I have never had a barbershop shave. Now, when I say a barbershop shave, I’m referring to the full experience. Although it is equally true I have never paid anyone to shave my face before, I have always wanted to gain the experience of the full out, reclined-in-a-barber-chair, pre-shave-treatment, hot-towel-wrap, straight-razor shave that I grew up seeing in movies and on television. As a result, I decided as a part of my “I have never...” year I would find a barbershop that provided an authentic barbershop shave and treat myself to the experience. Ultimately, this plan resulted in me pinpointing the day before the start of Christmas celebrations as the perfect time to get dapper with some help from a professional barber. Although finding a way to make this work took a little research and effort, I eventually found a way to make that objective possible with some last minute changes in my schedule. As a result, I headed to local barbershop, Cha Cha Beauty and Barber, today to follow through on an experience I had looked forward to since I first became capable of growing a beard.
When I arrived at Cha Cha I was greeted by a variety of friendly staff members that were hard at work helping a near constant flow of customers working their way through a number of services offered by the business. Having arrived early, I checked in at the barbershop’s small reception counter and took a seat in the waiting area positioned at the heart of the building. With a flurry of activity occurring around me, I took in the sights, sounds, and conversations of those being helped by the Cha Cha staff. The cozy feeling of the building, coupled with the highly interactive and outwardly happy staff made it apparent the business valued customer relationships as much as they valued quality workmanship with a pair of sheers. Considering I was about to put my full trust in a stranger with a straight razor, that fact put me at ease as I waited for my barbershop shave to begin.
Eventually, my moment to take the barber chair arrived when the desk manager, Randi, called my name and introduced me to the barber that would be responsible for my first ever barbershop shave. Promptly introducing himself as Rick, the barber guided me to a barber chair donned in red leather, chrome, and a variety of flame decals. As I took a seat in the chair Rick was quick to give me a primer on the first steps in the process, which resulted in me leaning back into a reclined position, raising resting my feet on a plank at the base of the fixture, and working my head into a comfortable position. Making it apparent his focus was on providing me a good experience, Rick confirmed I had found a comfortable position before he set to work on my week old beard.
After taking time to trim my scruff down to stubble, Rick immediately began priming my face with a variety of oils and pre-shave treatments that left my skin feeling fresh and cool. The feeling spurred me to ask a few questions about the materials in use, which Rick happily answered with detailed statements about the liquids and their purpose in the process. Designed to open the pores of the skin and pull the facial hair to an upright position, Rick explained the various treatments contained soothing oils to lubricate the skin and menthol to direct the hair in a way that made it easier for him to gain a close shave. The information was more than I expected, and the confidence with which Rick spoke made it clear he had some experience in the field. In turn, I asked Rick about his experience as a barber, to which he replied with a hint of enthusiasm, “I’ve been at it six years now, and it’s still good.” The remark made it clear Rick was experienced with a straight blade and passionate about his work, which was all I needed to hear to know I was in good hands.
Following my initial skin treatment, Rick worked through a series of actions that went far beyond what I expected the process would entail. At first, Rick wrapped my face with a hot towel, which he let sit for some time. Upon removing the towel, he then lathered my face with a thick shaving cream and wrapped my face in a hot towel once more. After letting the second towel sit for roughly the same period, Rick returned, lathered up my face once more, and checked his work. My eyes followed him as he looked over my cream covered jawline, which resulted in me catching a brief look of satisfaction on Rick’s face. On cue he moved to his work station and turned back to me with a straight razor in hand. With that it became clear it was time for my shave to begin.
A bit nervous at first, I was careful to keep my head steady as Rick drew near and began moving the razor across my face. After the first few strokes of his blade, Rick’s deliberate and meticulous movements made me realize he was a man of precision, which eased my mind and helped me let go of what concern remained as he crossed from one side of my face to the other. In a strange turn of events, that shift in perspective actually caused me to slip into an unexpected state of calm as Rick worked. Despite the fact I had a person holding a straight blade to my neck, I was relaxed and able to unwind, which was an amazing feeling considering the Christmas holiday is only a day away. With that turn of emotion it became obvious that getting a straight razor shave is about much more than simply getting a clean look. The whole process is about taking time for oneself and for breaking up the ordinary with relaxing, gratifying experience that has the added benefit of helping a man get a clean look. With that in mind, I quickly determined getting a straight razor shave is something I can get into.
When Rick finished his first pass over my face, I was surprised to find that he promptly lathered up my face and wrapped it in a hot towel once more. Caught off guard by his actions, I asked him if his intention was to take a second pass over my face, which he confirmed was necessary as the final “clean up” phase of the shave. Happy to sit through another round of the soothing experience, I folded my hands and repositioned my head as Rick leaned near my face once more. Careful not to induce any sort of irritation on my face, Rick worked over my skin with slow, targeted movements that removed what little remnants of hair remained on parts of my face. Once finished, he leaned back, gave my face one more look, and promptly wrapped my head in a cool towel.
A few minutes later, he pulled the towel off and gave me one last look. “Alright, that’s it! Your are good to go!” he said as he raised me to an upright position. Snapping myself from my state of relaxation I looked over to Randi who was waiting at the ready to take my photo. Needless to say, it was easy to crack a smile as she directed. I was in a good place, and all in all, I looked pretty damn good; well as good as good get for me, anyway.
As I left Cha Cha I reflected on my first experience with a barbershop shave, recounting the surprising aspects of the experience in my mind. Dominated by a feeling I can only assume is comparable to what people feel after a “spa day,” I closed my eyes for a brief moment as I climbed into my car. Although the effect of the shave was still strange to me, I felt great, and that’s all I needed to know today’s “I have never...” experience was one worth having. While I will be the first to admit the shave wasn’t necessarily the closest I have ever had, it was by far the cleanest and most comfortable shave of my life. Rick didn’t leave a nick on my skin and lines on my sideburns were straight as arrows. The man is clearly a professional, and thanks to him I had one of the most relaxing experiences in my “I have never...” journey to date. That certainly came as a surprise to me, yet it was the best kind of surprise I could have hoped for. I can now say I have experienced a straight razor shave, but something tells me it won’t be the last time that happens.