Some say traditional shaving—also known as wet shaving—is a lost art. Everyone is in a rush these days, so shaving with a single edge razor is a thing of the past. It takes more time than shaving with an electric shaver, plus there’s a learning curve.
I asked Kirk Riley, lead barber at Long Island City’s popular and classically inspired barber shop Otis & Finn for his take on shaving.
Is old-fashioned, classic shaving a lost art?
Not at all. In fact, we’ve seen a resurgence of demand for hot-towel straight razor shaves in our shop. Men are realizing that although these shaves can sometimes feel like a luxury item, they are really more of a necessity. Getting a proper shave not only makes you feel good and look good, it’s also good for your skin. Shaving properly gives you a close cut shave and exfoliates your skin. If you’re getting a shave at a barbershop as opposed to shaving at home, do a little research to make sure that you have a barber who has a lot of experience with shaves. Shaving improperly can cause breakouts—no one wants that.
Is there a return to the return to classic shaving? For example, using double-edge safety razors, shaving soaps, brushes and barber shop aftershaves.
Yes—thankfully. The mail order disposable razor system had its day over the past few years, but more men seem to be getting rid of their disposable razors. In many instances, disposable razors are just not as sharp or as fresh as the razors you would put in a safety razor at home. The bigger issue is that people try to use disposable razors multiple times in order to get the most bang for their buck, but using a dull razor on your face is not good for the skin. When our clients come in for a shave, they leave with an understanding of why each step of the classic shave is important to the process. This includes using a nice brush (our barbers generally use silvertip badger brushes) to build the lather and apply it to the face, which helps lift the hairs off the face so that the shave will be closer than one you’d get from just applying shave lotion from a can to your face with your hand. Additionally, the brush helps exfoliate the skin and scrape away dead, dry skin.
When and why did classic shaving with a single or double-edge safety razor come to a halt?
The popularity of the double edge safety razor declined when battery powered electric razors came to the market in the 1950s and 1960s and continued when disposable razors became popular in the 1970s. I think this was all part of a larger cultural shift when people started caring a little less about quality. As a society, we started wanting things quick and cheap. Today, men are realizing that the convenience of a quick two-minute shave with cheap foam from a can and a plastic disposable razor doesn’t really justify the loss of quality you experience with shaving properly in the traditional way.
What are the pros and cons of the classic wet shave?
The pros are a good, close shave, smooth skin, facial exfoliation, a relaxing experience, and a feeling of wellbeing afterward. Perhaps you could say a con would be that you are going to spend a few more minutes shaving with a classic wet shave, but quality takes a little time and effort. Even then, there is something therapeutic about the shaving process, so even that’s not really a con.
How does the shave compare to electric shavers?
There really is no comparison. Electric shavers are just not going to get as close to the skin, no matter how good the electric razor is. That’s not to say there aren’t some good electric razors out there—there certainly are. But nothing is going to get as close as a straight razor shave. Also, depending on the man, with a straight razor you may be able to get away with not shaving every day, but with an electric razor you usually need to shave every day no matter who you are.
Does it give a better shave?
The best shave you are going to get is from your barber who will have all the professional equipment, lighting, tools and know-how to give you a close shave, remove every little hair, and leave your skin with the right products to prevent razor burn and keep you moisturized. Your second best option is shaving at home with a safety razor, using a brush and lather. That’s going to give you a closer shave and help exfoliate the skin. I would say electric razors are only for when you miss your alarm in the morning.
Is it cheaper?
Using a safety razor is cheaper than using disposable razors. Besides the small investment you have in the safety razor itself, you can buy 100 double edge safety razor blades for about $10 on Amazon. When you compare that to the cost of disposables, I think the safety razor is cheaper by far.
Where can you find safety razors?
You can buy them anywhere from Amazon to Walgreens. It’s really a question of what kind of quality you’re looking for, but even good safety razors do not have to be expensive. When you start looking at straight razors, that’s where you can spend a lot of money.
Are there different types of blades?
There are single edge and double edge blades, depending on whether your razor is a single or double edge razor. There are a variety of blade brands. Astra and Feather blades are two of the most popular brands.
What about the brush, soap and cream?
Finding a good brush is important. Most of our barbers prefer a silvertip badger hairbrush, which is the best on the market because the silvertip hair is fine, holds a lot of water to help create a good foam, and is soft on the skin. These can be fairly expensive, but they are worth the investment if you’re willing to make it. If not, there are also boar hairbrushes and synthetic brushes available as well.
Finding a good foam is important, but like everything else, it depends on what works best with your skin. I’d say shop around and try a few until you find one that foams really well and doesn’t leave a residue on your skin. Don’t use anything that comes from a can already lathered though.
What if you have a mustache or a beard?
If you have a mustache or beard, you may want to trim it down before shaving with a razor. If not, you need to make sure your skin is incredibly moist before starting the shave. You may want to use a few new blades throughout the process depending on how thick you’ve let it grow. Even the best blades will dull quickly against really thick hair.