I stared, face lathered up, sweat dripping, hand shaking, into the fogging mirror in my bathroom almost every day for over 2 weeks before I built up the courage to actually put the 4" razor to my face and take a swipe.
The fact that I hadn't shaved on any regular basis for any period in my life because of the bloody mess that inevitably ensued didn't help matters, but mostly I was just afraid of slicing my jugular wide open and being mocked after my death for as the idiot who even attempted this in the first place. I took a deep breath and went for it.
How did I get to this point? It all started in early 2012 when the previously beardy version of myself was engaged in an exciting and thought provoking discussion with seven or eight other beardy gentlemen. I noticed that every single one of these guys was fiddling with their facial hair. I thought that odd for a moment until I realized I was as well.
I went home that night and shaved.
I'd had facial hair - to one extent or another - since I hit puberty, so it was a change. Because I can't do anything the easy way, and because I've become obsessed with what physical items I add to my life (but mostly because I can't do anything the easy way) I knew right away that if this was going to be a regular thing I needed an option other than the plasticy disposable razor I was currently holding.
My reluctance to acquire new objects was enflamed every time I needed new razors, and so was my disappointment in myself for buying something that I knew from the start was disposable. And quickly doing the math, the 3-pack of Schick Xtreme razors I'd taken a shine to ran about $14 and would last me a little shy of 2 weeks, so that's nearing on $350 a year on crap I'd be buying and then throwing out.
I just couldn't keep doing it. I started researching different shaving methods. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of dudes in towels videoing themselves in the bathroom and visited some popular shaving message boards.
Yes, there are message boards where people spend countless hours every day blowing off work to talk about shaving. You might laugh at that - as I did when I found them - but damn if there wasn't a wealth of knowledge there to be uncovered. Trust me when I tell you this, the most important thing for me was not what was there, but what wasn't: a memorial collection of now deceased members who accidentally slit their own throats and died.
I reminded myself of that every single day as I tried to work up the confidence put this giant blade on my face. I decided on using a straight razor for a number of reasons. I didn't want something electrical because then I'm still stuck buying batteries or having to struggle with a cord getting in the way, or whatever else comes up with cleaning stuff like that.
The so called "safety razors" still required new blades and seem to be anything but safe - almost every single post I read about someone who cut their finger or their face, certainly anyone who was discussing what they considered to be a serious cut - those were all the results of safety razors.
It almost seems like a joke how nasty those things are to have such a friendly name. Which might be the problem, when you have something called "safety" you relax and assume it's safe. And that's when it cuts off your lip.
A straight razor doesn't suffer from that as it reminds you every time you see it how scary it is. But it's also tried and tested and was used by millions of people for a hell of a long time on the regular so it had to have some redeeming qualities.
I could expand on what those might be but I really made the decision because they just look cool. What actually sold me was the realization that once you buy the set up, assuming you take care of it, you really never have to buy anything again. There were people online claiming to own and still be able to shave with straight razors that had been passed down to them by grandparents. That kind of quality and lasting usage was exactly what I wanted.
I smiled, thinking of my own son Ripley, and the fear and panic I'd be gifting to him many years from now when I passed my razor on to him. So I started hunting for what my set up would be.
First and foremost I needed to find a quality razor made by a reputable company. There are a handful of old and well respected companies still making straight razors - and most of them make both high end and low end models. Which is cool, but it also seems sketchy.
When you are talking electronics then there are countless parts and features that can be tweaked to create a high and low end variation of a similar product. But when the product is a single piece of metal attached to a handle… yeah.
Weird right? Also, turns out there are like a hundred different kinds of grinds and edge types and corner styles that a straight razor can have. There are no shortage of people willing to write epic message board posts about why one is better than the other but it all seems to boil down to personal opinion.
I didn't want to buy an entry level razor and then have it suck and scare me away, or have to buy a new one months down the line, so I decided if I was already spending $300+ on disposable razors a year that's the ballpark I should consider for a straight razor.
Then a friend sent me a link to a smaller US based razor making upstart called Hart. I was immediately impressed with their minimal designs, focus on quality and lack logos all over the blades. When I emailed them a few questions and they immediately offered to overnight me a razor to examine in person I was kinda blown away. This is 2012, there are still companies that doing things like that? By this point I'd been window shopping for a while, and had the opportunity to hold a number of razors, but nothing was like the Hart razor when I picked it up.
The quality was instantly noticeable - combined with their obviously excellent customer service, this was a good sign. The gentleman I spoke with pointed out that in addition to the regular line offered on their site they make a special edition razor that has been blackened with gun-bluing exclusively for a barber shop right here in Los Angeles called Baxter. The bluing provides an extra layer of corrosion resistance.
I was sold.
Razor chalked off the list, now came what I assumed would be the difficult task of finding vegan friendly accessories in a genre of object that seems to fetishize leather and animal hair. Turns out, not so difficult.
You know that dark strap of leather that is always hanging from old timey barber chairs? Apparently it has a function. It's called a strop, and you need to drag a straight razor back and forth on one every day to maintain a sharp edge.
Legendary razor strop maker Tony Miller sells a totally synthetic vegan strop right on his site. He was sold out when I initially contacted him, but within a month I had one in my hands. And while badger hair brushes appear to be the ultimate shaving status symbol, one of the best reviewed brushes on Amazon is the Parker synthetic shaving brush so I grabbed that too. That was about 5 months ago and I'm happy to report that I'm not dead yet.
In fact, I haven't even suffered a cut worse than I might have using the disposables. It took me at least 3 weeks to take the first stroke with the blade on my face. The thing you learn really quick with a straight razor is that decisive movements are where it's at.
Hesitate, and you cut yourself.
Of course, there is all kinds of technique to work on, how to hold the thing and what angle to strive for, and keeping your stroke straight up and down and never side to side. And all the is important, but getting over the fear of using the thing in the first place is really the hardest part. You should never stop respecting how deadly it potentially is, but at the same time you don't want to be timid when using it. Shaky hands lead to shaky cuts and there will be blood.
What about the results? Since I wasn't a big shaver before this it's hard for me to compare against anything, but I think this method delivers an insanely close shave. The best part for me is that there is almost no irritation at all. No razor burn of any kind and my face doesn't feel on fire for the next 2 hours like it did when I used a disposable razor.
In 5 months, I haven't had to spend another cent after my initial set up. And going through this routine 2-3 times a week – and it definitely is a routine – has gotten much easier. I'm much more comfortable holding and using the razor and actually enjoy the process.
Would I recommend it? Hell yes. I feel like I've accomplished something by just mastering how to hold the damn thing, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it gave me a weird confidence boost.
Every other challenge you face in the day gets some perspective when you've already had a razor against your throat.