Not long ago, I took up traditional shaving as part of my grooming routine. Based on my personal experience so far, I certainly agree with the Art of Manliness that a traditional shave is far superior to the one you get from modern shavers. But that isn’t want I want to discuss today. It occurred to me that the traditional shave espouses many values held by our grandparents that seem to have fallen by the wayside in recent decades. In the interest of clarity, I want to point out that I’m not referring to the Babyboomers but to THEIR parents, the Greatest Generation, so “our” grandparents might not be he most accurate phrasing depending on your age. In my case it is, since my grandfather (since passed) was a World War II vet and he no doubt enjoyed a traditional shave many times in his long life.
I want to add further caveats as well. I in no way want to idealize the Greatest Generation. They were people, and in that they weren’t any better or worse than anyone around today. There were many bad things about their culture back in the day–racism and rampant misogyny, just to name a couple. But despite those moral failings that does not mean we cannot learn a bit from them, because despite the bad they had many good values as well that are sorely needed in the modern world. We should pluck up the good things and make them our own, while leaving the bad to the dust bin of history.
With that out of the way, here are four traditional values contained within the ritual of the traditional shave:
1) Thriftiness is next to Godliness
This is the value that most attracted me to traditional shaving, besides the fact that modern blades and shavers left me razor burned and stubbly. The cost of modern shaving contraptions is ridiculous–about $15 to $20 for a pack of four or five cartridges, which need to be replaced about once every month or two. You can find them cheaper, but you sacrifice quality (and your face!). By contrast, blades for a safety razor cost about a buck for a set of ten. The cost of shave soap is about the same as canned shaving cream, which is negligible, but the savings from the blades alone have been a blessing for my bank account. The up front cost of traditional shaving can be prohibitive, though, because safety razors aren’t readily available in department stores and thus new ones have to be special ordered online, with the cheapest running about $40. I was lucky enough to find mine in an antique mall for $5. Note that by “thrifty” I don’t mean “cheap”, as you’ll see in my next point…
2) The Importance of Quality
You often hear people say “they don’t make’em like they used to!”. Our grandparents valued quality over quantity, favoring things that would last years over cheap crap. This value is espoused in the traditional shave in that a good safety razor can last you a lifetime, so long as you maintain it. Too often these days we rely on disposable junk, which while cheap are ultimately a waste of money since they break easily and wind up needing to replaced. Our grandparents knew how important it was to pay for quality that would last a lifetime. They also knew the importance of…
3) Resource Conservation
When I use the word “conservation”, I don’t mean it in the ecological sense but rather that our grandparents knew how important it was not to be wasteful. After all, they grew up in the Great Depression, so they knew what it was like to go without! Modern shaving is a very wasteful habit and is has about as much of a negative impact on the environment as it does on our collective wallets. You have the cans of shave cream that ultimately wind up in the trashcan, in addition to the constant need to replace blades. With traditional shaving, the only output is a single razor blade about once a week, and the occasional need to replace a bar of shave soap. As grandpa always said (presumably–I don’t remember him every saying it), “Waste not, want not!”
Last, but certainly not least…
4) Taking Your Time
It might seem silly to say that there is skill involved in shaving, but with traditional shaving that is certainly the case. If you hack at your face with a safety razor like you do with a cartridge shaver, you’re going to end up looking like something out of a B-grade slasher flick. In our modern age of McDonald’s style standardization, we value convenience and speed over all else. Our grandparent’s knew that if you wanted something to turn out well, you took your time doing it. A traditional shave might take a bit more time, but the end result is a much better shave and a much happier face. That’s worth a couple extra minutes in the morning, in my book.
What other values of the Greatest Generation can you think of that we would benefit from today?