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Ben Ballengee enjoys a good, old-fashioned shave.
Every morning, the Edmond resident walks into his bathroom and surveys the countertop, where history resonates. Many of the shaving goods there are akin to what were commonly used more than a century ago: shaving soaps, specialty creams and multiple brushes, plus a soft towel, straightedge razor, double-edged safety razor and handheld bowl.
Oh, and a whole lot of time. “Shaving equates to something similar to the Japanese tea service,” says Ballengee, an attorney who practices government and administrative law in Oklahoma City. “You need time to focus. It forces you to forget what is worrying you.”
Ballengee belongs to a burgeoning group of shaving enthusiasts relying on the Internet to modify their shaving habits. His interest started when he experienced painful skin problems.
“I was miserable and my face hurt,” he says. “I was shaving every fourth day.”
To assuage the painful daily assaults, he needed guidance. The information was simply a click away to blogs and websites. There, he learned about the complexities of traditional wet shaves, from shaving techniques to variances in brushes.
The result was life-changing; Ballengee’s skin condition rapidly improved for the better. It also gave birth to a new hobby.
“I have managed to take something that is a chore and turn it into something pleasurable,” he says. “I have gotten into the history and development of the razor.”
During significant stints on eBay, Ballengee began buying and selling vintage razors. Initially, the appeal was finding ones that were reasonably priced and simply functioned well for his needs.
He also sought out the
cool and unique to supplement his growing assortment. One such example
was the Stahly. The model was considered complex because it winds up and
vibrates as one shaves. Made in the late 1940s and sold at a retail
price of $25, it carries a modern-day value of about $250.
Another rare treasure was the Gillette Toggle. Manufactured in 1960, this gold-plated gem is known for its smooth operating mechanism and adjustability.
Other personal favorites in his collection include Gillette models sold during the Christmas seasons of 1960 and 1978. In fact, while he owns many brands of razors from a century of production, most were made by Gillette. As the old ad jingle goes, it’s the best a man can get.
To Ballengee, attain a precise shave requires more than just a fancy shaver. It’s all in the preparation.
“The lathering and brush are very important,” he says. “They’re a big piece of [the process].”
Making great shaving lather is essential. To get the best lather effect, he recommends using distilled water. That way, one avoids introducing Oklahoma’s hard water into the mix. He notes the market is stocked with a seemingly endless variety of shaving soaps and creams at varying prices, but the ultimate goal is finding a product that creates a rich, moist lather that softens the beard and moisturizes the skin. The result allows the razor to glide smoothly and painlessly over one’s face.
BRUSH WITH GREATNESS
Besides vintage razors, Ballengee compliments his collection of shavers with specialty brushes. Currently, he owns 40 brushes, each made from either badger, boar or horse hair. He notes that different hair grades exist, suggesting that the softer the hair, the more expensive it is typically priced.
“There are no hard-and-fast rules; it’s all personal preference,” he says. “Many shavers swear by badger, others prefer horse, and at the moment, I prefer boar.”
In general, it is challenging to find some of these items at local retailers, so Ballengee often shops online to remain current.
“It’s difficult for a retailer to keep so much inventory [on store shelves],” he says. “I will try anything once. If it works well, I will keep it.”
Although traditional wet shaving is a niche of sorts, Ballengee clearly prefers it.
“Most guys that I know get hooked when they find out about this world,” he says. “It’s a never ending exploration.”
Photo by Shannon Cornman