I got a package from my parents a few weeks ago that changed the way I shave; it also has given me a new relationship with a man I never knew: my paternal grandfather.
As a bunch of y’all know, my paternal grandmother died a little while back and my parents cleaned out and cleaned up her house for sale. In the package were some personal effects, including my grandfather’s shaving kit. In it were four Gillette “missile silo” double-edged safety razors and a shaving brush. I had used double edged blades before in a very cheap razor I picked up for about a dollar in Jerusalem a few years ago, and as you can imagine, the effect was awful. But I still had the blades.
The modern story of shaving is all about the blades. King Gillette made his fortune by convincing men to replace a single tool (the cut-throat blade) with two (the blade and handle), one of which had to be re-purchashed regularly. When others started making compatible blades, the tactic turned to proprietary handle fittings and marketing-driven upgrades. The double-blade Gillette cartridge came out in 1971, the year my grandfather died. So I never really knew him. Do four blades work better than one? I don’t know that either. But, they certainly cost more. I can get five weeks out of five blades — Wilkinson Sword Classic brand — for 99 cents. (Carfree Washingtonians: get them at the Bed, Bath and Beyond at Gallery Place-Chinatown.) Try that with a Mach 4.
Twisting the handle, the “silo doors” opened and I dropped a blade in. Locked the blade in place and lathered up my face. You’ll excuse me if I say I had a private moment of reflection, thinking of my grandparents at this moment.
Back to the shave. There are some extraordinary shaving soaps out there that hard-core double-blade types like, but cost a fortune and have to be mail-ordered from Edwardian England. There are the white hockey pucks marketed as shaving soap, but I think they smell like perfumed tallow. I use a plain vegetable glycerin soap, and it lathers quite fine.
A hot washcloth and a wash basin to rinse the razor, too. And here’s the bit of unconventional wisdom: shave against the grain. Use a very light hand. Don’t let the lather dry. I now get a closer and more comfortable shave — above and below my newly regrown beard, that it — than I ever have. It took a little practice, but now in a pinch I can even skip a day. That’s new. Oh, these old Gillettes are only worth a few dollars on eBay, and new double-edge razors are still made in Germany. Kevin Kelly — I love his Cool Tools blog — reviews a popular model.
Men converted to this older style of shaving tend to read something deeper into it. Little wonder I found an article that’s both practical and invested with deeper meaning. For your reading pleasure, I present Andy Crouch in “The Best a Man Can Get” from Christianity Today (March/April 2006) —
Every shave, leaving our skin as smooth as it was before we became men, before the years crept in, before we were, alas, responsible for our own face, simultaneously restores us and reminds us that something has gone wrong. We are, if we are fortunate, more than we expected, but not quite what we hoped to become.