Once in awhile, consumers size up a product over-engineered, over-hyped and, inevitably, overpriced stew about it and finally say, "Enough is enough."
More men are doing that with their shaving habits. It's not a groundswell, but it's a healthy subculture.
For much of their adult lives, these men went along with the marketing in those cartoonish TV commercials showing the first blade slicing through the whisker, followed closely by a second blade that cut even closer before the facial hair had time to snap back into place.
Twin-blade cartridges eventually gave way to three blades, led by the mighty Gillette Mach 3, with the pivoting head, a lubricating strip and "microfins." Gillette and its competitors didn't stop there. Now some razors have five blades, and those refill cartridges are so expensive they're locked away like jewelry at the big-box drugstores.
About five years ago, I turned my back on this modern, pricey way of shaving and joined those who lather up their whiskers with a badger hair brush and get a close shave with a one double-edged blade.
I had never before owned such a razor. I came of age using disposable razors and had graduated to those uber-cartridges. Now, I was going to shave the way Cary Grant shaved classic and timeless. I already used fountain pens I fill with ink from a bottle, and I've been riding a pared-down, fixed-gear bike the past 10 years. I simply like things that work and don't do more than we want or need.
With my Merkur two-sided safety razor, shaving takes skill and has become a ritual that gives the morning routine a shot of soulfulness.
You wash your face, wet your whiskers with the hottest water you can stand, lather up some shaving soap or fine shaving cream that comes out of a tube, and, holding the razor the way you would hold a baby bird, you take your time. You can hear the lone blade cut through the stubble, and it's a satisfying, simple sound.
The appreciation for classic habits has also been revived at barber shops, themselves nearly wiped out in recent decades by hair salons. At Barber Blues on 14th Street, owner Jason Iverson is busier than ever with his hot lather, steaming towels and glistening straight razor.
"It seems to be a growing trend. I don't know whether it's by default or design," Iverson said on a recent weekday "At our shop, we're trying to reclaim the traditional standard for men's grooming, and part of that is the traditional straight razor shave I've already done four this morning."
Asked to define the kind of men seeking a barbershop shave, Iverson said, "I'm seeing a mix of guys ranging from their early 20s to their 60s and 70s. Every time I think I've got my client pegged, it changes with the next person who walks through the door. It's more of a sophistication thing, someone who appreciates quality."
That kind of shave generally is considered an occasional treat. Iverson charges $18 for a standard shave and $25 for one that includes pre- and post-shave skin treatment.
Old-school shaving, whether in a barber's chair with the straight razor or at home with the simple tool known as a safety razor, comes with its own world of products.
There are creams and shaving soaps made in England, Italy and Spain. There are badger hair brushes that cost $50 and up (badger hair is coveted for the way it holds water and is considered superior to cheaper synthetic brushes). The safety razors cost $30 and up, and last forever. You simply unscrew the top to change blades every three to five shaves, depending on the toughness of your beard. The blades cost pennies.
Shave creams can become something of a fetish. Some, like the Italian Proraso or Musgo Real made in Portugal, cost $10-$12 for a 5-ounce tube. British-made creams like Taylor of Old Bond Street and Geo F. Trumper cost nearly twice as much.
One of the most beloved shave creams is Nancy Boy, produced by a San Francisco company whose name comes from British slang for gay men. Eric Roos, the company's founder, said his clientele is interested only in quality. The cream costs $18 for a 6-ounce jar.
When the term "metrosexual" emerged several years back, it referred to men who were thoroughly into grooming and their appearance, sometimes to excess.
"Our business took off because of this subculture of shaving enthusiasts," Roos said. "People first characterized them as metrosexual. I don't think they're that way at all. They are straight men who are very interested in how things work. One of they things they're interested in is the very best way you can get a shave. These guys discovered us about five years ago."
Roos said most of the best shave creams come from Europe and that he spotted a niche market in the United States that could cater to those who didn't like the shave creams that came out of an aerosol can, all puffed up but with little lubricating power. Nancy Boy and other fine creams contain glycerin.
"When you've got a glycerin-based cream, it's what we call lubricous lubricating," Roos said. "With foam, there's really nothing that raises the whisker or lubricates it."
Many of these details about old-school wet shaving are discussed and dissected at busy online forums, including Badgerandblade.com. and Shavemyface.com.
John Koontz, owner of West Coast Shaving in Southern California (and an online retail shop) got into the business in 2004 because he saw the tide turn with shaving.
"I was just starting to see it be more popular with the younger generation, but about five years ago it started to take off," he said.
Men give plenty of reasons for chucking their modern shaving equipment and turning to classic razors, Koontz said, listing price and simplicity among them.
"People have tried the modern stuff and realized it's not any better," he said. "There are a lot of reasons to look into traditional wet shaving, but if it doesn't work, you're not going to stick with it."
He said the hardest thing newcomers have to learn about shaving with a safety razor is to hold it gently and not press down on the skin. There are no lubri-strips or microfins to help you. Pivoting head? Did you know your wrist can actually pivot?
It takes about two weeks of trial and error to nail down the technique. Until then, there is another coveted product that classic shavers keep on hand. It's an alum block ($4) and it quickly stops the bleeding from a nick or cut.