Friday, August 21, 2015

What is a Standard Shave?

I got a nice shave this morning, and it gave me reason to pause and consider the following questions:

  • What is a standard shave?
  • Where did the concept of a standard shave come from?
  • How did a three-pass shave come to be standard?

First of all, I considered the meaning of the word standard. In this usage -- as it pertains to a shave -- I think there are two meanings possible. First, normal, as in every day, common. Second, it might mean as a norm or model for comparison. 

I would go as far as to say that both meanings from the previous paragraph apply.

So what is a standard shave? I would suggest it is one that looks clean shaven and is routinely done. I would also suggest that as a norm for comparison purposes, it is a shave that meets minimal criteria to be considered adequate, not exceptional. After all, if an exceptional shave is standard, then it isn't exceptional at all -- it's just normal, average.

So is the so-called standard three-pass shave standard? 

Well, do most men in the world who wet shave take three passes -- with grain, cross grain, and against grain? Of course I don't know most men in the world, nor have I done a valid and reliable survey of that large group. However, my intuition says, no, most men who wet shave do NOT take three passes as a matter of course; nor, would I say, that men have historically taken three passes as their normal shaving routine. I believe this is true whether we're considering all wet shavers or individual subsets including barber shaves, home users of straight razors, DE users or those who use the various multi-bladed cartridge gizmos.

Take my father, for example. He served in the army during World War II, and likely to some degree acquired shaving habits from that experience. My earliest recollection of his shaves were of him using his Gillette Slim Adjustable, canned shaving foam, and making a single, careful pass.

Even some of my acquaintances whom I've tried convert either successfully or not to DE shaving resist taking more than one pass.

So, therefore, based on this admittedly flimsy, intuitive, far-less-than-air-tight rationale, I would suggest that a one-pass shave is standard. It might be considered both the norm as well as the standard by which other shaves are judged.

Where did the concept of the standard shave come from -- especially the idea of the standard three-pass shave?  I have no idea. (That's all I've got -- or am willing to say, at any rate.)

However, I would respectfully submit to you for your consideration that a one-pass, generally-with-grain shave is standard. Properly done, with whatever instrument you choose (I choose a DE razor, of course), it can look good, feel good when rubbed with the grain, and can be comfortable as well.

Now, it's true that my daily shave goes beyond standard. I generally take two passes, both in the vertical direction, both on my face and neck. First pass is more or less with the grain, and the final pass is more or less against the grain. I also pretty much exclusively use oblique passes, which optimize each razor stroke in terms of cutting efficiency and potential comfort. 

If I want the truly exceptional, go-for-the-gold shave, I'll add some fussing strokes after the second pass, and perhaps even a full third pass taking care to directly shave against the grain in all sectors of my handsome mug. However, if I do that all the time, my skin becomes hopelessly irritated and a mine field of minor wounds.

So to summarize, I think a standard wet shave is a one-pass shave -- irrespective of whether you're using a straight, cartridge, or double edge . The logical corollary is that the idea of a "standard three-pass shave" is often misinterpreted, misapplied. (Notice I did not call it bunk.) I think that the phrase, standard three-pass shave should be taken to mean that if one is going to go for the gold and make three separate passes, then the standard approach would be with the grain, then across the grain, and end with against the grain of the hair growth.

That's what I think. How about you?

Happy shaving!


  1. With a cart I always did a 1 pass shave, maybe a bit of touch up. Only recently with the DE have I started doing two passes. For me the two pass is a good balance of time vs. quality of shave. So for me my "standard" is a DFS shave with two passes, I don't need BBS and don't want the irritation that comes with a 3rd pass.

  2. Oops.... apologies to Thad L. I was trying to remove a deleted comment and accidentally deleted his follow-up comment. Sorry! :-(

    1. No prob... I was just goofing off, but I still need editing more than most people. Which is probably the ultimate reason why I have my own blog.

  3. A standard shave for me is 2 to 3 passes, the 3rd being a cleanup pass if I missed some spots.

    Back when I used a cart I did two wtg passes. I shave infrequently, once or twice a week. So pass one was to get the worst of the stubble off (along with tapping the razor on the basin to try and unclog it - not required with a DE anymore) then pass two is basically a clean up pass. Now with DE I also just do 2, sometimes 3 wtg passes (depending on if I missed some spots) and some areas like under the nose xtg (there the cart worked better) and it gives a satisfactory result. Sometimes when I feel like it I'll do a atg pass on my face on the 3rd pass. I think if I shaved every day a one pass shave would yield satisfactory results.

  4. Today I planned a single pass, but it seemed a waste of lather and prep time to just end it there. So the second pass seemed like a good way to go.