From my story about how I became interested in old school wet shaving:
After I return home I immediately start surfing the internet, trying to learn more about this way of shaving…and discover that there’s damned little information out there. I eventually discover the MSN Wetshavers forum (now defunct) and my education begins…. I am also fortunate to live within driving distance of Austin, TX, where Charles Roberts (owner of Enchante’ which is happily not defunct) is happy to share with me some of the finer points of traditional shaving (along with his “Method” shaving style). Over the course of the next year I slowly learn (and learn to appreciate…and begin to advocate to my friends) shaving with a brush and traditional lather. I graduate from a Mach3 to a single-blade safety razor to an adjustable safety razor. As my own shaving technique matures I discover that I can actually offer some advice to “newbies” on the discussion board once in a while.
It’s amazing to me that not so long ago there was very little information available on the internet about traditional wet shaving. I mean, I got interested in 2004, less than 10 years ago. Around that time there were only a couple shaving forums, a handful of vendors, one blog, and no videos. And before that point there was virtually nothing available.
Straight Razor Place on Yahoo! Groups started in 2000 and Wetshavers on MSN Groups started in 2003 (Actually there were two wetshaving groups on MSN, each starting independently after a previous group suddenly closed, but one–administrated by the late, great Ray Dupont of Classic Shaving–got more traffic than the other. I’ve heard stories about how that previous group suddenly closed but that was before my time.)
Like an archeaologist you can still find bits and pieces of these original groups using The Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive. For example:
Unfortunately you can’t read individual messages from the Internet Archive; apparently they weren’t saved.
Forums were pretty basic back then, with functionality not much more than the old dial-up bulletin board systems (BBS’s). Searching for specific messages or data was a joke. But the groups were bound together by the solidarity of voices crying out in the wilderness (membership numbers were in the hundreds, not the tens-of-thousands that you see today). Everyone helped each other as best as could be done at the time, usually by textual descriptions (with an occasional linked image thrown in). If you were really lucky, you were able to meet another member (or one of the few vendors at that time. But I’m getting ahead of myself…) and get some information or technique “face to face,” which would then be shared with the rest of the group. I was lucky enough to be within driving distance of Enchante’ in Austin, TX, where I would occasionally spend a day learning from owner Charles Roberts. After one of these shaving marathons I would dutifully post what we discussed on MSN
(You don’t hear much about Charles these days–and what you do hear from others may be less than flattering–but in the early-to-mid 2000’s he was a prominent figure in the wet shaving world, promoting wet shaving and his own Method Shaving, teaching shave technique, and offering products that were difficult to find in the U.S. at the time. Charles flies more under the radar these days, particularly leaving teaching the basics to others, but he’s still about five years ahead of everyone else when it comes to researching the various aspects of wet shaving).
Straight Razor Place moved from Yahoo! Groups to a .com domain in 2005. MSN Groups closed in 2007: a lot of the MSN Wetshaving group migrated to Shave My Face (and are still there, a treasure trove of in-depth knowledge).
Then–as now–the wet shaving forums were a remarkably civil place compared to other internet discussion forums. There wasn’t a whole lot of obvious trolling or mean-spirited comments. Of course, that’s not to say it was without acrimony! In fact it was a dramatic “disagreement” that lead one MSN user to create Shave My Face. Which in-turn begat Badger and Blade. Which in turn begat several other forums. I think I can safely say that the proliferation of shaving forums over the past couple of years is at least partly due to the unhappiness of a user over another forum. I do wish forum owners and administrators would be a little more open about how they “monetize” their sites and how disagreements are managed.
The shaving forums (and subforums of large social sites like Reddit’s Wicked Edge) can be a great place to get some help on learning to shave. But it really pays to “lurk” for a while to get a feel for the place before diving in. Some forums may not have a lot of traffic but the experience level of the user base is very deep. Others may try to be “everything to everybody.” Still others may specialize in a particular aspect of the shaving skill. And be sure to take a look at the forum’s “Terms Of Usage,” “Posting Guidelines,” “Terms and Conditions,” etc. too! Forums are not necessarily democratic institutions. Some are more restrictive of what they allow their users to do than others. It’s also worth considering that a forum may be a revenue-generating proposition: it might be part of a commercial site, encourage (or require!) memberships, or otherwise try to sell you something.
There were a handful of wet shaving vendors in the U.S. when I began my journey, and it’s a testament to their business acumen and their customer service skills that many of them are still around. These include Classic Shaving, Em’s Place (now Shave Place), Lee’s Razors, Enchante’, and QED. QED is worth special mention because it began life as a “brick and mortar” store in 1982! The Art of Shaving was just getting off the ground.
Inventory was quite limited by today’s standards–I have heard stories of vendors travelling to Europe and bringing back products in their luggage! However some who were around at the time might say the quality of the products were higher than many of those found today.
Anyway, many vendors–especially the well-established ones–know the value of providing some education to their clients. It makes for happier customers who (hopefully) keep coming back for more product. And it helps differentiate their service from those who simply sell (or resell).
Many well-established vendors have their own educational resources. Emily at Shave Place has even gone so far as to establish a completely seperate site, Shave Info. Just keep in mind they’re trying to sell you something.
Blogs are everywhere now, but not so long ago they were almost unheard of (and generally not even called “blogs”). The two seminal shave blogs are generally considered to be Corey Greenberg’s shaveblog (started in 2005) and the shaving category in Leisureguy’s wordpress blog (started in 2006).
Corey Greenberg was a technology reporter for NBC (and previously an editor for a high-end audio magazine) who “just wanted a good shave.” Corey’s responsible for a truly watershed event in the old school wet shaving world: he got a gig on NBC TV’s Today Show about it in 2005:
It’s hard to underestimate the significance of this event. It was seen by millions of people and wet shaving vendors reported selling a year’s worth of inventory in a month’s time. Seeing that reaction Corey decided to try his hand at a new thing on the web at the time, the “blog.” He capitalized on the trend by calling his new site “shaveblog.” It was pretty popular, especially with new wet shavers. He wrote colorfully: “shavegeek” and “faceturbation” were among terms he coined that have since come into relatively common usage. Unfortunately, that same “colorful” language tended to alienate some of the more experienced wet shavers and he took some flack for it.
Corey has since moved on from writing about shaving though he will still mention something about it from time to time on his Twitter stream.
The other early shaving blog was (and continues to be) written by Michael “Leisureguy” Ham. Michael has been a prolific writer on many different subjects but the shaving category of his blog continues to be widely followed and helped popularize “shave of the day” posts that provide quick opinions on products he is using for his shaves. He is also responsible for distilling a lot of the “genetic memory” of shaving, along with his own experiences, into his Guide To The Gourmet Shaving Experience. The Guide has since been published as a book.
Now there are a plethora of blogs. In fact it’s getting hard to keep track of them all. But most are variations on a theme: bite-sized opinions of products and recent news. Some will discuss an aspect of shave technique once in a while.
Blogs are useful for gathering a consensus about products or news. They are less useful for learning the skills of shaving.
Again quoting my “about me” page:
In the late spring of 2006 a casual comment in a discussion thread on the Wetshavers forum suggests “someone needs to do a video on how to shave!” The general concensus is that the idea is appealing but probably too difficult to do. After all, you really need to see lather in three dimensions and be able to feel it to truly understand it, and a lot of the background techniques really need to be shown “in person.” Or so went the thinking. It was also felt that the video technology of the day wasn’t quite up to the quality that was necessary to properly demonstrate shaving.
But it stirred something inside me. I have a degree in TV/radio broadcasting (the engineering part, not the production part) though I had been out of the industry for many years (I liked to eat). Still, I knew the basics of putting together a video and I had just won a Panasonic GS9 camcorder a few months before while a attending an convention so I decided to experiment around a little. I put together some test footage using Windows Movie Maker, posted it to the newly-popular YouTube, and asked the MSN guys to comment. I got some really good feedback and suddenly it didn’t seem so impossible. I deleted the test footage and put up the three part “introductory” series that you still see on the channel.
I can’t say I’m the first person to make a video about how to shave. But I’m pretty sure I was among the first to use a new social media channel (YouTube) to teach a skill that was on the wane. And I got lucky: my first videos got picked up my some of the web’s heavy-hitters of the day, including Rocketboom, Digg, and Lifehacker (in fact I get referral traffic from Lifehacker to this day).
Of course, I’m not the only one making shaving videos. There are good videos out there on just about every aspect of the shaving experience (including Rule 34). Some are better than others: the good ones tend to be mid-length (more than 5 minutes but less than 20), high-definition resolution, and show more than just a face being shaved.
Videos may be the best way to learn how to shave if it can’t be taught to you in person. Look for videos from established producers that are not too long and have good production values.
If you find this post useful be sure to share it with your friends who are learning how to shave!