I recently experienced an old-man moment. You know what I’m talking about, right? When you observe the younger generation making their mistakes or doing silly stuff, and you just shake your head and really want to say something, but you don’t, as you know that nothing good will come from it.
What was it I observed this time? A young man of 20 proudly proclaiming that he’d finally found his interest in life and a group of cohorts he could be part of. So he tattooed his arm to mark this major event. You’ll be wondering now why quite natural point in the transition form boy to man had me shaking my head? Well, this is a young man that has dedicated his life to growing a big beard, being inked in a sailor style and wearing several pieces of denim at the same time.
Oh, now you think I’m hating on the beards? That I’m probably struggling with my not so latent issues of beard envy? Unable to grow my own massive, viking-style birds-nest of bristling facial hair?
Well, yes, sort of, though I’ll never admit it. Instead I offer 2 reasons why I don’t beard up: Firstly, my beard is a slow grower, it takes a while to get anywhere. And to be honest, even then it’s not that sure where it’s headed. More importantly though, and the greatest reason I can never see the full potential of it, once it gets to a certain stage, it just itches.
When you have an itch, you scratch. When you have facial hair that itches, you shave. Logic, pure and simple. Well, unless you have studied the Beard 101 and have delved into the bewildering world of Beard Products. And there are many of these, with new ones being added on a monthly basis.
To be clear, we are talking about the matter of wet shaving here, the gloriously traditional manner of facial hair removal, not dry shaving, which is performed with devices that look like small, hi-tech lawn-movers, was introduced as a male torture device around the time of the Industrial Revolution and these days is the preferred method of full-body hair removal for manchilds that feel a BMW shows they are men of deep thought and culture. Just kidding, sort of. Electric shavers are horrible devices though. Not that I’ve actually tried one since running one over my chin in my early teens. Mind you, that was a poorly functioning vintage piece even then, and I’m sure there has been some development since.
And the odd thing is that there is so little consensus as to what the best products are. Similarly to brands of beer, it appears most people have a favourite, or a small selection of favourites, and while they may struggle to rate their selection, they can despise all others with no hesitation. And in the dumpster overspill of utter crapness, we find the commercial aerosol-based products from the the big boys in the field of hair removal.
There are in fact pretty clear parallels to the field of denim. For denim to be considered proper, it has to tick a number of checkboxes. Selvedge, Japanese, slubby, artisan, indio-dyed and so forth. Dare to admit you like a high-street brand, made in Malaysia, thin and stretchy denim with no provenance, comfy fit even when sitting down, and in addition they were an absolute bargain? Yes, that is pretty much exactly like using a can of aerosol-dispensed shaving gel from the local supermarket. Best not mentioned in manly company, and only to be used under discretion in your own home.
So, given that there are a crazy amount of suppliers and products available, I thought I’d try a limited number and see if I could actually discern any difference between different shaving creams. For the past years I’ve used a variant from American company Billy Jealousy. You are quite correctly squinting in deep thought right now, as I don’t believe they are that well known on this side of the Atlantic. Decent stuff though, and they do a full range of the products a man needs, i.e. shampoo, body wash and shaving cream. And pre-shave cream, and post-shave stuff. Heaps more as well, but that would be more for boys that are heavily into the male grooming thing. And they appear to have won the accolade of both Mens Health and Esquire magazines. And we know that Esquire are truly picky about their support!
I quite recently made the change from the ubiquitous multi-bladed device touted as “the best a man can get” in shops everywhere. While I didn’t often buy a pack of blades I still felt that the price asked was ludicrous, so the lure of the classic safety razor was both financial and, well, kind of cool. So I bought a safety razor while in Berlin.
Yet there is more out there, and I felt a quest coming on. Via Instagram I noticed some serious shavers and asked them for their favourite shaving cream. Kiehl’s, was the word that came down. The absolute best, they said. So I added a tube of the evocatively named “Close Shavers Squadron” to the collection.
When visiting Brighton recently I had the opportunity of visiting a proper barber. A top notch haircut was followed by an inquiry into which product they favour when lathering up a gentleman client. A quick huddle and their choice was Gentlemans Tonic (I keep having to check the name on this one, as “gentlemans relish” keeps coming to mind). This was duly added to the collection.
When it comes to the field of wet shaving in Norway, one company has led the way for the past 8 years. Barbershop has grown from humble beginnings into a major resource and hugely well stocked shop for the shaving-inclined. So naturally I asked Andreas, the head chap, what he considered the absolute best product. It didn’t take long for him to reply “Truefitt and Hill 1805, for use with a shaving brush”. Now that is next level compared to the tube-based products I’ve been recommended so far. A shaving brush? While I do feel bad about the poor badger that donated fur to the brush there is no sense in going in half-cocked. So much for my eco and ethical reputation. Sorry Mr. Badger.
The Mühle shaving brush is a small object of tactile beauty though. I can’t wait to wet it’s bristles and whip up a storm of creamy goodness. A little different to depressing the nozzle on a can of shaving foam!
So, 4 products, one face. The shaving showdown.
How best to compare the products? This resulted in deep consideration. Divide available bearded area into 4 equivalent areas? If so, are sideburns equivalent to more mouth-near areas of growth? How to mark off the areas for each product, would a biro be sensible or would it leave me looking like a butchers chart for the next week? Perhaps divide unto half face and then under and over the jawline?
There are so many possibilities that the project almost stranded there. While I was deliberating, comments started appearing under my daily Instagram photos. “Have a shave, you scruff”. The pressure was on and something needed to be done.
And done it was. More to follow. I’m off to deal with some facial hair now.
Added after initial posting:
Round 1 is Billy Jealousy (my staple for 3 years) meeting Gentlemans Tonic. Report to follow.
Round 2 will be Kiehl’s vs Truefitt & Hill
I had planned for it to be 4 products only, but suggestions are rolling in, so I’ll run a few more rounds featuring the following (more will likely be added, within reason, as this will quickly become expensive for a pile of products that will most likely gather dust).
- Arko, a Turkish classic stick-shaped soap
- Mitchells Wool Fat shaving soap
- Body Shop Maca Root shaving cream (apparently “what everyone really uses”)
- The cheapest own-brand aerosol gel from the local shop
- What have you?
It also struck me that I’ll be in London on August 23rd, and will require a barber-style haircut. Why not also try a proper shave by a barber as well? Perhaps that would be the ultimate shaving experience? Which barber should I go to in the Shoreditch/Fitzrovia/Covent Garden area?