February 23, 2011

The Art of Grooming (and a GROOM GIVEAWAY)

Who could forget the classic barber shop scene in Guys and Dolls ("The Oldest Established..."), in which a throng of half-shaven men and their barbers hop out of their chairs to join Frank Sinatra and Stubby Kaye in song. Shaving just isn't the social occasion that it was then; today we buy blades at Costco by the dozens and perform the act with haste and hustle, omitting the care and precision that men used to value in a shave. And none of us sing while we're doing it.

And yet, there's one institution that has kept the tradition alive: The Art of Shaving, a throwback to the 1940s barber shop that specializes in quality shaving products and offers manscape services at 23 Barber Spa locations throughout the US. I stopped by my local The Art of Shaving Barber Spa last week to clean up a bit and rediscover the art of fine male grooming.

I arrived only minutes before my 11AM appointment and browsed the store's products for a moment before being escorted to a room toward the back with faded canary-and-white wallpaper and wooden cabinets on both ends. A man named Steve (who fits the part to a tee, from his ash grey vest to his argyle moustache socks, pictured above) directed me to an antique barber chair on the near side of the room. Within seconds, the antique chair was reclined and the hottest hand towel imaginable was wrapped up and around my face. It's a good thing I trusted Steve and his 'stache socks; there's something very personal about toweling another man's face.

Toto, I don't think we're in Supercuts anymore.

My cheeks were just beginning to sweat beneath the cotton cloth when Steve clicked on (what must have been) the old-fashioned radio in the corner. Steve's all about Elvis and Sinatra; timeless music, he says, puts people in the right frame of mind. He removed the towel and began chipping away at my stubble with a straight razor.

Though it might add a few minutes to his morning routine, Steve follows this same procedure at home (hot towel to relax the pores, straight razor to shave). At some point he threw another scalding hot towel on my face -- this time with a lemon scent. Johnny Cash came on and I swear he was singing about burning lemons.

No cucumbers or Norah Jones at TAOS -- just crooners and
cotton pads.

After a detailed shave, Steve got to work on some vintage chocolate pudding -- or what was, in actuality, an after-shave mask that was painted onto my face, followed by yet another towel (this time ice cold and with a lavender scent). There I was, in the manliest place I can imagine, coated in a thick, rose-scented, deep cleansing cream that replenishes nutrients and guarantees a glowing complexion. The Chairman never had it this good.

The most unusual request Steve gets from his clients? "If I'll shave their chests. Or their legs."

Clockwise from top left: the classic reclining armchair; not chocolate pudding; antique chair mechanics; the old school Barbicide and whatever else Steve thumb-dropped into my coffee.

It's no surprise that The Art of Shaving Barber Spas accommodate bachelor parties, pre-wedding celebrations and other man festivities on the weekends; I sent my own boys to the TAOS Midtown Manhattan location on the morning of our rehearsal dinner, and Boris (the Russian version of Steve; infinitely hotter towel) gave them the same royal treatment. They haven't shaved since.

Inside this vintage towel heater? More moustache socks.

A huge portion of The Art of Shaving's business is their one-of-a-kind line of razors, badger brushes, shaving and skin care products. Fortunately, Store Manager Sean Covert was there to help us make sense of it all. Aside from assisting disoriented customers and providing useful information (for instance, that none of TAOS' products contain alcohol or synthetic dyes), Sean also provides shaving consultations for men who don't realize there is an art to a good shave.

And for those grooms who find TAOS' balms and masks and essential oils to be too feminine (you know who you are), Sean says that Zirh's Platinum "Revive" under eye cream is a must-buy. No matter how masculine you are, no groom wants dark circles and bags under his eyes on his wedding day.

The Art of Shaving doesn't allow grooms to register at their stores (hint-hint, TAOS), but there are some amazing products and deals available. The best thing about the TAOS' product line is that full-size kits begin at a reasonable $100, and because items are sold a la carte, you can craft your own kit to meet your desired price point. Having said that, Sean recommends:

  • For the groom who's buying for several groomsmen -- the new hypoallergenic Travel Kit (prev. $150, now $75), which comes in unscented, sandalwood, lemon or lavender (Sean's pick)
  • For the groomsman who's buying for his groom -- the ProGlide Power Shave Set ($150), which comes with the leading men's razor and the 4 Elements of the Perfect Shave
  • For the guest who's splurging on the ultimate groom gift -- the Contemporary Shaving Set ($255), a badger brush and razor combo (with "nostalgic" ivory handles) on a nickel-plated drying stand
  • For the bride/bridesmaid -- the Perfect Shave Gift Set ($146) comes in a The Art of Shaving signature gift box

Sean demonstrates the "knuckle shave," an essential for bare knuckle boxers and hand models

But what could make The Art of Shaving more like a man cave and more suitable for bachelor parties and morning-of get-togethers?


No, I'm not suggesting that TAOS get a liquor license and set up an antique bar cabinet in the back room (though how sweet would that be?). But what about BYOB? Or, if that's not an option, what about a complimentary bottle of champagne for grooms and groomsmen who spent a certain number of dollars? After all, if a groom brings in seven groomsmen for a shave, they're bound to spend a good 2-3 hours in the parlor.

A flatscreen wouldn't hurt either, though I imagine an old pre-war tabletop television set would be more appropriate. SportsCenter was around in the 1940s, wasn't it?

Gifts for the nostalgic groom, the modern groom and the groom who (for some odd reason) likes to read


To prove their love and dedication to all things groom, The Art of Shaving has decided to gift a Royal Shave (a $55 value) to five Groom Says readers. Ladies -- this is the perfect wedding gift for your groom or anniversary gift for your hubby. Men -- did I mention there are three scented towel treatments? Need I say more?

To enter, simply leave a comment below detailing your (or your significant other's) most hilarious or horrific shaving experience. Be as general or as graphic as you'd like. The five most entertainment anecdotes will win a free Royal Shave at the TAOS location of your choice. The winner will be announced at noon (PST) on Friday, February 25th.*

Let the commenting begin!

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Angelenos - to set up an appointment with Master Barber Steve Gonzalez, call the Century City location at (310) 785-3993.

Also follow Steve on Twitter at twitter.com/thelabarber.

(see all of Joanna's photos from our excursion on her blog)

- - -

The fine print: The prize is a complimentary Royal Shave courtesy of The Art of Shaving (5 prizes available). Prize can be redeemed at any one of the 23 Barber Spa locations across the country; visit http://www.theartofshaving.com/locations to determine if there is a Barber Spa location near you. Tip is not included and strongly suggested. Questions? Email me for more details.

*Winner will be announced at noon on Friday, February 25th. Winners must respond by Friday, March 25th, or the prize will be rewarded to a fellow contestant. 


  1. I'm a lady, so this shaving experience isn't about my face, but I have one to share nonetheless. At 12 when things were starting to change, but my mother still deemed me too young to change with them, I decided to shave my legs even though I wasn't allowed to. So, I snuck into her bathroom and found her plastic pink razor with the little flowers on it and proceeded to dry shave starting on the weird bone that sits on top of the leg. I made one long stroke and managed to bring most of my skin with it. In sheer panic I called for my mom despite the trouble that I would likely get into, but I think she knew that the scar I would bear (to this day) would be punishment enough.

  2. I'm still using the training razor my parents bought me when I was 13.

  3. For some reason my boyfriend trusted me to cut his hair. He liked it shorter but not shaved. I had a good hair buzzer, and had cut his hair several times with success. Well on one occasion the buzzer slipped, and he had a tiny (about an inch long or so) balder spot. He had dark hair so I suggested we sharpie it in...somehow he didn't appreciate my suggestion or think it was as funny as I did. I offered to color it in with some of my eyeliner, but he didn't like that idea either. Needless to say that was the last haircut I ever gave him.

  4. My fiance is a very hair dude, and a couple of weeks ago for the first time he asked me to help him shave the back of his neck. BIG mistake. I managed to cut him in three places, and miss a million spots. He says hes going to have his Mom continue to help him shave the back of his neck.

  5. Behold, my future husband, circa 2001: http://tinyurl.com/4e2z2j9

    This is about as close to a horrific/hilarious shaving experience as I can imagine. His hair, thankfully, has since grown back.

  6. My fiance is a sportscaster. For his first interview with a major Big East coach, he shaved with a new razor right before he left for the interview, thinking it would make him appear extra clean shaven. Unfortunately, he had the worst razor burn in the history of mankind. He looked like he had leprosy. The tape was completely unusable, but he did learn that a little five o'clock shadow is better than the leprosy look.

  7. I got ....nothin. Seriously. Nothing. I have wracked my brain for a shaving mishap and I can't recall one.
    I will however be in Manhattan next week and now have added a trip to TAOS to my itinerary. I suddenly feels so hairy and un-smooth!

  8. In college, I earned some extra money by cutting my guy friends' hair. One day, my friend Abe came over and wanted his shoulder-length hair cut very short. We're talking a 2 on the sides and maybe a 4 or 5 on top - and me not being an ACTUAL stylist was a little nervous. I started buzzing, got the majority of it off, and then did the neck shave and started the sides. All of a sudden I shrieked because there was a half-dollar sized BALD spot just behind his ear. I was sure that I had done it and that he would absolutely kill me. He asked what was wrong and I said I just knicked my own finger and that I would be fine. I continued cutting and there was NO way to cover up the bald spot. Eventually I had to show him in the mirror, afraid of what he was going to say. Turns out he has alopecia (which results in odd hair loss) and he had just mentioned it. His answer? Fill in the hole with a sharpie and style some hair over the top. But I've never given a haircut or neck shave again!!

    ...and my poor new fiancee (who I refuse to do cuts for) would love to have this done at your Chicago location before we get married in Milwaukee.

  9. My fiance decided to participate in his office's beard growing contest, and was clearly an underdog as he generally lacks the ability to grow much hair of any kind. After attempting to grow said beard, he shaved, and decided to attempt a goatee. After accidentally taking a chunk out of it, he went back to being clean shaven, and then attempted to grow a beard again. This time, the full beard stuck. But he still has yet to learn to properly shave it, as it is generally uneven in many spots, and can't completely shave a proper line around the edges. He needs some help, and I was actually planning to get him a gift certificate to this place for part of his wedding gift! I want him looking primo on our big day!

  10. I'd love to win this for my future hubby to get on our big day! The funniest and kind of horrifying shaving story is when I taught him how to shave with a razor. At age 22. His dad had always used an electric razor, but when my fiance's burned out one day, I got him done up like a fluffy Santa and showed him how not to nick himself. He went out and bought a really nice electric after that, but at least he understands more what we ladies have to go through!

  11. My Stepdad taught me the essentials of manhood, including the proper way to shave. I learned with a dinner spoon, and practiced religiously, waiting for the day I would grow whiskers. I was thrilled to finally hear those three words, “You are ready.”

    The next morning after my shower, I went through the checklist.

    Soak face with a hot washcloth for one minute--check.

    Use plenty of shaving cream, making sure to work it in to the whiskers--check.

    Choose a fresh razor--check.

    Turn head to the side to make sure the skin is taut--check.

    He neglected, however, to mention what would happen if your brother were to burst through the door at the precise moment you applied the razor to your skin.

    I still have flashbacks.

  12. So excited that they have a location in San Antonio! Love to win this for The Boy - I lurve it when he shaves. My shaving horror story is from when I was about 4. My grandfather still uses one of those awesome shaving mugs and brushes to lather up his face - I thought it was so cool. So cool, that I lathered myself up one day and shaved. My tender 4 year-old skin.

    Bad, bad idea. I still remember screaming. Luckily, no scars.

  13. There was this barbershop in NYC in the 1980's when I lived in Hell's Kitchen, in the 40's between 9th and 10th. You'd almost miss it, a bit derelict and forgotten, but once inside, it was another world, clean and warm, the antique chairs pristine, chrome shining. All the accoutrement lined up smartly on the counter, the scent of Ed Pinoud in the air.

    The barber was Italian, in his late '70's, a thick, muffled accent. I forget his name. Once while cutting my hair he told me how he had come to America. "On the troop ships. I'd cut the GI's hair, back and forth across the ocean." I asked him to give me a shave one day. There were the hot steaming towels in a brass receptacle, face massage. And through the steam, I watched him strop his straight edge razor on the leather strap dangling down from the chair next to me. When he brought the razor up for inspection, I noticed that his hand was shaking. Why had I missed this before now? And this was a substantial shake. Was he nervous? Was it palsy? Parkinson's? God! He didn't seem satisfied with the sharpness of the blade. He kept stropping and stropping then traced the edge with a callused finger and frowned. He brought it up close to his thick glasses for inspection. The hand shaking was increasing. The razor was trembling. He's wearing himself out with all the stropping! 'That's going to be really sharp," I chimed in, trying to make light of my growing panic. He grunted, slapped the razor down on the counter, hummed some hot lather into his hand, and began smearing it over my face. Then he stepped back, held his creamy fingers up surgeon style and took in his handiwork. The theme to "Sweeney Todd" began insinuating itself inside my brain. "ATTEND THE TALE OF SWEENEY TODD" He seemed content. Was he starting to smile? He wiped his hands clean on a small terry cloth towel, tossed it on the counter, and reached for the razor. "HE SERVED A DARK AND A VENGEFUL GOD!" He held it with such grace, such gentleness. He seemed stronger, surer, younger as he walked toward me, raising the blade slowly as he came closer, closer. "SWEENEY!!!!" The thumb of his free hand smeared a dab of shaving cream from just below my right sideburn. The razor quivered like a hummingbird's wing. And just before I shut my eyes, he took a breath of focus ... and the razor blade went completely still. Then he made a deft swipe and nothing, a slight scrape, expert. This shake, breath, focus, and stillness was repeated throughout the shave. I realized I was in good hands. And my mind, now free from terror, traveled across time to the troop ships and I imagined him giving shaves to the young GIs heading home from action in Europe, wielding his razor in concert with the pitch and swell of the sea. If he hadn't cut any throats then, mine would be a piece of cake now. Graci.

  14. After wanting a hot shave for a long time, I buckled down and decided to throw in the extra few bucks to get it done. After giving me a nice haircut, my barber reclined the chair back and started prepping me for it. Some moisturizer first, then a hot towel (that was entirely too hot), then some steamin shaving cream. Touting his own talent at the shave, he started.

    It seemed to be going smoothly at the very beginning but, unfortunately, didn't stay that way. I got the first clue of something going a little wrong when I felt the first tinge of pain on my cheek. Of course, there's the usual scraping feeling, but this wasn't that. This was the feeling of skin being pierced on my face. But it was my first hot shave, so maybe it was in my head, right? He continued, and I experienced the little tinges of pain all over: the other cheek, under my nose, the left and right side of neck...and the Adam's Apple region too. By this point, I got the clue that things weren't going so well - his under breath mutters and sounds of dissatisfaction helped me reach that conclusion (along with the face pain).

    He's all done, washes me off, applies face medication all over, and brings my chair back up. I look in the mirror and see the "Steve Who Just Got in a Knife Fight." Over a dozen razor cuts on my face, not feeling so great, I asked why this happened. "...You have really sensitive skin."

    I've gotten a couple of hot shaves since, one of which has been pretty good, but I'm still looking for the "perfect" hot shave. I hope for the chance to achieve it someday!

  15. Ah 5th grade- the year when girls start to become women and when(ala the Spice Girls) my two eyebrows became one. My sister and mom would chase me down and attack me with the tweezers until I beat them off of me - but one mean comment at school altered the course for my eyebrows for the next few months.

    I decided something had to be done about my eyebrow, so I set for my mom's bathroom where the torture devices hid. Much to my surprise my mom had taken the tweezers with her on a trip. I had to get creative if I was going to fix this… so I opted next for a combo of nail scissors and a razor.

    The scissors seemed to take too much effort because you needed to use both hands to cut anything, so I turned to the Daisy Bic razor (popular choice). After shaving down the middle and being satisfied with the results, I decided it would be a good idea to give my eyebrows some shape too - so I "thinned" them using my 5th grade logic.

    End result? Whoopi Goldberg eyebrows if she glued eyebrow shavings to random parts of her brow. They didn't grow in for months.

  16. My man decided one day to go to Floyd's Barbershop for a head buzz down and shave. Apparently, the barber he got had barely passed his licensure because my poor man was cut three times (two in the same spot) and was bleeding pretty bad. The barber acted like nothing had happened, never offered assistance, much less an apology. On the way out, the barber pretty much asked my man flat out for a tip. Needless to say, he has never gone back. Winning this would be a great treat for him, because he never pampers himself and it will give him the opportunity to see what a quality shave is all about (right now he uses Gilette Sensor blades on a Headblade for his head and I forget what he's using for his face).

  17. I was using shaving kits since my college life but now i have decided to go for a electric shaver.

  18. I got married back in Sept of 09. On the day of my wedding, I was shaving before going out for pictures with my groomsmen. In the process and in a state of my nervousness, I nicked myself and started to bleed. This caused bleeding on my tuxedo shirt, and a huge hassle. I had to send my father in law to get a tide stain removal tool. There are a few candid pictures from our wedding photographer where I have a tissue sticking out of my shirt and my photographer had to edit all of the final pictures in order to make them look perfect in the end. I would love to experience the Royal Shave