shave1OK, so, what’s the deal with straight razor shaves?

If I had 5p for every bridegroom who excitedly told me that on the morning of the wedding, the groom’s party were getting a wet shave from a barber, I’d have… well, about 30p. But this isn’t about the money.

I’m just trying to work out the utility value of this archaic practice. It occurred to me the other day. Yes, I WAS getting a straight razor shave at the time, if you must know. No, I wasn’t about to get married.

Having had a few shaves performed by a barber (the name of which comes from the French word for “beard”, don’t you know… and it also relates to BBQ, but that’s another story), EVERY time I’ve found myself thinking, “Yeah… could’ve done that better myself.”. I just don’t get the attraction.

Perhaps an element of it is the decadence – of having someone perform a fairly routine ablution for you. As if – for a moment – you’re a member of the upper class and have a valet. Then there’s the danger element: though no barber today will use a proper “cutthroat” razor, the premise is that they’re not using a safety razor, but rather the unshielded edge of a straight blade – one slip and it’s sliced through your skin (and skin isn’t that tough). If the slip happened around your carotid artery, could it slice in? Surely that’s not an appealing feature of this practice – to put your life at risk at the hands of a total stranger?

Whatever the attraction, it’s certainly not anything to do with the quality of the shave. Or maybe I’m just RIDICULOUSLY good at shaving. A barber (or, in the most recent case, a student at a hairdressing school) ALWAYS misses bits. You leave the shop feeling all smooth, but on the way to where you’re heading next as you explore the periphery of the shave-zone there’s inevitably 5 or 6 little hairs left defiantly, and try to ignore them as you might for the next few hours, they keep haunting you like little follicular protestors.shavestart

I can understand a certain “cool factor” in learning to shave yourself with a straight-razor – there’s a modicum of skill involved, although equally I’m not convinced that the quality of shave would be any better. Surely the shaving industry as it stands today wouldn’t have produced its 2/3/4/5 bladed disposable offerings if a single straight blade did a better job? Again, having had about half a dozen wet shaves in 3 different countries, I’ve never seen anyone do a superior job to what I can achieve with my King of Shaves products.

Equally, there’s little or no time to be saved by having someone do it for you. Certainly not a student.

So, really, what’s the positive case?

Perhaps if you’re the owner of a big impressive moustache and need someone to get into the bits you can’t see with a mirror, sure. Or, even, if you’re sprouting a new moustache and don’t feel you have the dexterity to craft & shape as required.

One shave which I’ll broadly include (even though it’s not relevant) was the famous Movember of 2011, where I had my whole head (except eyebrows) wet-shaved – the justification there was that shaving was the only way to get as close to the skin as needed, as clippers wouldn’t do it. Research indicated that after the initial shave I could have maintained it myself in the usual fashion, although the issue there is one of practice. Perhaps you could argue that a wet shave’s practical if you don’t really know how to do it. But then it means you’d need to book in to your barber every 3 or 4 days: you’d need to be someone with a vast amount of time and money at your disposal.

If anyone’s got any other thoughts on what the attraction is, I’d be very interested to hear them…

(In case you’re wondering, yes, as I said I recently booked in for a haircut & wet shave from a hairdressing school – partially for frugality, and a small sense of a gesture of magnanimity: because these students need people to learn with… What I learned about hairdressing school is that it’s an excellent way to turn a 45-60 minute procedure into 2.5 hours, and the beauty of the haircut side of things is I’ll get to do it all over again in 2 or 3 weeks when the 3mm of hair she cut off grows back.)

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