How to shave like a 1920s man

We often talk about how men used to be. Mad Man would have you believe that the pinnacle of the dapper man was in the 1960s, but that is also the height of the hippie movement. What you’re really picturing is the 1920s, when men took pride in their appearance and wore handlebar mustaches without a trace of irony. It’s these days that we want to help to revive.


Like so many things in life, less is more in terms of tools. Men of the 1920s weren’t using AXE razors with multiple blades or ones with an automatic moisturizer delivery system. They had one blade, and they liked it. This was the age of the safety razor. While that may sound like something out of a “My First Shaving Kit,” it was actually the standard razor. If vintage ads are to be believed, more than 200,000 men were using safety razors, and they weren’t the only player in the blade game. More important than the blade itself, though, is how to use it. It takes a little more preparation than simply throwing some Barbasol on your face and scraping away.

Face Mapping

Take a look at the man in the mirror (shamone!). You’ll notice that different portions of your beard grow in different directions. The cheek just grows downwards, but there are areas of the neck that cover all four directions of the compass. Make a mental note of where you need to alter your stroke because once you’re lathered up it won’t be as easy to tell.

Prepare the Hair

Picture cutting dry, uncooked spaghetti with a knife. It’s not a pretty picture. That’s why it’s important to prep the hair before attacking it with a blade. Hot water is a shave’s best friend because it opens the pores and softens the hair. The ideal time to shave is immediately after a shower, assuming of course that you take hot showers like the rest of us. If you’re already squeaky clean, soak a towel in hot water and press it to your face for thirty seconds.

The Marshall Lathers LP

Neon green gels and fluffy foams dominate the market now, but in the 1920s it was all about thick shaving cream. Rather than applied straight from the palm, us a damp badger hair brush to create a rich warm lather. You can either build the lather in a bowl or directly on the face, but the key is circular strokes. This creates more lather and helps work it into the roots of the hair.

Shaving face

This is it; don’t get scared now. We’ve all cut ourselves shaving, and you’re bound to do it again. That’s why your mother told you not to play with knives. The key to avoiding this is to let the weight of the safety razor do the work. You don’t need to smash it into your face in order to cut hair. There is much debate over short vs. long strokes, but there’s no reason to pull a Sweeney Todd and finish in exactly 14 moves. Short strokes are fine. You’ll also want to stretch the skin as you go so that you are always working on a flat surface. Your first pass should be going with the grain. Think back to step one, and you should have a good idea which direction to run the razor. Once that is complete, re-lather your face and go in for a second pass, this time against the grain.


Moisture is the essence of wetness

Hot water was key to the act of shaving, but there’s a reason that first bottle of aftershave we all got from Aqua Velva was called “Blue Ice.” It’s time to cool your face down to close those pores. Rinse your face with cold water and pat the skin dry. Apply a moisturizing after-shave balm to the skin and walk away a proud man. If you nicked yourself, an aftershave with alcohol in it can help slow the bleeding. If you really want to go retro, apply talc powder as well to the artist formerly known as your beard.

The Professional

If you can’t handle those five steps on your own, you might consider seeking professional help. As a fake Robert Goulet once said, “You wouldn’t hire a clown to fix a leak in the john.” You’re the clown in this situation. Thankfully old school barbershops are popping up across the country and many of them offer a straight razor shave. It wasn’t uncommon in the 1920s to get several shaves per week from a barber. The going rate is around $20, but it’s definitely worth a one time experience.

Now it’s time to plan what not to shave. Imagine any “old-timey” Hollywood bad guy. Nine out of ten times you’ll picture a man with a mustache straight out of the ’20s. With a finger full of mustache wax, they twirl the long ends up until perfectly pointed. The style may have been adopted as a sign of evil intentions, but a handlebar mustache was common for all men at the time. It obviously not the only style, but it was the quintessential look for the decade. I’d caution you against wearing a curly mouth brow today though. While you may have shaved like a 1920s man, wearing that ‘stache style will make you look like an idiot.



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