I’m into straight razors. Not sure why. I have yet to personally know a gentleman — from grandpa to dad to boyfriend to husband — who has ever laid his hand on such a blade, but I am intrigued nonetheless. Perhaps it’s a connection to an old-world, more simple time. A time when a beard could be tamed with nothing more than a sharp blade, some frothy shaving cream and some serious dexterity.

I would love to introduce my male friends to the wonder of the straight razor, if only to see that shining blade holding court on the bathroom sink. But clearly I do not possess the skills to make such an introduction.

Enter Lynn Abrams, founder of StraightRazorPlace.com, the first wet shaving forum on the internet. Lynn was kind enough to take some time away from his straight razor advocacy to answer some of my most pressing questions . . . in incredibly helpful detail.

Newbies, read and learn:

What tips can you give a novice straight razor shaver?

I always tell new people that learning to use a straight razor is something that takes a little time to learn [patience, people]. It is an art that can transform the chore of shaving every day into a pleasure that you can’t wait for every day [you don’t say!]. We encourage new people to watch shaving videos on SRP and on YouTube as well as reading all available information that they can. Learning to use the straight razor works well when you take on a portion of your face at a time to learn the dexterity and tactile skills necessary to be successful. We encourage new people to start off with a good brand of razor that has been honed and is shave ready. It can be new or vintage, so long as it is in good condition. We also encourage them to learn about beard preparation. A good strop [had to look this up. From Wiki: “A razor strop is a flexible strip of leather or canvas used to straighten and polish the blade of a straight razor, a knife, or a woodworking tool like a chisel”] is also recommended for daily use before shaving with the straight razor. People can start off with cheaper brushes like Boars Hair, but normally most upgrade to the comfort of badger brushes. New people should be encouraged not to rush and not to expect the best shave of their life first time out. And is always recommended to have an experienced straight razor shaver available to show you the way — this minimizes the learning curve dramatically [read: seek out a straight razor mentor]. I get asked a lot to give shaving classes at barber shops that do shaves and at regional gatherings and I will be doing them regularly at our shop when the shaving spa opens. [oh! We need details on that shaving spa and will you be coming through NYC any time soon?]

What’s the scoop on products for straight razor shaving?

As for products,  pre-shaving oils work well but it takes a couple weeks of use for them to give the full potential of their benefits [who knew?]. The skin gets used to them as well as the straight razor. I like the shaving soaps and creams that produce a very nice, thick lather with as much cushion as possible. Castle Forbes, Carecini, Mitchells Wool Fat, DR Harris, Truefitt & Hill, Fitjar, Coates, Cella, Penhaligons,Coates, Proraso, Trumpers and a few others are excellent in this regard. You want products that will not be drippy or dry out on your face. Straight razor shaving takes a little longer than a DE [Double Edge. Yup, looked it up] or more modern razors and these types of products work well with the process. There is also a large number of boutique soap makers out there these days making a variety of very nice soaps. There are some great glycerine and triple milled soaps and a lot of buzz on all the forums regarding the personal preferences of many people.

Common mistakes made by newbies?

The most common mistake new guys make are:

1) trying to do the whole shave the first time out
2) using too steep an angle on the razor
3) using excessively long strokes
4) applying too much pressure

When people hold a straight razor in their hands, normally the hand will bend backward at the wrist opening up the shaving angle from 45 to 90 degrees. The razor needs to remain vertical in the grip and the shaving angle should be 30 degrees or less to cut whiskers optimally. People should use short strokes with virtually no pressure and then follow up with longer clean up strokes.

Most people are amazed at how straight razors seem to get sharper as they learn to shave and how well things go when they learn proper preparation techniques. Once a person learns to use a straight razor, most are hooked for life. That silky, baby-butt-smooth feeling after a great shave is like nothing else in the world. You just can’t keep your hands off your own face.

To learn more, check out Lynn’s cheat sheet for new straight razor shavers: Part 1 and Part 2.

- Marisa

Want Want Want

March 23, 2011

Reflect Mirror $295

I’m all about conscious consumption — you know, only buying what’s really necessary, using what I already have, making old things new, etc. etc. But sometimes I’m gripped by the cold hand of consumerism and the desire for a thing, a certain specific thing, just takes over, leaving my mind humming with need.

The object is usually wildly indulgent and virtually impossible to justify. Like Reflect. This sexy, highly-designed item is both fogless shower mirror and shower head — a collision of two useful items that once combined become undeniably unnecessary. You don’t need a fogless mirror in the shower. Is it nice? Sure. Essential? Not a chance. And you definitely don’t need that fogless mirror to release a perfect stream of water for your daily ablutions.

But it sure is pretty.

- Marisa

Bad Barbie

March 17, 2011

A doll that plucks and shaves and preens and primps? A doll that sports a micro mini skirt and a midriff-baring shirt? Oh, happy day that I don’t have a daughter. I may have mud pies in each corner of my kitchen, permanent sharpie marker drawings on my walls and a bruise on my thigh in the shape of a three-year old boy’s foot (have you slept with a tossing, turning, twitchy male preschooler lately? it hurts), but at least I don’t have to worry about dolls like Mattel’s Clawdeen Wolf (of the Monster High line of dolls) presenting unhealthy body image ideas to my little girl.

Sure, my little dude’s too busy pretending to chop the cat and her kitten into teeny tiny pieces with his toy ax (yes, a toy ax . . . a birthday gift from a playful — and clearly childless — uncle) to be tempted by an R-rated Barbie doll anyway. But as an aunt and a godmother and a living, breathing, thinking human being, I still can’t help but be shocked by this toy.

On morning news shows and blogs aplenty, child psychologist after child psychologist is lining up to give their two cents on the doll’s innapropriately skimpy outfit and disturbing bio (“Favorite Activity: Shopping and flirting with the boys; Freaky Flaw: Plucking and shaving is definitely a full-time job, but that’s a small price to pay for being scarily fabulous.”)

Clinical psychologist Sari Shepphird reminded viewers of Fox News: “Young girls especially do not need a doll to point out physical flaws or encourage body image preoccupation in teens and young girls. Dolls are for play and escape and pleasure, and they should not be another source of criticism for young girls these days.”

I’ve silently cheering, agreeing and high-fiving Shepphird and her cohorts while booing the Mattel spokesperson’s lame defense of the Monster High line of characters: “[they]  deliver a positive message of celebrating ones imperfections and embracing those of others.”

I say, “boo,” but Margaret Hartmann of  Jezebel said it better: “‘It’s hard to see how obsessively removing hair from your body to fit in with other kids constitutes “celebrating imperfections.'”

Aw yeah.

– Marisa


What has the world become when a simple shaving cream pie to the face results in a trip to the hospital?

Where has all the good, clean pie-in-the-face fun gone to?

These are some of the questions I asked myself as I read this small, but telling news blurb. My jaw agape with shock and horror (agape with surprise and outrage? disgust and discouragement?), I imagined cornering the Chicago educators responsible for such negligence and asking them in a grim and unamused tone: “Do you know what’s in the average can of shaving cream? Do you?”

Well, chances are high that it contained a handful of parabens, some synthetic fragrance and a good dose of isobutane and triethanolamine.

Look ‘em up. (I dare you.)

And kids, next time request whipped cream in your face pies.

- Marisa

Scuttle on the Brain

March 7, 2011

Dirty Bird Pottery

I’ve got a scuttle on the brain.

Last week I knew nothing of this contraption. This week I’m all the wiser.

My shaving buddy, KiltedShaver (check out his super cool collection of vintage shaving goods) shared his experiences using a hand-crafted scuttle and now I’m obsessing about the humble scuttle — admiring it’s anachronistic qualities and putting it at the top of gift lists for the men in my life who have everything.

I will confess that I had to look up the exact function of a scuttle. The word alone brings up images of farm machinery or kitchen utensils (“hey, grab that scuttle and flip the pancakes please”). In actuality, the scuttle is a prized tool for the wet shaver, who fills it with hot water for his daily shave — most likely with a straight razor.

Dirty Bird Pottery makes a gorgeous midnight blue scuttle with berry red accenting (pictured). So lovely, in fact, that I could see said scuttle living a severely underused life on my bookshelf.

- Marisa


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