It started innocently enough. My can of Gillette Foamy shaving cream (Regular grade, red can, ultra-cheapo, no swilliness, and no fragrance) got to the end where, in a sad diarrheic death spiral, it spit out gas and a watery soapy slop resembling cream more than whipped cream. My past experience has always been that the slop at the end of the can was not worth the aggravation of using it. Having the slop drip off my face and the razor did not justify the money saved by squeezing out 5 more sloppy shaves. As such my usual practice was to toss the can at the first spit near the end and start a new can. On this particular morning, I was running short on time and was too damned lazy to go down in the basement to retrieve the next can. So I used the slop, but bearing in mind something that I had recently read, you only need a little bit of shaving cream. It doesn’t have to be an inch thick like they show in the ads on TV. So I applied it sparingly and I was pleasantly surprised. The slop although drippy, gave a much better shave than the foam. Hmmm! So instead of throwing it out, I used it to the very bloody end and decided I liked the shave from the slop much better, especially after I started using the next can and got back to shaving with the relatively dry foam.
This got me thinking about when I was a kid, my father shaved with a straight razor (the thoughts of which still makes me shiver), shaving mug, and a brush. He used Williams Mug shaving soap. So I got to wondering, does that stuff still exist? Indeed it does.
A quick glance at Google indicated that it was available at Walgreens. Well this was all sort of a day dream, a blast from the past, and I put it out of my mind. A few days later I found myself riding past a Walgreens and a wild hair struck me…what the hell give it a try. I wasn’t going to bother with a brush and mug, just get the soap and apply it with a wash cloth just to try it out. Walgreens did not have Williams Mug soap, not even a place for it ( a second look at the web revealed that Walgreens only carries it as an Internet sale). They did, however, have a Van Der Hagen Premium Shave Set that included a dark green ceramic shave bowl, a boar bristle brush and premium shave soap.
All for 11 bucks. They also had another Van Der Hagen set with a badger hair brush for about 34 bucks. My animal loving wife would crown me for the boar bristle brush but at least I could make the argument that it came from a slaughter house, much like leather. The notions of badgers being trapped for a badger hair shaving brush would never fly. Besides 11 bucks is much more palatable than 34 and I loved the beautiful dark green ceramic bowl. I have been a sucker for dark green in the past 20 years and I don’t know why. So I bought it and entered unwittingly into a new phase in my life.
So now being a proud owner of soap, bowl, and brush, what exactly do you do with this? Yeah I know, you wet the brush, slop it around the soap, and then smear it on your face, but surely there must be proper techniques? How do you ensure you get the lather you want, how exactly do you use the brush? So in these modern times, what does one do when faced with an unknown? Consult the Internet of course, and fear not there has to be 700 bazillion Internet sites, shaving forums, and YouTube videos showing you how to use your bowl, brush, and soap in the most effective way…and hence I lost my innocence in the world of shaving even though I have been practicing this art in one form or another for better than a half century.
Welcome to the world of wet shaving. Yes, there is an entire subculture out there devoted to the ultimate shave. It is hardly visible to the shoppers of the brick and mortar stores with their preponderance of Gillette and Schick shaving products. Simply Google “wet shaving” and stand back.
My particular favorite is The Sharpologist
He has a very informative blog and some great how to shave videos.
I loved the bowl and the brush, but the soap while giving an excellent shave is smelly, a sort of a rose smell. My wife gets migraines from fragrances so we have both become fragrance averse. I found the whiffs of rose throughout the day to be annoying. Besides why would they give a man’s product a rose fragrance? I am wussie enough without smelling like a rose on top of it. I looked around at the various drug stores but couldn’t find William’s Mug soap. So I looked on Amazon, not only did they have Williams, they have a myriad of other brands some of which are quite expensive. I also noted that Van Der Hagen made a unscented luxury soap. I ordered some Williams and the Van Der Hagen Unscented from Amazon. But being a cheap bastard, I need to buy some other stuff to get the order over $35 for free shipping. I don’t belong to Prime.
As noted above there is this entire subculture residing on the Internet about wet shaving, so I started reading about this stuff. In fact, it became something of a hobby. Shaving a hobby? I have to be nuts. Anyhow, the general consensus is that the only shave brush worth owning is a silver tipped badger hair brush. Yeah right. My wife will divorce me for animal cruelty. So I opt for a “faux” silver tipped badger hair brush made with synthetic fibers. That will fly with my wife. I also read that a brush must hang bristles down when not in use or eventually the water will damage the knot inside the handle. So I should buy a shaving stand that holds the brush and razor. So I ordered the stand, the brush, and two types of soap. Yepper, I am well over the $35 mark for free shipping. This is indeed turning into a hobby, a bit of a costly one.
When my shipment arrived, I popped out the smelly Van Der Hagen soap from the bowl and set in a cake of Williams. With my new brush, which is quite beautiful, I lather up the Williams. It is fine except that it smells like you are shaving with lemon Pledge furniture polish. But after you rinse it off, there is no lingering smell. The synthetic brush is wimpy and I don’t like it. I like the stiff bristles of the junky boar brush better. I used the Williams for about a week. I like the Williams despite the Lemon Pledge smell. It gives a good shave and I liked how it rinses off clean and leaves no residual smell or greasiness. From my readings, my acceptance of Williams Mug shaving soap makes me something of a cretin in the world of wet shaving, I may as well be using Fels-Naptha. Also from my reading, I was anxious to try the Van Der Hagen Unscented Luxury soap. So I popped out the William’s, stuck it in a zip lock bag and put in a cake of the VDH Unscented. Absolutely wonderful! No fragrance. It takes a bit longer to whip up a lather, and it leaves a slightly greasy residue, but very slight. It shaves good and ITS NOT SMELLY! This is my soap.
Perfecto? Surely I jest! No that is the brand name. It is beautiful. Good chrome plating, sturdy, heavy weighted base with a neoprene scuff pad on the bottom, well made, not a bad price. It worked great for the brush, but not so well for my razor, a two blade Gillette Sensor. This razor has a wedge shaped head. It ends up sitting on two diametrical points across the wedge on the legs of the stand. With the slightest vibration, the razor would rotate in the stand and fall between the legs. I solved that problem by installing two wire ties on the upper handle and placing the nubs 180 degrees apart. The razor now sits in the stand on the two nubs. It works good but looks like hell. My eventual plan for a solution was to install an o-ring across the legs of the stand and use it as a rubber band to force the razor back into the end of the slot where it can’t fall. However further reading on the internet invalidated that need.
|My Perfecto Shaving Stand with the beautiful albeit wimpy fake silver |
tipped badger brush and Gillette Sensor Razor jury rigged with wire ties.
Oddly enough, this crap isn’t just shopping for shaving supplies. It is turning into something of a hobby. I start reading about brushes, bowls, various soaps. Well reading any kind of shaving forum you get exposed to the idea that Gillette and Schick are two corporate behemoths pushing off excessive technological wonders in the form of cartridge razors that are totally not needed and raping your wallet in the process. A real man shaves with a double edge safety razor and bleeds a bit and saves tons of money on blades. Quite actually I rather believe that a real man would shave with a straight razor finely honed before each use with a leather strop…but let’s face it, it takes a lot of balls to put one of those things to your face. So I think the double edged (abbreviated DE) aficionados are opting for an old time traditional solution but one in which you probably will not slit your throat if a car backfires out on the street. So because this has become something of a hobby and because my Gillette Sensor looks so sucky sitting in its chrome plated stand with a pair of wire ties for supports, I start believing all the claims that double edged safety razors are the way to go.
In part 2, which will come soon, we will investigate my further loss of innocence (and blood) in the world of fine German razors and the ninja sword of double edged blades, the Japanese Feather Double Edged Blade.