What is “traditional” shaving for men?

Let’s face it…much of what we call “traditional” shaving has little to do with most men’s experience of shaving.

The very concept of “tradition” is a culture-bound phenomenon, so we need to ask “traditional” for whom? Yes, my Dad used a brush and a Double-edged (DE) razor, not so much because he wanted to, but because that’s pretty much all that was available in his day. He didn’t have a weekly “rotation” of brushes and razors, nor did he need an extra cabinet in the bathroom to house the dozens of soaps, creams, razors, mugs, and associated paraphernalia that I seem to need. Were he still alive today he would probably take one look at all that stuff and slap me up the backside of the head! And he never sought out a straight razor in order to get that connection to his “manly” roots, because he was pretty busy working two jobs just to keep us fed and clothed. That was manly enough for him thank you! And when I first started wet-shaving with an eye to bringing some “tradition” into the process in the early ’80’s (before kids came along and I too had only enough time to shave as quickly as possible and get out and earn everyone’s living), frankly, I had no clue about the vast gamut of “traditional” shaving products available. Sure I manged to find a good shaving brush after a pilgrimage to New York City, and a tub of Caswell-Massey shave cream was readily available at their store in The City. But it is in fact the Internet that has really enabled the current renaissance of interest in so-called traditional shaving. The various products we associate with the term “traditional”, such as shaving creams, soaps, exotic lotions and potions, etc., certainly have history; they’ve been around for many years. But, I suspect, many of these products were also somewhat elitist and likely accessible by only a few well-heeled “gentlemen”. Most older men I have spoken with about shaving confessed to basically using hand-soap to shave with and usually the collected remnants of their bath and hand bars which they accumulated in a mug and shaved with. Talk about environmental consciousness!

So let’s face it, there’s little “traditional” about traditional wet-shaving, other than that the products have been around for many years (unless you come from a long line of English and French “dandies”, in which case it probably is traditional for you). It’s like saying that a Leica camera is about “traditional photography”. Which tradition would that be, I’d like to know? Film was only one stage in the evolution of photography, and a Leica was always a very exclusive (read expensive) camera, certainly not part of anyone’s “tradition” other than a few great professionals. So when it comes to shaving, I like Leisureguy’s term “Gourmet Shaving” which better captures the more exclusive and passionate nature of this endeavor.


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