More men tossing disposable razors in favor of a close, wet shave

CorrespondentNovember 20, 2013 

It’s a hairy situation. Mark Henderson loves his beard. But once a year or so, he gets fed up. He heads to the closest barber – often the Barber Shop in North Raleigh – to let a professional shave the whole thing off.

“It’s a shave that I wouldn’t dare at home,” he said. “I come in kind of scruffy, but I leave feeling soft as a baby’s bottom.”

No nicks. No wrestling at home with an electric razor. Somewhere between the hot towel to soften the beard and the cold towel to close the pores, he never regrets the money he spends on his straight razor shave.

He’s not alone. More men are setting down their trusty disposable razors and rediscovered – or in some cases, discovered – the appeal of a clean, close wet shave. Barbers say they’re stropping up their blades like never before, and after 14 deft strokes, the buttery soft results keep men coming back.

“It’s the kind of shave you’re not going to be able to get at home doing it yourself,” says Kevin Gilchrist, the manager of the Renaissance Barbershop near Southpoint Mall in Durham. “Some men come in solely for the shave and don’t even want a haircut. They like the experience of it, the closeness of the shave.”

It’s all part of a larger facial hair moment happening these days, from the trendy long, unkempt “Duck Dynasty” beards to bushy mutton chops and overly coiffed handlebar mustaches. It’s even more pronounced now in the thick of Movember, the month-long event that encourages men to grow mustaches to raise awareness of prostate and testicular cancer.

Even the workplace doesn’t flinch seeing two-day stubble, thanks in part to celebrities like George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck, who have made five-o’clock shadows on the red carpet chic.

The result is a shaving-product industry in flux. Disposable razor sales are down, according to Gillette and Schick. But companies like The Art of Shaving, a retail chain that specializes in high-end men’s shaving products, are thriving. The Art of Shaving has tripled its number of stores since Procter & Gamble bought the New York boutique chain in 2009.

“It’s a case where a man is going to shave 20,000 times in his life, and anything you do that much deserves to be raised to the level of an art,” said Kurt Iverson, senior communications manager for the Art of Shaving. “More men are willing to indulge themselves.”

At the Art of Shaving store at Southpark Mall, you won’t find $1.79 cans of Barbasol or 12-packs of Mach3 cartridges, but rather $25 pre-shave oils to soften the beard and $40 after-shave balms. There are badger hair shaving brushes topping $175, and razors that will set you back more than $150. With an old-school barber shop decor, the place screams an old-fashioned message: Invest in and enjoy your shave rather than speed through it as cheaply as you can.

At the Art of Shaving store at Crabtree Valley Mall, which opened in April, you won’t find $1.79 cans of Barbasol or 12-packs of Mach3 cartridges, but rather $25 pre-shave oils to soften the beard and $40 after-shave balms. There are badger hair shaving brushes topping $175, and razors that will set you back more than $150. With an old-school barber shop decor, the place screams an old-fashioned message: Invest in and enjoy your shave rather than speed through it as cheaply as you can.

Part of the Art of Shaving’s appeal is rooted in the growing national DIY movement. Want the same results at home as a professional straight razor shave? Hop on YouTube, where you’ll find dozens of how-to videos on anything from a Turkish straight razor shave to how best to strop your blade.

Let a pro handle it

Of course, when the DIY route fails or you’re not ready to invest in all the tools, there’s always the trusty professional barber waiting with his old-world cut-throat blade and hot towels.

At Blalock’s Barber Shop on Wilmington Street in downtown Raleigh, a straight razor shave costs $6. Or get your beard trimmed for $6.

At Man Mur Barber Shop on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, a shave will cost you $14. Add another $14 for a haircut. (The barbershop chatter is free.)

At Renaissance, a classic straight razor shave costs $17, and that comes with “the creamiest, frothiest and foamiest warm lather the barbering industry offers,” according to the shop’s website.

The Barber Shop on Spring Forest Road charges $20 for a shave and $10 for a beard trim.

At City Barbers in Charlotte, a straight razor shave costs $25 and a beard trim is $5. With locations in uptown and at Highland Creek, City Barbers requires a day’s notice for face shaves, which take about 45 minutes. They also promise a “hot lather neck shave” with every haircut.

The Cut Barbershop on West Trade Street, which has a team of beautiful young women handling the razors and sheers, also charges $25 for a face shave (call ahead!) and $5 for a beard trim. They also offer the chance to buy a cold beer to nurse while you’re in the chair.

V.I.P. Barber Shop on South Tryon charges $12 for straight razor and $5 to trim up the beard.

Emerson Joseph, in uptown and Ballantyne, offers a full range of men’s grooming options, including the “timeless service” of a straight razor shave for $42. Beard trims start at $8.

At American Tobacco Barber Shop in Durham, the shave is $21. Paired with a haircut, it’s $35.

“We’re more of an old-school shop,” says Scott Roberts, a fireman who owns the shop with his wife Joyce. “Everyone who works here is a barber.”

He says there are regulars who come in weekly for their shave. But more often these days, it’s grooms with their dads or groomsmen bonding over one last close shave before the big event.

Michael Dean, owner the Barber Shop on Spring Forest Road, said he’s also seeing more business from bridal parties, usually full of younger men who didn’t grow up with straight razor shaves. “There’s a whole generation that has never experienced the barber shop shave,” he said. “And they want to experience it.”

In all, American Tobacco gives 8-12 straight razor shaves a week, Roberts said, a number that grows each year.

“Most people are baby soft when they’re done,” Roberts said. “And they really like that.”

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