Truefitt & Hill
By Brian K. Brecht
It was time, the beard had to go.
Having finally arrived in London since that obscure thought of “I think I’ll not shave until London”, it had been four or five months since the off-handed comment between Rick and I, and I was ready to have the beard gone.
We were a day into our trip, and now, day 2, adding to the fact that my luggage had not arrived with me, I convince Rick a side trip through London’s St. James Place was exactly what we needed to do today.
In my planning the trip I had toyed with the idea of getting a traditional shave at a barber shop called Truefitt & Hill. Half the reason to grow the beard was so it could be shaved off once we arrived in London.
Truefitt & Hill is listed as being the oldest barbershop in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records in April 2000. Established in 1805, the year of Nelson’s battle at Trafalgar and while
George the III was on the throne, it’s 212 years of service has seen monarchs, statesman and celebrities come through its doors and is one of the few barbers who continues to hold a Royal Warrant from His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.
The Royal Family, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra were all patrons of this iconic establishment. It continues its proud traditions and its high-end clientele to this day, so if you were going to grow a new beard, for the sole purpose of shaving it off, then of course, why wouldn’t you go to Truefitt & Hill?
My suspicion was that I’d be lucky to gather some shave gear to replace my missing toiletries, however imagine my surprise when, upon walking in with no appointment, I asked if I could get a shave? With a very pleasant, “of course sir”, this was shaping up to be an exceptional morning.
I had become a fan of the traditional hot towel; straight razor shaves a number of years back. The ritual and process of the shave attracted me at first, but once I’d actually gone through the experience I found it to be not only incredibly enjoyable and relaxing, but the results of the shave, the smooth skin and manly indulgence was something I could quickly grow accustom. In this world of three blade, four blade, or five blade razors, all of which are meant to shave you “closer than ever before”, we seem to have lost the elegance and ritual that men used to allow themselves during their daily grooming. To say nothing of the fact that I believe it provides a much better shave. More on that in a later post.
This day of the trip (the 19th of October) was a bit of a flex day in our schedule as we weren’t sure how we’d handle the jetlag. Also we had a couple options for sight seeing and didn’t know which way things would go. As it turned out, on our way to Abbey Road, we had the morning to kill so the detour through St. James Place worked perfectly.
Rick and I were escorted to a small waiting area just past the lobby. While we waited we admired the signed pictures from Churchill, and Montgomery, the famed British General from WWII, and snapped photos of the plaques declaring the royal warrants and proclamations.
It was still early so it was as though Rick and I had the shop to ourselves. No one else had come in and soon my lovely barber Ola, collected me and settled me into the waiting barber chair toward the back of the salon.
Her voice was quiet and demeanor relaxing and pleasing when she asked what I wanted done this morning.
I had asked Ola to shave the sides of my face but keep the goatee. Trim it up a bit but leave some of the length at the chin simply for some fun. She understood and immediately proceeded to tilt back the chair and prep me for my experience.
She applied a cotton band across my eyes, so she could begin trimming back the growth from the last six months. The detail here was interesting because she didn’t just delve in with a pair of loud electric trimmers. The sides of the beard were first removed with a pair of hand clippers before shaping around the chin and mustache with the electric.
Soon after a hot towel enveloped my face, warming my skin and whiskers just prior to her removing the towel and beginning the application of the hot lather.
From here most of the experience was lost in a haze of relaxation. I’d hear quiet instructions, “lift your chin, turn your head…” but most of what I was aware was the soft pleasant conversation Rick and Ola were having while I drifted in and out of semi-consciousness. With eyes closed I was only aware of the sounds and smells that lingered in the salon. The pleasant sent of shaving cream, steam radiating from the hot towels, and the sounds of clippers and shears doing their work.
As expected the entire experience was exceptional. What I enjoy about a straight razor shave is the relaxation. There is a numbness that comes knowing a highly trained hand is wielding an open razor blade across your face. You can sense the controlled hand paired with the delicate touch. It is both invigorating and relaxing.
The shave ended all too quickly but not before a final hot towel, followed by a cool towel to close the pours and tighten the skin.
Coming out of my haze I reached up to find smooth cheeks and a manicured beard and mustache. My skin was tight and had scent of lightly perfumed shaving products.
It was a fantastic shave and a wonderful experience. As I was checking out I took a lengthy view of the amazing selection of shave brushes, soap bowels, straight and double edge razors in the cases.
I couldn’t leave without a meaningful souvenir and with Ola’s help, selected a beautiful black-handled razor, and a thick tulip shaped brush. Ola threw in a selection of Truefitt & Hills shave balms and cologne, and I couldn’t resist putting on some of the “West Indian Lime” aftershave, Churchill’s prefer sent.
This is an experience I’d recommend every gentleman to try at least once. For myself, it’s something I’d easily go back for again and again. Unfortunately, Trueffit and Hill no longer has locations in the US. So I guess I’ll have to head back to St James Place as soon as I can.