[Paleopsych] NYT: Online Shopper: Look Sharp. Feel Sharp. Be Sharp.

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Fashion & Style > Online Shopper: Look Sharp. Feel Sharp. Be Sharp.
April 14, 2005


    MY husband is a suspicious man. Recently, for instance, he decided
    someone in the house had been sneaking around, using his disposable
    safety razor. I found him at the sink, draping a hair over the blade.

    "You can't possibly be doing what I think you're doing," I said.

    "I was laying a trap," he said. "To catch you red-handed."

    I spoke slowly and deliberately: "No one is using your razor."

    "How do you explain this?" he asked, pointing to a scrape on his neck.
    "That shouldn't happen with a two-day-old razor."

    It did look as if he had been shaving with a doughnut. Let me
    reiterate for the record that no one else is using or has ever used
    his razor. Despite his accusation, I felt moved by his plight.

    Shaving shouldn't be a chore. Once there was a time, in an era of
    neighborhood barbershops and soothing mentholated balms, when this
    task enjoyed the exalted status of a comforting grooming ritual.

    Drugstore disposables own the market now. But I had heard about a
    growing subculture of shaving mugs and rich lathers, a world of
    bristle brushes and razors with a little heft to them. Figuring the
    Internet might be the place where such a movement thrives, I went
    online to look.

    All it took was a Google keyword search for "badger bristles" to
    arrive at the strange and amazing culture of old-fashioned shaving
    gear and to learn that, yes, a shaving renaissance was under way.

    My grandfather would have been at home shopping online. At
    [1]www.classicshaving.com, I found old-fashioned, no-nonsense shaving
    gear like straight-edge razors, strops and hones. Sites like
    [2]www.menessentials.com sold cakes of shave soap, the kind that sits
    in a shaving mug awaiting lathering. Bricks-and-mortar shops like the
    Art of Shaving, which has three stores in Manhattan, offered products
    including brushes with faux ivory handles online at

    Even more fascinating was the accompanying literature. I found
    articles that read like a male hygiene version of the Bill of Rights,
    describing why men are entitled to nice-smelling lathers and a smooth

    At [4]MenEssentials.com, James Whittall, the site's owner, wrote a
    10-point "MANifesto." Point No. 7 proclaimed, "Men shouldn't have to
    buy their skin and grooming products from women's cosmetics counters
    or girly online 'beauty' stores."

    "A lot of things have happened to crystallize the shaving
    renaissance," Mr. Whittall said in a telephone conversation. "Guys are
    looking for something that feels a little bit better than a disposable
    razor and a can of shave foam."

    At [5]www.enchanteonline.com, the owner, Charles Roberts, sells a line
    of cutting balms ($35 to $65 per bottle), moisturizing creams ($35
    apiece) and aromatic spray tonics ($15 for four ounces) that he
    created while relying on the principles he describes in "Shaving
    Graces," a collection of essays.

    "The task of shaving has been reduced to the tedium of a daily
    misery," Mr. Roberts wrote.

    I phoned, wondering why the situation had deteriorated so badly.

    "The onset of mass marketing," Mr. Roberts said. "After World War II
    there was a generational break, where every man who used a shaving
    brush got rapidly converted to the exciting concept of shaving cream
    from an aerosol can."

    Mr. Roberts said newfangled products will never provide "the grand
    experience" of "the dance of shave brush and razor across the skin."

    By now I was armed with arguments for spending money on throwback
    gear. All I needed to know was what to buy. Ray Dupont, who owns
    [6]ClassicShaving.com, offers phone consultations.

    "Can you recommend a basic kit for beginners?" I asked him.

    "Not really," he said. "That's like trying to buy one-size-fits-all
    underwear. It might fit, but the odds are it won't. Shaving equipment
    is a very personal item."

    I said: "I'll describe my husband. He's kind of paranoid and thinks
    other people are using his stuff. "

    Mr. Dupont cut me off. "He should call me himself," he said. "I'll
    quiz him about his beard and skin conditions and what scent he likes."

    "He might not have time to phone," I said.

    "Ask him," Mr. Dupont said.

    My husband dropped what he was doing and called. Journalist that he
    is, he took notes. Here is a portion of the transcript of the

    Mr. Dupont: "Why do you want to switch?"

    Husband: "I live among many women, a house full of females, and they
    will often steal my blade, use it and then nicely put it back. Next
    thing I know, dull."

    Mr. Dupont: "You need something they won't use."

    Husband: "A straight edge?"

    Mr. Dupont: "Are you a straight-edge kind of guy? Do you change your
    own oil?"

    Husband: "No."

    Mr. Dupont: "Do you wash your own car?"

    Husband: "No."

    Mr. Dupont: "You're a safety razor guy. Go with a double-edge, a
    single blade with an edge on either side. A lot of women find them
    intimidating to use."

    Afterward my husband wrote a wish list. On it was the Vision (the
    top-of-the-line safety razor from Merkur, a European maker, $119.99 at
    ClassicShaving.com), the Vulfix No. 2236 badger brush, $89.99
    (described by Mr. Dupont as "a brush with a little more meat on its
    bones"), a ceramic mug with an unscented soap cake ($12.99 for both)
    and blade refills ($4.59 for 10).

    I bought it all. I wonder how well the fancy razor works on legs.


    1. http://www.classicshaving.com/
    2. http://www.menessentials.com/
    3. http://www.theartofshaving.com/
    4. http://MenEssentials.com/
    5. http://www.enchanteonline.com/
    6. http://ClassicShaving.com/

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