Grooming Pretentiousness? – The Badger Hair Shaving Brush
Andrew, Dappered’s grooming correspondent, is also the editor-in-chief of Electrogent, a men’s interest, grooming, and lifestyle website which squares the modern interests of men with the classic notions of manliness.
There is a lot of pretentiousness going on in the grooming world, particularly when it comes to shaving brushes. If you’ve ever talked to a guy who is particularly proud of his shaving routine, you are sure to have heard the phrase “badger hair shaving brush.” If they’re really obnoxious about it, they will specify which kind of badger hair. Sheesh. You see, there are four types of badger hair brushes, depending on where the hair came from. Let’s start with the most expensive:
$$$$$ – Silvertip badger hair brush: this is the Rolls Royce of the badger hair brushes, and is widely regarded (aka marketed) as the best. The silver tips are naturally occurring, and these hairs hold water nicely and result in a well-formed lather. Some people sell “extra silvertip” or “super silvertip” brushes, but this is wholly marketing nonsense. For instance, take a gander at this $2195 shaving brush; you’re buying a piece of ivory with hair on it. If you buy this, I have a great investment opportunity spearheaded by a Mr. Madoff that you might be interested in. Don’t be a sucker.
$$$ – Super badger hair brush: the super badger hair performs well, but not as well as the silvertip, but it resembles the silvertip because companies will often dye the tips of the hairs for obvious marketing purposes.
$$ – Best badger hair brush: these hairs come from the back/sides of the badger, and people claim they can tell a difference between “pure” and “super” brushes. I call shenanigans.
$ – Pure badger hair brush: this is the most common kind of badger hair brush, and the hairs come from the belly of the badger. These hairs are generally rougher than the softer silvertip brushes.
Here’s the executive rundown of that long list: silvertip brushes are softest, everything else is rougher. That much is clearly true, one only needs to touch the brush to figure that out. It’s like comparing cashmere to burlap–the former is clearly softer. Now, whether one performs better than the rest is still up for debate.
I’ve used both silvertip and pure badger in my lifetime, and I can wholeheartedly say that if a difference exists, it doesn’t matter. Badger hair of any kind will create a great lather, and the gradations between the four levels of badger hair brushes are wholly marketing techniques and make no difference in the long run. It’s just shaving cream.
So why even bother with badger?
A badger hair brush will definitely improve your shave over a synthetic brush, that’s for certain. Badger hair brushes are going to run you a bit more than synthetic, but that is worth the money–buying a silvertip vs. a pure badger hair is not.
Also, remember that these brushes are tools and not heirlooms. There is absolutely no reason to buy an ivory-handled shaving brush unless you just want the ivory. Get a workhorse pure badger hair shaving brush that will last you a long time and improve your shave enough to justify the slight extra cost. If anyone starts talking about the gradations between the levels of badger hair brushes, just know they’re full of it.
But what about boar?
It’s not just about synthetic or badger, you know. Boar hair is also commonly used in shaving brushes as well. Think of the boar’s hair as the intermediate between synthetic and badger–it’s cheaper, but really isn’t worth the small savings.
The Smell: Badger and boar hair stink right out of the box. There’s no getting around it–badgers and boars aren’t necessarily known for their hygiene. However, badger hair scent will subside quite noticeably after 2-3 uses, and then it’s no big deal. Boar hair stinks ad infinitum. I had a boar hair brush once and after a few months of use it stunk, my dudes…like a wet dog. Granted, I used one brush and it was cheap, but I’ve heard/read about this problem across the array of boar brushes.
The Lather: Badger hair is a lot softer and more pliable, therefore, when you make the lathering motions, there’s more give and spread on your brush, which means you’ll get a thicker lather. Boar hair is stronger, stiffer, and not as forgiving, which means the lather turns out weaker and not as fluffy and full. Think of the difference between the consistencies of, say, whipped cream and beer foam.
The Longevity: Badger hair brushes will usually last a longer time than boar hair brushes, because boar hairs tend to break if bent too far. Badger hair is very flexible and should last longer.
Which is the winner?
Taking all this into consideration the best shaving brush in my opinion, and that I’ve personally used (around 10 in my life), is…(drumroll, anyone?) the Parker pure badger hair brush. For the record, other honorable mentions are the Progress Vulfix and Edwin Jagger.
You should look to pay around $25-40 for a brush. Anything less than that is too skimpy, anything more than that and we’re reaching ivory-handled territory. You also want to go with badger hair, for reasons discussed. However, don’t go all silvertip on us–leave that for the professional barbers and people in the movies. For the average guy walking around and living a normal life, a pure badger hair brush is plenty fine. I promise you won’t tell the difference, anyways. Even if some slick-talking salesman will convince you otherwise, he won’t be able to answer this fundamental question: “Who cares?”
The shaving brush is a tool you use to shave. Yes, there are probably ivory-handled shovels in the world, but they all dig holes. Unless you’re into conspicuous consumption (and if you’re reading Dappered you probably aren’t), save the ivory for the Kim Jong-Un types: perpetually clean shaven, spendthrift, and insane.