The Return of Classical (and Manly) Shaving

By now, millions have seen the Gillette “short film,” where men are depicted as unthinking rubes and bullies, presumably in need of the scolding reform only a great razor can offer. To show their agreement with the hegemonic monoculture, businesses like Gillette no longer sell product; they sell ideology—and not even that, but the acceptance and approval that comes from mouthing the catechism of that culturally dominant ideology.

Real men, however, are likely to reject this product in favor of something less insulting. If fact, they already are.

The virtue signaling of our corporations would not be such outlandish balderdash if they were not simple appeals to an unreflective stereotype. Gillette seems to forget its older campaign, in which men were depicted as being appropriately gentlemanly, especially toward women. The 1989 commercial also shows a husband cherishing his newborn. Is this what Gillette now rejects?

The very essence of being not just a man, but a gentleman, is under attack in our upside-down political culture. What is toxic about a man trying to woo a woman (think of who has all the real power in that exchange), or anticipating the return of the woman he loves and can’t wait to embrace in an airport? In fact, those are typically male traits.

The older marketing campaign reaffirmed the nature of man, while also appealing to his better angels. The new campaign blames men for their birth while hectoring them to become eunuchs. Gillette executives, apparently already so altered and hostage to politically correct culture of all normal Americans’ nightmares, ridicules the complexities involved in becoming a gentleman.

In Search of the Best Shave
On the practical side of things, modern shave companies have been fighting a losing battle. The cheap plastic construction of most razors has contributed to a product that irritates instead of soothes, especially as rows thin multiple blades are added to the cartridges. “MadTV”—when it was funny—spoofed the ridiculousness of the mainstream shave companies when the comedy crew lampooned the penchant for an ever-increasing amount of blades on their unaffordable and low-quality cartridges. Men have been seeking an alternative to that for well over a decade now. And, in increasing numbers, they are finding that some things just cannot be improved upon, and nothing beats the classic razors of old.

The reawakening of an old school manliness, especially as it applies to shaving, has been underway for some time. As one paper noted, sales of high-quality safety razors are on the rise. Classic shaving companies are seeing their sales increase by 40-60 percent from 2009-2014. These are not your various subscription service clubs that are becoming more popular, such as Harry’s or Dollar Shave club. Those companies are a cheaper alternative to the same product we find in our big box stores.

No, there is something else afoot that is in its nascent stages: classical shaving.

The straight razor (with strop) or even the safety razor is something a man can pass onto his son. It does not break. It is not cheaply made. The double-sided razors are exquisite even as the famous Feather razor blades sell for pennies on the dollar. The process of using a brush, water, soap (or shave cream), followed up by an alum block and aftershave (lotion or balm) is something that appeals to the gentleman. The reason for the rise of classical shaving equipment is not just because the shave is closer and better for the skin, but because it is manly and a civilized man does not reject his nature, he embraces it.

Men Shouldn’t Deny Who They Are
The process of this kind of shaving is appealing to a man who cares for himself, and for those around him. He passes it on, and teaches the gentlemanly art of caring for oneself in an appropriate way. The product and manner of his shave accoutrements reflect his civilized soul.

Horace could not have said it better when he wrote in his Epistles that, “you may drive nature out with a pitchfork, yet she’ll constantly be running back, and before you know it, will burst triumphantly through your foolish caprices.” The meaning is that no matter what one does to try to expel nature, it will fail miserably.

Harvey Mansfield once wrote that manliness is “confidence in the face of risk.” The recent Gillette advertisement seeks to strip men of their natural inclination toward risk and make them unnaturally feminine, or even in the new pitchfork vogue, genderless. They seek to rid men of their competitive nature, which means they want to eliminate the deliberate inclination to courage.

But, to be a gentleman means to inhabit the area in-between the extremes of a neutered male, and an uncivilized man. Mansfield writes, “virtue attaches to a being, a human being, as to what is best and to what is usual in him.” Being a gentleman does not mean rejecting one’s nature, it means to temporize our lesser angels while, at the same time, not denying who we are. The man who does not care for his soul or his appetite, becomes “bland, unexpressive creature of no interest or no significance.”

The message of the modern shaving industry is to sacrifice style to fashion. It is fashionable to be unmanly, to virtue signal leftist tropes, and to shave with cheap razors. But style never goes out of fashion.

The classical shaving process, using durable and practical materials, is an expressive art where men become gentlemen and pass the art down to other potential gentlemen. As far as shaving is concerned, that is the best a man can get.

Memo to our corporations who want to lecture us how to live and behave in their cheap leftist and genderless melodrama: Real men will not be bullied by you, and gentlemen will walk away from your inferior products.

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About Erik Root

Erik Root, Ph.D is a writer living in North Carolina.

Photo: Razor blade on handle bar mustache, close up for movember concept