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.
Portland General Store Whiskey Old-Fashioned Wet Shave Soap
Like Hudson Made, Portland General Store is so young it still has peach fuzz. You wouldn't know it from the quality of its Whiskey soap, which is decidedly old-fashioned (again, in the best way possible). This Whiskey old-fashioned wet shave soap is a slightly different product than the others here: Instead of a bar, it's more like a sturdy wax, made with simple ingredients that are easy to pronounce: glycerin, apple cider vinegar, beeswax, coconut oil, olive oil, and palm oil. PGS blends those with bentonite clay, which possesses detoxifying qualities, to create a soap with a thick lather and a scent that is pure Americana. [$18 for 240ml; portlandgeneralstore.com]