman like behavior is up for debate.
It was sometime in the post WWII era, probably during the Cold War period, when for some strange reason we became obsessed as a society with technology and doing things faster. Maybe it was because we were so hell bent on destroying ourselves with atomic bombs that we all felt a need to cram more of "life" into our limited 24 hour days. Time was short and we were running out of it. New and improved, faster and saving time was the mantra. With the arrival of television commercials we were constantly reminded of this and the propaganda of the competing forces in the men's grooming world (Gillette, Schick, Personna, etc.) were constantly brainwashing us to believe that the old ways of shaving was bad and the new and improved ways so much better.
This push for faster and technologically improved shaving brought about several products that changed the face of men's shaving habits. Compressed canned shaving cream eliminated the need to use a shaving brush and build a lather in a mug from a puck of soap or tube of shaving cream. Just push a button and instantly thick luxurious shaving cream appeared in your hand. Psychologically there was a lot of talk about button pushing during the Cold War Era of the 1960's and 70's. Then there was the razor.
During the first four decades of the 20th Century led by Gillette with a double edge (DE) style razor and blade and Gem and EverReady with a single edge (SE) razor, the landscape of shaving was changed. They captured the man's grooming world by convincing us that the safety razor was better than using the naked and dangerous exposed blade of the straight razor. These two general styles of shaving held dominance until the early 1970's. The injector razor was created in the 1920's and 30's and other improvements and designs of razors came along, but the general technique was the same. One blade edge removing whiskers progressively by going over a lubricated (lathered) face repeatedly until the desired result was achieved...a smooth clean skinned, whiskerless face.
The focus of marketing was always basically the same. An affordable and relatively inexpensive shaving instrument (the razor handle and blade holder) that usually was never changed or replaced, coupled with the repeat sale of the razor blade. It was the sale of the blades that made the money and there was constant efforts put forth to improve the efficiency of the blade...to make a better "mouse (man) trap". Improvements in grinding and metallurgy and coatings/treatment progressed until sometime in the 1960's when Personna gained the "edge" so to speak. They brought together the magical combination of elements and created superior razor blades that produced a smooth and efficient and comfortable shave allowing a single razor blade to last up to sometimes a month at a time of daily shaving.
You can look back on the videos I produced about the Personna and Personna 74* razor blades and see some of the history of this progression. The Personna 74* razor blade was introduced in the early 1970's and I suppose it was too efficient for its own good. It lasted too long for adequate repeat sales and profitability and was only in production a few short years. Gillette had held on in the marketplace but was losing the battle. They had too much competition with Shick Injectors and Personna with their fantastic DE blades. New and technologically improved was their answer with the introduction of the Trac II Razor. Two blades shaving whiskers at the same time. More efficient and the blades contained in a cartridge that minimized the risk of getting cut by an unshielded naked blade. This new concept exploded on the wet shaving scene and gradually pushed out all other methods and competition.
But the concept of "new and technologically improved" had to keep rolling. It was successful even though it wasn't really more improved...just different. Marketing hype was all that was needed to convince the average shaver that it was a better shave. In time things like tilting heads, more blades stacked on top of each other, lubricating strips (never understood that one since the lubricating strip was always placed behind instead of in front of the blades) and various other gimmicks brought about almost the total elimination of other shaving instruments in the marketplace. Disposable razors eliminated the need for the previously robust and enduring razors made of metal. Craftsmanship in construction and design was gone. There was no thought about ecological responsibility in those days...throw it away and make a new one to replace it. If you build it they (sheeple) will come (buy it).
If you think about it the simple fact of placing several blades on top of each other does only one thing. It exposes your skin to being exposed to the harsh scraping of a sharp instrument multiplied by the number of blades. The normal three pass traditional wet shave exposed the skin to the blade generally only three times. Now think about just a simple Trac II razor...two blades shaving at the same time. Usually, even with two blades working at the same time, not all of the whiskers are removed by only one pass and at least a second pass is required. Do the math. You must expose your skin to a sharp and potentially damaging razor's edge now four times for a basic shave. A three blade cartridge - six passes; four blade cartridge - eight passes; five blade cartridge - ten passes. Even if with a four or five blade cartridge you are able to achieve a baby butt smooth (BBS) shave in a single pass of the razor across the face it is still potentially damaging your skin far more than a simple three passes with a single edge shaving instrument. And we wonder why so many men are growing beards and the act of shaving has become so "irritating". The logic is simple. Multi-blade shaving instruments by design and function create an uncomfortable and irritating shave, particularly if the beard is not properly prepared and the mantra of doing things always faster ignores preparation, unless you can dupe the chumps into buying another product to solve the problem created by the end all be all wonderfully modern and new five bladed swiveling head razor.
So now to the meat and potatoes of a new beginning shaver trying to decide what razor to purchase as their first traditional wet shaving instrument. The first advice I give to you is to first make it simple and relatively inexpensive. If you have a vintage DE or SE razor in your possession, something handed down to you from your father, grandfather, brother or uncle then start out using it. Modern doesn't mean better...remember "new and improved" isn't always the truth. You can find a lot of vintage razors at flea markets or antique stores for a reasonable price (under $30) just as you can go online and find many basic modern razors in the same reasonable price range. I'm not here to hype and market any particular brand of razor. There are many that do equally well as a beginner razor. Parker, Maggard, Cadet, Pearl, Sabi, RazoRock, and many others would be good places to start looking. I guarantee you that your first traditional razor will not be your last, so don't sweat your first purchase. Just don't spend a lot of money on a razor until you learn the basics and better understand your personal shaving needs and preferences.
Each person's beard is unique. Younger men have generally softer and thinner beards. Some young men have very wiry, tough and thick beards (that's genetics at work). As we age and get more gray hair in our beard, the individual whiskers become thicker, tougher and more brittle. So generally speaking younger shavers do not require the more aggressive shaving razors to get a good shave. If I were to recommend a particular style razor for everyone to start with it would be a design that has medium/moderate aggressiveness. The open comb design allows for more lubricating lather to remain on the skin longer, thus adding a more protective factor to the shave but a solid closed comb razor design works just as well but does not have the additional protective lubricating factor and thus tends to cause an increased potential for irritation and nicks during the initial learning curve of shaving with a single edged blade.
The software (soap - lather) you use initially is really a secondary factor. Use what you can find or have on hand, even the canned (goo) shaving cream if necessary. Use one razor and one type of blade if possible for at least the first 30 to 90 days until you have developed good technique and the muscle memory has been learned regarding pressure and angle. Those of you moving from multi-blade cartridges with the swivel head will have a longer learning curve. Shaving the traditional way requires a very, very, very light touch. You must let the razor do the work. Pressing harder as generally done with a multi-blade cartridge will only lead to nicks, cuts and irritation when using a traditional DE or SE style razor. Multi-blade cartridges with a swivel head did all the angle work for you. With traditional shaving methods the correct angle is important. This you must experiment and find and develop the right "touch" for your face.
Subsequent episodes in this series will bring additional information about pre-shave preparation methods. I have other videos and blog articles on this subject if you desire further information ahead of time. One simple nugget of vital information for a beginning shaver is to do something as a pre-shave preparation. Start by washing your face and allowing the soap or lather to rest on your face at least a few minutes to harden (yes I said harden) your beard. Do NOT use any type of hair softening conditioner on your beard prior to shaving. It adds a protective coating to the hair follicle making it impossible for it to become hydrated and easy to cut. The key to a comfortable shave is to get the individual whisker, hair follicles engorged with water, to plump them up, hardened and causing them to stand up ready to be cleanly and efficiently cut. Soap breaks down the protective outer layer of the hair follicle allowing water to enter it. Noxzema Deep Cleansing Cream is excellent as a pre-shave balm or pre-shave cleanser. You don't need to use an exfoliating cream or wash. Using such a product actually increases the potential for irritation. The act of shaving is an excellent exfoliating technique in and of itself. That is why there currently is a movement among women to shave their faces as men do for this healthy exfoliating experience.
A pre-shave product like Noxzema, Corn Huskers Lotion, Proraso, or simple olive oil can also help the beginning traditional wet shaver get through the learning curve with a minimum of irritation and blood. Let me warn you though. As you are learning these new shaving techniques and methods you will have some irritation, weepers and nicks. It's the dues you must pay when learning a new skill and traditional wet shaving is a new skill. As you progress you will learn how to shave your face. No one can tell you how to do that...you must discover how to do that all on your own. We can help and guide you but when you are standing in your bathroom staring at your ugly mug in the mirror there's only you, the mirror, the razor, and the lather. Once you learn how to use them together correctly you can achieve the most satisfying shave of your life. Occasionally you will find the "zen zone" during your shave and will be transported to another place of peace, calm and revitalization that I have never experienced any other way. Good luck in your traditional wet shaving journey. Stay tuned.
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe
Here's the video