Essay #2: Wet Shaving and the Search for the Perfect Shave
About This Essay
Several years ago Charles A. Roberts, creator of the Hydrolast brand and Method Shaving movement, authored a series of essays that ignited a surge of interest in wet shaving. These essays offered an innovative approach to maximizing the results of the razor and shaving brush, and provided many men a great introduction to a world of luxury shaving they never knew existed. The Original "Shaving Graces" Resurrected!
With few exceptions I have commonly done little to elaborate the subject of shaving beyond its most remedial forms. It is now time, however, to advance our discussion into the realm of connoisseur class shaving known as “The Roberts Method of Wet Shaving” (RMWS). Since this subject is quite vast, I will confine my remarks to specific elements of my shaving method that are strictly conceptual in nature. For considerations of space, I will reserve any discussion of the evolutionary aspects of the method for a later essay. This is not to suggest that the history of the RMWS merely occupies a negligible part of our story. Rather, my chief concern in this present discussion is to give some account of the growing popularity of my method both in America and Europe.
First, it is important to understand that my method of shaving entails both process and product. It is also reflective of a distinctively masculine expression of living within the world. Simply put, a man who is dedicated to the perfection of his own shaving experience is simply a superior man, or Higher Man.
Without the Higher Man all life on this planet would rapidly decline to an abject Hobbesian condition. All true quality begins and ends with the judgment of the Higher Man. It is the Higher Man who travels about the world and is edified, not discouraged, by the joys and sufferings that he sees. The Higher Man is an assiduous follower of all that is noble and decent in the world. It is the Higher Man who searches for the elusive source of a single violin he hears playing somewhere in the middle of the night.
The Higher Man loves poetry—Shakespeare, Dante, and Yeats. He also loves beautiful music and a beautiful woman to share it with. He loves the land of his ancestors; he rejoices in their achievements and is warmed by their memory. The Higher Man is never a citizen of the world. He lives in a time and place of his own choosing—a place to which he is wedded for life. For he knows that the world is too vast for him to have a rooted place just anywhere. It is the Higher Man who sets his face against the dreary, hot winds of tedium and mediocrity; he always strives to redeem the time in which he lives. And with few exceptions, the Higher Man is a devoted—and often fanatical—lover of wet shaving. Indeed, the virtues of wet shaving attract the Higher Man in much the same way that the lure of tailored clothes attracts the lover of fine music; it is the attraction of like sensibilities to a common experience. The beauties of worldly quality are no mystery to the Higher Man.
In its purest, most refined form, wet shaving ignites the motive power of the Higher Man like the power of love inspires the songs of poets. The attractive power of wet shaving is a “universal” one in the true meaning of that much abused expression. Wet shaving appeals to the innate longing of mankind to experience perfection as a full, lived experience on this side of the grave—not beyond it.
Today the traditional practice of wet shaving is being increasingly replaced by the Roberts Method. This is not to suggest that wet shaving is not the extraordinary thing that it has always been. Rather, the prospects of wet shaving have been dramatically improved through its evolution as the Roberts Method.
The real dimensions of this event can be best understood as a uniquely distinct form of disciplined shaving. I call this method of wet shaving “systematic” shaving. Others have described it as “consummate grooming.” Its purpose is both grandiose and definitive: to provide a man with the absolute best shaving experience in his life—every single day of his life. And it is by way of describing the precise nature of this grand experience that I offer up the following thoughts.
Within the last generation, it has become increasingly apparent to shavers throughout the United States and Europe that something is dreadfully wrong with conventional approaches to shaving. The unredeemed discomfort of chronic razor burn, as well as the cost and inconvenience of the “shave-in-a-can,” has impoverished the lives of men by the millions. It increasingly seems that the crutch of shaving convenience for the 1950s man is now the crown of thorns for the present generation.
The daily iniquity of plastic razor shaving is fast approaching its long awaited end. For in the same way that the delicious marvels of Starbucks—with its Grandees, Lattes and Frappachinos-- unseated the lifeless tyranny of sawdust coffee in a can, so is the living miracle of wet shaving replacing the dead hand of convention in men’s shaving. For you, dear reader, this means that the lifeless is yielding to the exhilarating; the predictable to the eventful; the sorrowful to the joyful. The epoch of the “perfect” shave is at hand. The miracle of the perfect shaving experience has been launched upon the world!
In accounting for this new epoch in men’s shaving, however, it is necessary to closely scrutinize the relative merits of wet shaving in general. Specifically, we must clearly establish the merits of three distinct claims: a). The overall superiority of wet shaving (how it works) b). The superiority of its effects (the benefits it produces). c). The superiority of its inner logic (why it works). I will elaborate each claim in order to establish as clearly as possible its importance for the individual shaver.
a). The superiority of wet shaving is a subject to which I have returned many times in various discussions on my Internet essays on the subject. Indeed, as I hope that I have shown in these discussions, the unquestioned superiority of this method over any rival form can be submitted to both absolute and relative demonstration. Wet shaving is absolutely superior because it represents a complete—and infinitely customized—system of shaving. Indeed, the inherent capacity for continuous improvement in its results ranks as one of wet shaving’s most powerful certitudes. At the same time, this approach is also relatively superior in that other shaving methods can not produce similar results regardless of favorable circumstances.
b). The “effective” superiority of wet shaving in general is a topic that is rarely discussed largely because it is often confused with its overall “technical” superiority. In other words, this view holds that wet shaving’s decisive superiority over conventional shaving practices is based strictly on the “tools of the trade” commonly used in wet shaving. The tools—shaving brush, shave cream and razor—certainly contribute significantly to the impressive “efficiency” of wet shaving. Yet their specific contribution to its effectiveness is mostly of a secondary order.
This fact, however, satisfies only part of the explanation we are looking for. Of greater concern is the fact that the wet shaving process directly improves the effectiveness of shaving in three crucial ways. First, it provides the shaver with a highly reliable method for “softening” the beard prior to shaving. Second, it “stands” the beard for efficient cutting through the rotating motion of the shaving brush. Third, it produces a robust “heavy water platform” through the rapid infusion of high water into the beard.
The importance, in particular, of this third element can not be overstated. By infusing the beard with high volumes of water, the wet shaving process in effect creates a “buffer” cutting surface. This surface acts as a type of “second skin,” thus permitting the shaver to shave with a degree of closeness that would be otherwise impossible to achieve—without incurring serious facial injury as a result. (For those of you obsessed with the technical eccentricities of the skin care trade, the second skin acts in fact as a replacement "“lipid barrier.”)
The combination of these three elements directly contribute to the increased effectiveness of shaving by ensuring that the shaving terrain is suitably prepared for cutting from the beginning of the shave itself. In this regard, one might say that the overall “efficiency” of wet shaving is the direct result of its specific, first order, effectiveness. By contributing directly to the creation of a well-conditioned shaving terrain, proper wet shaving ensures that a man’s daily shave is both efficiently and effectively executed.
c). Finally, it is important that we briefly reflect on the “inner logic” of wet shaving. This will provide clear justification for the claim that wet shaving is superior to any other system of shaving in existence. In general rational human beings are persuaded to adopt a new course of action on the basis of compelling, cognitive evidence that the proposed course of action is demonstrably superior to any other. Perhaps more than any other approach to human problem solving, this form of instrumentalist approach has proven not only the most reliable. It has also proven to be the most enduring in terms of human evolutionary development.
In its purest form, the practice of wet shaving is one of the most brilliantly logical—and efficacious—systems of human problem management ever devised. I use the curious term “management” for the explicit reason that the “shaving problem” is never completely solved. A man’s beard always grows back. A beard never cuts exactly the same way twice. And shaving products—even the best in the world—must be used in dynamic combinations for best results.
These facts, however, do not impair our pursuit of the optimal solution offered by wet shaving, since the latter, when performed properly, makes shaving a profoundly enjoyable experience. In this way, not only is the “shaving problem” effectively resolved, but it is directly converted into one of mankind’s most profoundly intense pleasures.
The compelling logic of wet shaving can be best appreciated by comparing it with the glaring illogic of the conventional “shave in a can” approach. In this regard, the latter is decidedly inferior in three important respects:
First, it is incapable of delivering sufficient volumes of water to the cutting surface. Second, it is incapable of providing a superior shave across the broadest possible spectrum of variable shaving conditions. Third, it is incapable of continuous improvement.
In all three of these instances, the binding, inelastic nature of conventional “shave-can” methods exhausts the imaginative efforts of any man to significantly improve. More importantly, the inability of this method of shaving to deliver sufficient water to the cutting surface is the number one reason for razor burn. By extension, this restriction of water flow to the beard severely limits the cutting capacity of the razor. In other words, only the lightest range of beards can be adequately removed using the conventional “shave-can” approach. Finally, this approach is inelastic in nearly all respects; that is, it can not be improved in any manner without essentially dispensing with the entire method itself.
Based on the foregoing analysis, it is entirely evident that the innate superiority of wet shaving has little to do with the fact that it is merely different from conventional “shave-can” methods. Rather, its superiority is based on the clear and effective advantage that it affords the shaver at every step of the beard reduction process. This fact clearly suggests that wet shaving is a dynamic, not a static method; that it is expansive, not restrictive; and that it is both effective in scope and efficient in process. Wet shaving is, in short, perfect in form and infinitely perfectible in degree. These facts, I believe, sufficiently account for wet shaving’s unchallenged place at the pinnacle of men’s grooming.