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.
Trumper's Oxford Blue Shaving Soap
Should a gentleman find himself down, out, and in need of a shave in London, one of the best places to go is the original Trumper barbershop on Curzon Street. Should the same man find himself in his bathroom in say, Tucson, Arizona, on any given Tuesday, the next best thing is a bar of Trumper's soap. Trumper's Oxford Blue Shaving Soap has a straightforward, clean scent and lathers up exquisitely. Note that it's a relatively small puck because it was designed for a custom shaving scuttle (a purpose-built mug for working up lather) rather than a wooden bowl. [$17 for 50g; westcoastshaving.com]