Gentleman of Leisure: Shaving

Martin Marks

Gentleman of Leisure is writer, erstwhile lecturer and notionally overeducated Martin Marks's PAPERMAG column on the things he likes and why.

Once upon a time, all a man needed for a good shave was a sharp blade, a bar of soap, an old mug, and a freshly caught badger (the bristles for lathering, the haunches for eating). But as razors started taking on the names and structural components once reserved for F-16 fighter jets, we entered the Era of the Product, and my bathroom soon filled with enough balms, salves, and ointments to give the pachyderms at Barnum and Bailey’s a spa day. Pre- shave, post-shave, meta-shave, inter- and intra-shave -- prefixes so difficult to parse that I did what any sensible person would do; I grew a beard. But when my facial hair transitioned from refined to academic to Unabomber-esque, I thought it high time to go back to the medicine cabinet.

I could never test these products on my own. There were too many of them, and far too little time. Naturally, I’d need some subjects to shave. Though the thought of having a finely shorn Long-Tailed Macaque scampering about the apartment seemed like a fine idea indeed, test monkey season doesn’t start for another four months (November to February; just in time for the Holiday rush!), so I thought I’d descend the evolutionary wrung and try all these products on the most expendable life form of all: the PAPER Magazine interns.

I contacted my editor, requesting that she send me a list of potential “volunteers” along with their 8x10 glossy shots and a detailed list of their bench-pressing abilities. Only the most able-bodied of simian-terns would do! However, when my editor discovered that these interns may or may not be installing my air-conditioner -- there’s no such thing as a free shave! -- I was left to my own devices. Thus, having rummaged through my medicine cabinet, I’m happy to document my own acts of barber-ic onanism.

Having washed my face vigorously -- I like to think of Joan Crawford’s children scrubbing a floor -- I pat my cheeks and jowls with a thin coat of olive oil. That’s right. Plain, extra-virgin olive oil -- good for drizzling on mozzarella, and taming a beard. If one wants to get fancy about it, mix one part olive oil with one part castor oil, thus replicating the major ingredients of most $20 pre-shave de-whiskerers.

And we now reach the point in the column where I ask my father and/or his legal representatives to stop reading, for I have a terrible, terrible confession to make: I’ve stopped using a shaving brush. This oldy-worldy implement became a relic shortly after I discovered Sharps Barber and Shop Kid Glove Shave Gel ($13). Its balance of aloe and glycerin, lightly scented with rosemary and mint, refreshes as it invigorates.

Too many aftershaves smell like metal or burn like the dickens, leaving one’s face as scorched as the Sahara. Having tested enough aftershaves to fill a kiddy-pool, I still haven’t found anything better than Tabac, a German aftershave my father discovered in the 1960s when he was stationed in Berlin with the Royal Air Force. Complementing the scent of late-night cigarettes, Tabac’s blend of oakmoss, lavender, and bergamot soothes the parched desert of one’s face without smelling too musky. And if one can get over the Ron Burgundy chic bottle, then Tabac’s definitely worth having in one’s medicine cabinet.

Your grandfather always had the ever-necessary alum stick next to his straight razor, and now, there’s L’Occitane’s Cade Shaving Stick ($12) for any nicks, cuts, or arterial blood that toilet paper just won’t clot. Though the aluminum/aluminium pronunciation debate continues in our household, my father and I (and his legal representatives) can agree on the alum stick’s usefulness when finishing up a quick shave.

To revitalize and revitaminize your skin after all of this, Kiehl’s Facial Fuel ($29.50) has a refreshing mix of citrus, caffeine, and menthol that goes on light. You’ll be clean shaven, and with enough energy to make you want to go out and lather up a three ton grizzly bear! But I suppose that’s what the interns are for.

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