February 10, 2006

F5 #1: The blade

Better late than never . . .

About the time that I first needed to shave, my parents provided me with both an electric shaver and disposable razors, along with the basic guidance I needed to use them both without unintentionally killing myself. As time went by, I gravitated toward the speediness and convenience of the electric, and although I never truly abandoned the blade, I certainly didn't spend a lot of time shaving with one.

That changed when I moved to Ottawa in 1998. This city is cursedblessed with high humidity, especially in the summer. All that moisture works against a comfortable electric shave, which usually requires a bone-dry face for best results. Add a little bit of humidity-induced stickiness, and a shaver becomes an instrument of torture. So after a few days of Philishave-induced razor burn taught me a valuable lesson, I switched to wetshaving for the summer, a habit I have maintained since.

A few years ago, while shopping at the drugstore for replacement razor cartridges and shaving cream, I noticed something I hadn't realized: there was still obviously a market for more "traditional" shaving methods, as the store had a small-but-visible stock of shaving brushes and little cakes of Williams shaving soap. For no particular reason (other than to maintain my image of old-fashioned curmudgeonliness), I put the can of Edge gel I was already holding back on the shelf and went for the brush. I was surprised at how much better the shave felt.

Over time, my wetshaving technique gradually improved. Last September, when I was ready to make the annual switch back to the electric, that first shave without the blade was like I hadn't bothered to shave at all. Before, I'd never noticed the difference.

I stuck with the blade this year.

I said, during my first post of 2006, that over time shaving morphed from a shore to be done as quickly and conveniently as possible, to a simple pleasure. Part of this was because I enjoyed the lack of stubble even eight hours after shaving (whereas the electric never fully got rid of it to begin with). But the major part was because my excursion into more curmudgeonly modes of shaving opened my eyes to a whole raft of shaving cream and soap brands I had never even heard of before. Anyone whose experience is limited to cans of Foamy or Edge gel is missing out.

My current favourite shaving soap is from Crabtree & Evelyn, an establishment I long assumed was simply a purveyor of women's froo-froo cosmetics until I happened to score a sample of their Nomad shaving cream. I also like Proraso, a popular Italian brand, which is loaded with menthol and eucalyptus and stops razor burn in its tracks. One of these days I'm going to take the plunge and try out some of the top-shelf English products, like Trumper's classic lime-scented cream.

My current blade of choice is the Gillette Sensor. In my opinion, the last real innovation in shaving technology was the Sensor's floating blades. Anything that has come on the market since is marketing hype (Who needs 3, let alone 4 or even 5 blades?), and the new Gillette Fusion is an ugly self-parody.

Personally, I would just love to acquire an antique double-edge safety razor, or one of the new ones still made by companies like Merkur, and leave the razor wars behind. I'm firmly of the opinion that improved technology isn't the secret to a perfect shave. Patience, practice, and good technique are.

After all, I do have a reputation for crustiness to maintain.