Love At First Shave

Something extraordinary happens with the first straight razor shave. For some, the experience turns into an instant love affair. It was for me.

Christopher Marlowe said in his poem Hero and Leander: "Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?" That truth well applies to the straight razor.

That first wet shave with the straight razor, despite a racing heartbeat and a nick or two, becomes a reminder, a permanent stamp of how enjoyable a daily activity that most men disdain can be. "You really like shaving?" "I love shaving, especially with the straight razor." Jane Austen said in Emma: "One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other."

Suddenly we cannot wait until morning comes and once again we strop a straight razor and wield the blade with the mastery of Cyrano de Bergerac. It's a time of day when the world stops for a few minutes, and when nothing matters but a good shave.

What helps turn that morning love affair with the straight razor into a colorful ritual, with all its personal idiosyncrasies, is the skill and the creativity pumped into whipping up a rich lather with brush and soap or cream, and then lowering the curtain after the last act with a touch of a favorite aftershave lotion.

Like fingerprints, no two straight razor shavers are alike in their method, technique and ritual. What's best for one is no guarantee of the same for another. Give one a 6/8" quarter hollow razor and another a full hollow, one a 5/8" and another a 7/8", a Thiers-Issard for one and a Wacker for another, a Dovo here and a Boker there.

For this one, nothing beats a dense puck of Mitchell's Wool Fat, and for the other, try to match a dense puck of Tabac. Castle Forbes or Trumper, Truefitt & Hill or Taylor of Old Bond Street? With the grain, across it or against it? To each his own.

The ritual of wet shaving with a straight razor fields a cast of dueling gentlemen where no one looks to settle score or take satisfaction. Take a gentleman's bow and smoke a cigar. The shave is what matters: that extraordinary feeling of a sharp blade skating across a carpet of rich and fragrant lather.

The complex love affair with the straight razor and a wet shave, with all its personal obessions, reminds me of what Pierre Corneille wrote in his play Le Cid. The play is based on the legend of the Spanish hero El Cid (Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, 1026-1099), who led the Spaniards against king Boadbill's invading Moors.

Corneilles said: "Love is a tyrant sparing none."

— Obie Yadgar

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