Photo by John Slater (Getty).
Time for another lesson in the art of manliness, namely, how to shave with a straight razor. It’s not true that the price of toys separates men from boys. Toss that sissy, overpriced safety razor you’re holding and go for the simple straight edge. Sometimes less is more.
Up until the 1950s, the most common men’s razor was a straight razor, a folding device with a handle and a blade about three inches long. Unlike with safety razors, shaving with straight razors requires real practice, which you will have to take the time to do on yourself. Expect cuts and mistakes for some time, but once you master the straight razor, you’ll give yourself a far better treatment than you have ever given yourself before.
Besides, it is a traditional ritual of a man’s man. And it’s somewhat meditative, as it requires you to slow down and focus in your own free time, mastering what your father and his father have mastered before you. I still remember just how proud my father was when he gave me his Old Spice Original Shaving Cream pack with a shaving brush and a straight razor to deal with my scraggly mustache. It’s a tradition, and men should respect it.
How to Shave With a Straight Razor
Forget everything you know and everything you’ve done with your regular Gillette-type safety razor. This is a completely different story, one that starts with preparing your skin and facial hair for the action ahead.
Prepare your facial hair, either by taking a hot shower, or by holding a hot towel to your face; not too hot though, or you risk scalding the skin and causing irritation. Prepare your shaving cream in a separate bowl. Don’t make the same mistake I made long ago by applying it directly to the brush. Once you are ok with it, wash your beard once again. Moisture will help lather stick to your skin and hair. Lather your beard using painting like strokes and let it sit for a minute. Then repeat until you have a nice thick lather on your beard to protect the skin and guide the blade.
Begin with slow strokes. Some suggest you start off with the right side first but it really is up to you. Stretch your skin as you go with your other hand. Make even movements and shave only in the direction of your beard growth with your first pass (go “with the grain”). If you go against the grain you can cut yourself and cause ingrown hairs and/or razor bumps.
Keep in mind you should be holding the blade somewhere at the 20-30 degree angle (it depends on your face type). It’s a simple reason really, anything more acute or obtuse than those angles and you’ll probably cut yourself or be ineffective at removing the hair properly. Shave your cheeks first and under the jaw of the one side. Then the other side, the upper lip, the chin and finally under the chin.
If you are going for that extra smooth, clean-shaven look, make multiple passes, each one different; shave with the grain, than across the grain and finally against the grain. Before each pass you make, wash your face off and re-lather.
Once you are satisfied, rinse off with cold water, and apply aftershave lotion which helps reduce skin irritation and gets that shiny look on your face. If you have cut yourself, and trust me, you likely will at least a few times early on, most will stop bleeding by gently applying pressure on the cut and adding aftershave, though it will probably burn you a bit; it should keep you clean from infections.
A final reminder:
Take your time! Your face will thank you for it. Your spouse will thank you for it. And you will feel truly confident afterward.