January 15, 2009
In spite of it’s overlength, my recent video blog about classic wet shaving garnered a good bit of interest from a number of people, so I thought I’d give a little more info about the specific products (yes, products) I use, where I got them, and why I use them specifically.
If you were bored by the video, or have no interest in classic wet shaving, don’t read any more, because this is largely a reference post devoid of anything personally self-reflective or intentionally entertaining. Seriously.
This is the single most important piece of the shaving puzzle. As luck would have it, this is also the easiest buying decision to make. After doing just a little research, it became very clear that it is a truth universally acknowledged that the Merkur Classic razor is the double-edged razor that all others are compared to. It’s the perfect starter razor, and most wet shaving veterans still prefer it. They’re also well-priced; I bought this very razor from this very site, and it was a little under $40 after shipping. If you’re buying your first double-edged razor, buy this one. Period.
Probably the second most-important piece of the puzzle, as the way that you shave will vary drastically depending on what blades you use. Some are sharper, but less smooth so you have to shave carefully. Others are very smooth, but may require a few extra go-overs.
Blades are cheaper when you buy them in bulk, but I didn’t want to commit to buying 50 blades that I’ve never used before in case they stunk. As luck would have it, there are some sites that sells large sampler packs so you can get a variety of different blades to try out without having to commit, but still be able to pay bulk price. If you’re starting out, I can’t recommend this option enough. I bought a pack of about 50 assorted blades almost exactly a year ago for less than $20 after shipping, and I still have probably half of the blades.
As mentioned in the video, after trying probably a dozen different kinds, my clear favorites are Feather and Crystal, with Crystal probably taking the highest honor. They’re incredibly smooth, perfectly sharp and easily last for 5 or 6 shaves. The Feathers, on the other hand, are known for being insanely sharp and it is a title well deserved. If Feathers are a 10 on a scale of sharpness, the next closest blades I’ve tried are 7s; maybe 8s.
You can spend anywhere from about $8 to hundreds on a shave brush. The vast majority of shave brushes are made from badger hair, but the cheaper ones will be made from lower quality badger hair (which comes from the less desirable parts of a badger) than the more expensive ones. Nicer brushes hold a lot more water than cheaper ones, so you’ll get a much more lush lather with a better brush.
When I was buying all the different articles for wet shaving, I tended to buy cheaper products to begin with on the assumption that I could upgrade down the road. The brush was the one exception though, and I ended up getting it from Crabtree and Evelyn in Willowbend Mall for $35. It’s a good medium size, with a comfortable wooden handle, and I don’t regret spending the extra money at all.
If you want to start small though, I’ve seen sub-$10 ones at CVS Pharmacy.
The Shaving Cream
Your choice of shaving cream is largely a personal preference issue, and there are significantly more readily-available options with the shaving cream than with the other pieces. I personally alternate between two. One is the tube from Bath & Body Works I showed in the video. It is actually a rebranded version of a very popular Italian shaving creme called Proraso. With this, I put a bit in a warm latte mug and build the lather there before I apply it to my face.
The other method – and the one that I prefer – is a shave soap that I also bought from Crabtree & Evelyn. I like this way better because instead of using a mug, I get a bit of soap on the brush and build the lather directly on my face, which keeps the lather warmer and gets it even more saturated into my skin.
Aftershave is actually the one area in which just about anything will do. I use a Neutrogena aftershave that I bought for $4 at Target, and it works great. I’ve also recently discovered the joys of Burt’s Bees Aftershave, but it’s a bit pricey at $10 a bottle. Bath & Body Works also has a wide assortment of aftershaves, as does just about any store that carries skin care products. Aftershave selection for most people ultimately comes down to their preferred consistency and scent, and everybody has different tastes on both. Start cheap.
Also, if I do happen to nick myself at all during a shave, I’ll get a little bit of Witch Hazel on a cotton ball and dab it on my face as an astringent to help the wounds close up before I use my aftershave. Also, Witch Hazel just sounds completely awesome, so I use it as much as I can.
Regarding Long-term Costs
I looked up some prices online, and found the cheapest costs for several shaving methods for the sake of comparison. My findings are as follows.
My Current Setup w/ Classic Shaving
Merkur razor w/ 1 blade = $38
Crystal Blades In a pack of 100 = $.12 / Blade
38 + .12x
Shaving with a Mach 3
Handle w/ 1 blade = $8
Replacement Blades (Pack of 12) = $1.67 / Blade
8 + 1.67x
Bottom of the Line Schick Disposable Razors
Bought In a Pack of 12 = $.58 / Blade
After having far too much fun figuring out those equations and comparing the graphs of all three, I figured that one would need to use only about 20 blades for Classic shaving to be less expensive than the Mach 3. Now to beat the price of the disposable Schicks (the cheapest disposable razors I could find), you’d need to go through about 80 blades. But that assumes that you’d get as many shaves out of the Schicks as the Crystals (you probably wouldn’t), and doesn’t take into account the medical bills you’d likely incur from the disposable ones.
At my current rate of usage, 80 blades is probably about two years’ worth. And considering that 80 blades is how many razors you’d have go through before your switch from probably the worst shave around (shy of an electric razor) to one of the absolute best shaves you can give yourself becomes less expensive, I think it is well worth it.
The initial costs for my jump into classic shaving totaled just under $120 for the razor, blades, brush, and shave soap, but I’m still set for another year at least on that investment. If you don’t want to drop that much money at once, and would rather ease into wet shaving instead of diving in completely, I’d recommend starting with the razor. While not ideal, a double edged razor with cheap shaving cream is a much better setup than a crappy razor with quality shaving cream. The improvement you’ll see from just that $40 investment will make you a believer.
I was amazed to discover that there are an incredible number of online resources that are absolutely indispensable. The most significant one for me is Badger and Blade. The site is basically a very feature-rich forum community, but there are extensive reviews and discussions on every literally every single product relating to classic shaving from shave creams and razors to the individual blades themselves. Before you buy anything, look it up at B&B.
There’s also a guy on YouTube called mantic59 (http://www.youtube.com/user/mantic59) who has several videos covering every aspect of wet shaving from the history of it and product recommendations to actual shaving techniques and step-by-step tutorials. Most of what I know I learned from his videos. They’re kind of goofy here and there, and he’s a bit quirky, but the dude knows his stuff and does a great job of explaining it.
And that’s all I got; seven and a half minutes of video and 1350 words later. Word to the wise: don’t bring up classic shaving with me unless you are prepared to hear naught but my voice for the foreseeable future.
It’ll give you time to grow a beard to shave off.