A male whose face grows a normal quota of whiskers each day has three options:
(1) Shave off each day's growth, stopping at predetermined points below the hair on the sides of the head; (2) Allow facial hair to grow freely, lopping off ends only when they become encumbering, which in time yields a full prophet's beard and mustache; (3) Compromise between laissez faire and shaving by leaving and cultivating stray tufts such as a goatee or mustache.
Except for a year off about a decade ago when I grew a prophet's beard, I always have shaved away the day's whiskers each morning. By rough calculation -- assuming I began at 17 and took a year's leave of absence -- this means I have scraped my face some 13,870 times, with the end thankfully not yet in sight.
To cut off a whisker flush with the skin you have to scrape off a minute layer of the skin itself, which amounts to daily plastic surgery in front of a washstand.
In the not-too-distant past barber shops shaved a great many men, but these days it's mostly a do-it-yourself home operation. The Mayflower barbershop, where I have gone for many years, currently does "four or five shaves a day" at $5.50 per; years ago it did many times as many.
I learned to shave by watching my father, who in terms of equipment and technique could have been called early modern. Tubes of shaving cream were available, and the Gillette Brothers had perfected their disposable blade. ("Look sharp, feel sharp, with the sharpest edges ever honed.")
Sometimes during the late 1930s electric razors came on the market. Of course my father got one, soon discarding it, which meant I could try it. Phooey. Electric razors are frauds typical of the speciousness of our technocracy. They substitute a motorized device to perform an operation best done by hand.
As I've said, my father was an early-modern shaver. I've abandoned some of his techniques and equipment and become a late modern. A few pointers:
Avoid shaving creams that foam from a can or squeeze from a tube. Get a plain plastic soap box with cover large enough to hold a bar of pure soap coutaining no chemical additives -- to "help" your skin -- and that lathers well. Dove and Ivory both qualify.
Use a shaving brush. The best are expensive and from England. Their bristles are badger hair, because, I suspect, it combines resistance to moisture and softness.
Wet the brush with hot water from the tap and massage it on the soap until you've worked up a thick lather. Sit the brush on the base of its handle on the back of the washstand.
Soak a washcloth in hot tap water, wring it slightly, and warm and wet the part of your face you intend to shave. Immediately lather the same area with the brush, working the warm soapy froth well into the skin. Rinse brush and shake dry. If your washstand mirror tends to steam up, paint it with lather left in the brush before you rinse, and wipe clean with a soft towel. The film of soap left will keep the mirror clear.
Rinse razor in hot water. The best razor is the kind that's simply a handle with a metal track on top into which you slide a twin-blade razor cartridge. Avoid gimmicks such as movable heads. Unnecessary. Rinse razor well after each shave and such a blade should stay sharp for a week.
Whiskers do not grow in precise order, like wheat in a Kansas field. They swirl, thin and thicken in various places, and, like wood or meat, have a grain. Shave against the grain in long, even strokes. Rinse razor frequently. Don't forget stray corners of your face, such as just under your ears and nose.
When done, rub your face with a hand to discover stubble you missed. Go back and shave it off.
If you have a heavy beard and plan to go straight from desk out to dinner or do any nuzzling during the next 24 hours, you may want an unusually close shave. The way to achieve it is to shave completely, wipe your face with a warm washcloth, and repeat the entire shaving process from the beginning.
The "gotcha" phenomenon, vastly overplayed by manufacturers of electric razors, is mostly myth. If you wield a razor with care, you may still nick your face, oh, once a year or so. When you do, misten the end of a styptic pencil and rub it on the scrape. It will smart. Unless you've really notched yourself, one will stance the flow of blood. Shave in a good light and carefully, not hurriedly.
After you've shaved, wipe your face thoroughly with a warm washcloth and pat dry with a soft towel.
Unless you're a flamboyant or eccentric person, avoid perfumed aftershave lotions, particularly anything with musk in it. Musk comes from a glandular secretion of a deer, otter or civet. You want to smell like that?
The best aftershave is witch hazel followed by bay rum. Why two? My wife asked me that recently after years of observing without really seeing the process. Witch hazel, the bark of an elmlike bush steeped in alcohol which is then filtered, is a great overlooked sovereign specific that should be in every home dispensary. It sooths insect bites, relieves sunburn, cools the brow on hot days and sweetens the face while closing the pores after shaving.
Bay run is a cousin, more exotically scented. It is a distillation of bayberry leaves and alcohol and leaves not a strong scent, but a kind of seabreeze afterglow. For some reason, bay rum is currently difficult to find. I ran across a formula for making it yourself, with bay leaves, other herbs and alcohol. The formula sounded like a lot of trouble.
Back to basics is fine, but I'm damned if I'll make my own aftershave lotion