Of all the retro, artisanal products currently experiencing a renaissance – sustainably harvested coffee, French farmhouse ales – shaving soap may offer the most practical benefits. Despite having been sidelined since pressurized shaving cream arrived on the market in 1949, lathery bars actually offer a better shave than most commercial creams and gels. Because they produce a lighter and slicker lather, shaving soaps facilitate a smooth, nick-free glide (provided, of course, that you're using a decent blade).
"When your beard is properly hydrated, the hair is about 25 percent more elastic," says John Scala, CEO and founder of The New York Shaving Company. "That means you can shave closer with less irritation."
Then there is the nostalgic pleasure of choosing a scent and wielding a brush the way your grandfather did. Soaps help make shaving an activity rather than a weekday obligation. In that spirit, we surveyed the market and picked our favorite shaving soaps – three European classics that have stood the test of time and three that are made stateside.
Hudson Made Citron Neroli Beard and Shave Soap
Hudson Made is a New York City-based company that stocks locally made products, including maple syrup, knife oil, and beeswax candles. It also makes a handful of its own specialty goods and has jumped into the shaving soap field with three beard and shave soaps made with organic oils. Our favorite of the lot is the Hudson Made Citron Neroli Beard and Shave Soap, made with a blend of oils from petitgrain, white grapefruit, neroli, and cedarwood. It's bright and refreshing – a particularly nice and light option compared to some of the heavier scents we tried. And the lather is very slick despite lacking the heft of other soaps. [$25 for 100g; hudsonmadeny.com]