Part One of Three
Each of my six groomsmen received a cutthroat razor the evening before my wedding as an advanced token of my appreciation for their service. A letter with dual entreaties accompanied. I asked, firstly, that they consider the razor as more than a symbolic gesture—that they each learn to use it, and in learning, discover something of themselves. Secondly, and somewhat more importantly, I asked that they postpone their first go with the thing until after the big day. Nothing ruins an honest union like a badly bleeding wedding party. My hope was that, in a month’s time or so, they would discover that shaving can be a ritual, and the accouterments required for doing it properly stir something of value in most men.
Cutthroat or straight razors are the easiest of these objects to appreciate, but, by a very wide margin, the most difficult to use. A good one has an obvious balance, even in unpracticed hands. The unfolded blade suggests the correct grip and, once assumed, is lighter and far more agile than one might anticipate for so outmoded an apparatus. While the design might inspire a surgeon’s confidence, bringing the blade to a creamed-in two day beard requires nothing short of bravery. My only advice to interested parties is to research and then consistently practice the technique—the short essay is not the correct medium for so nuanced and hazardous a pastime. The curve is steep and full of nicks. And while a straight razor shave is as close as it gets, the real reward is the half hour spent patiently acquiring it.
Pastime really is the correct word for straight razor shaving. Ask a fisherman how he prefers to spend his time; pulling fish from the water will almost certainly be second to tying flies and tending to his rod. A razor’s edge requires honing on a strop—a thick cowhide strip backed with course linen that is the only way of realigning the delicate cutting edge. Emollients, soaps, brushes and aftershaves deserve an essay of their own. But unless the practitioner has become a master, being categorized as a pastime also excludes straight razor shaving from the daily routine. Proficiency is not enough; any pressure to perform quickly might come to a grisly end. A safety razor is for most men the better implement for the daily grind. The real thing needs a weekend’s hour.