In Jake and the Dynamo, I have a scene in which Jake performs a lengthy and elaborate ritual to shave his face in the morning. I thought it was funny to depict a fourteen-year-old going through so much trouble just to scrape away his peach fuzz, but aside from his abuse of aftershave, his morning ritual is pretty much the same as mine.
I did this in part because I wanted to hearken back to the days when shaving was a tad more difficult and therefore more of a rite of passage for the adolescent male.
This is called “wet shaving.” I first discovered it while perusing The Art of Manliness, where I came upon the article, “How to Shave Like Your Grandpa,” and upon reading, immediately realized I would not be happy until I gave up my ridiculous, modern ways of scraping hair from my face and instead found joy and solace in beautiful anachronism. There’s a tight-knit internet community dedicated to wet shaving, because there’s an internet community dedicated to everything, but it’s enjoyed a resurgence in popularity recently mostly because wet shavers tout it as considerably cheaper than shaving with the disposable cartridge-head razors.
That is, it can be cheaper. I’ve read articles by wet shavers who claim they set up their shave kits for fifteen dollars by buying inexpensive soaps and purchasing their razors used on eBay. I’ve also seen videos by guys talking about designer aftershaves or luxury brushes that cost hundreds of dollars. So wet shaving is a hobby that can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be.
Wet shavers can be amusing people. I’ve watched a few videos to learn tricks and techniques, and I find it funny to see all these guys, some of them muscular, square-jawed, and manly looking, totally fangirling and geeking out over hygiene products.
It just goes to show that all men are geeks at heart. Men can’t live without toys to play with. Let it be power tools or cars or a shave kit or video games, men need their toys.
Pictured above is my own wet shaving kit, which probably set me back a little over a hundred bucks to set up, but which costs considerably less to maintain. Other wet shavers w0uld probably make fun of me for wearing Old Spice, but whatever, dude: I ain’t spending fifty bucks to smell like Christian Dior when I can pay six bucks to smell like a curious mixture of wood pulp, cloves, and B.O. The Brylcreem is not part of my shave kit, strictly speaking, but it is part of my morning. I wear it because I’m going prematurely gray, and it has a high sheen that makes my gray hairs glitter like silver. Once, in church, an old lady behind me even asked me what the “sparkly stuff” was in my hair.
What I’ve got here are all the basic parts of a shaving kit. My double-edged safety razor is a Merkur 34C, which is popular for beginners. It’s durable and should last indefinitely (the reason some guys get old ones off eBay is because these things basically don’t wear out). My blades are platinum-coated and made in Japan by Feather, whose blades are preferred by many wet-shavers for being especially sharp. I can get a hundred of these blades for twenty-five bucks, so compare that to what you pay for the typical cartridge refills of a modern razor.
The soap and the wooden bowl it comes in are from D.R. Harris. Most shave soaps are triple-milled, meaning they’re extra hard, and they’re usually animal fat-based. Wet shavers claim old-school shave soap is better for your skin than canned shaving creams. I don’t know if this is true, but it does feel nice. D.R. Harris soaps make a thick lather with minimal effort, and they’re relatively inexpensive. Some claim that one bowl should last about a year. My last one lasted about six months, but I’m new at this and have wasted a lot of soap. The cake pictured here is brand new.
Also brand new is my styptic pencil, because I used up my last one. When learning to wet shave, you cut yourself. However, it does allegedly produce less skin irritation when done right, as well as less risk of ingrown hairs.
I also sometimes use a pre-shave oil, but I’m out at the moment, so it’s not in the photo. My oil is “Smolder” pre-shave oil from the Blades Grim. It smells like gingerbread. Very manly. I might in the future switch to their soap and aftershave because I really like the scent, but I haven’t yet.
My most luxurious item is that big ceramic thing. Wet shaving calls for a bowl or mug to lather the soap in. I, however, have a Crown King scuttle. It has a bowl to mix the soap, but also has a hollow surrounding the bowl, into which you can pour hot water so your shaving lather stays warm. I checked out several scuttles, most of which were antiques, before deciding on this, one of the few currently being manufactured. It has a practical, compact design and also a deep bowl so there’s lots of room to mix the soap. The ridges inside the bowl are supposed to make it easier to get a good lather.
Some “pucks” of soap are designed to be dropped into a mug so you can build the lather right there on the soap itself. Both the D. R. Harris bowl soap and my scuttle, however, are designed in such a way that you have to transfer the soap to the scuttle on the brush.
Wet shaving takes a little longer than a shave with a cartridge. You rest the safety razor against your face and allow its weight to move the blade against the hairs. Use short strokes. A traditional wet shave includes three passes. If you’re careful, and your blades are sharp, you might even be able to go against the grain for the third pass to get a very, very close shave.
Once you’ve learned to do it right, it’s superior to the shave you get from a modern cartridge razor, but it takes a lot of practice and a lot of nicks.
Once I’m done, I splash on some Old Spice and smell just like your grandpa. Of course, if I really wanted to smell like your grandpa, I’d also use Vitalis, but as I said already, I prefer the Brylcreem, even though your grandpa disparages it as “greasy kids’ stuff.”