In Praise of the Blade Song

...or the case for traditional wet shaving

I must confess that I only truly discovered wet shaving some 18 months ago. I first shaved at age 15, which was in the early 90s. It used the popular two blade system of the day and shaving foam. As much as I thought it made me look manly, I hated shaving. The shaving foam was harsh on the skin and as soon as a blade got blunt, I managed to draw some blood. As soon as my beard was full enough to grow out, I stopped shaving altogether. In that respect, I am a chip off the old block. My father has had a beard for 45 years now and I have never seen him without one. It should be safe to say that I have never been truly educated in the gentlemanly art of shaving.

During my puberty I had bad acne. I had a greasy skin and my pores clogged worse than a Taco Bell toilet. One of my aunts who was a beautician in the day told me to use a traditional shaving soap. That worked: my cheeks and chin were looking pretty good, whereas my forehead looked somewhat like Pizza the Hutt.

I do not dislike facial hair, even if it tends to get itchy. On the contrary, it fit whatever I thought appropriate at the moment for my style. Please note that this style was inspired by the idea of not wanting to shave. However, to have a beard and not look scruffy is an art. It is not an art that I have mastered. I have experimented with sideburns (which are too much hassle to maintain), chinstraps (not good), the Van Dyke (which made me look like my evil twin) and even the dreaded soul patch, which has sadly been taken over by tacky baby boomers. I settled on the perpetual three day beard look, using electric clippers.

Using an electric hair clipper is practical. In 10 minutes flat, you can look like a rugged traveller. There is some pesky cleaning up to do afterwards, but it is a nice tradeoff for a low maintenance look. For me, there was a disadvantage though. I have bad skin and having badly lubricated moving metal parts on your unprepared skin does not help. So I bought myself an expensive cartridge system. The irritation of my skin got somewhat better. However, as I soon found out, a three blade system does not cut it.

Back in 2011, I did my first head shave with a cartridge razor. It was on a vacation in the deep south of the USA. I wanted to travel as light as possible, so I did not bring the electric clippers. In the meantime, I had ‘graduated’ to a five-plus-one blade system. The shave was a hassle for two reasons: I had to get rid of two weeks of growth and a multi-blade cartridge is not a good tool for the job. However, when I was finally done, I decided that this was a good look. And in the humid heat of Louisiana, it felt really refreshing to have a shaven skull.

The head shaves stayed, since I found a way to hide my male pattern baldness. I did have a problem though. I did not have the right tools. After all, the little hairs have the nasty habit of clogging the blades. This pissed me off very much. Cartridges are bloody expensive and they simply do not last long when you shave your head. I could toss one out after one of two shaves which in all honesty is not good at 3 to 4 euros apiece. Additionally, since the razor blades tended to clog, I wasted a needless amount of time trying to clean them, sometimes even requiring a toothpick.

A way out of this conundrum was handed to me by one of the techie forums I visit: shave like your grandfather. Use a double edge blade or even a straight razor. Sometimes the old-fashioned way is the better way. I bought myself a DE razor and a sample pack of blades. After announcing on Twitter that Slayer’s 'Raining Blood’ would be the theme song of the day, I had my first traditional shave.

I got hooked. Fast. The term ‘baby bottom smooth’ got an entirely new meaning. Never have I looked (and felt) any better. My skin irritation disappeared and after buying a few traditional soaps and some additional blades, I must confess that I am hooked. What started out as a way to cope with a chore, evolved into a meditation, a way of temporarily stepping out of hectic life and taking some me-time. There is something deeply soothing into selecting a soap, whipping up a lather, choosing a razor and a blade and doing a three pass shave. Sometimes I listen to a podcast or an album I want to check out, but more often, I merely listen to the song of my razor blade. For the uninitiated, it somewhat sounds like butter being spread on toast. One can hear how smooth he is by listening to the sound of the blade on the skin. If you do not hear anything, you are as smooth as a cue ball.

Please do not make the mistake of assuming that you will cut costs. Initially, you will. A pack of 10 blades is 2 euros, a decent soap can be bought for 1 euro and a luxury razor can be bought for 30 euros. You will need a brush and some after shave, but then you should be set.

But then the virus hits and you start to collect stuff.

My shaving hobby has triggered me to make a collection of soaps (11 different brands, ranging from mentholated to sandalwood and myrrh), brushes (2, must buy more), blades (18 different brands and models ranging from mild to katana-sharp), razors (three) and after shaves (8-ish, including balms). Our bathroom smells like an old time barbershop and I have gained some nice in depth knowledge into the gentlemanly art of shaving. As I love pampering myself in front of the mirror, my wife thinks I have become very strange. However, she notices that I look better. And she just loves to smell the soaps and after shaves.

Even if I do not look that much different, I certainly feel like that. My clean-shaven look has given me a confidence boost. I feel better groomed, more like a gentleman and notice that I started dressing the part. Even a three day beard looks better on me, which is pretty strange, given that the point of all this is about getting rid of facial hair.