The easy answer? Whatever works best for you. Unfortunately the easy answer is also practically meaningless if you’ve never tried either razor. Both options are capable of giving you the close, comfortable shave you’ve always dreamed of. There are a few things to consider when deciding which method is right for you.
Maintenance is the first major consideration. A DE razor is low maintenance. All you need to do with a DE is ensure it is free of soap buildup and change the blade when it gets dull. A straight razor, on the other hand, requires frequent, and occasionally costly, maintenance. The straight must be cleaned and dried thoroughly after every use. The blade must be stropped every time and periodic sharpening must be performed when the blade begins to dull. If you are looking for a hobby, straight razor shaving and ownership might just be for you.
The learning curves for each method are vastly different. There are many shared technical concepts, such as grain mapping and shaving in passes, but the major difference is time to mastery. With a DE, generally, one to three months are required to achieve decent, consistent, comfortable shaves. A straight razor requires a year of regular practice – at least – to get good shaves. Proper stropping technique, blade angle, and proper pressure are challenges only overcome through much trial and error. If you look forward to the challenge of perfecting your technique and don’t mind cutting yourself occasionally, then straight shaving might be for you. Straight shaving is a wonderful and frustrating experience simultaneously, only you can determine if it’s worth it to you. If you’re new to wet shaving, you may want to start with a DE first until you grasp the fundamental skills needed to straight shave, such as light pressure, building lather with a brush, and maintaining proper blade angle. After you master DE shaving you can begin to move on to the straight if you get the itch.
Cost to get started is also of primary concern. Good DE handles can be purchased starting at around $30 US and quality blades are cheap. Straights, on the other hand, start at around $100 US and a strop will set you back at least another $50 US. If you are interested in sharpening your own razor then hundreds, even thousands, of additional dollars will be required for a good set of honing stones.
If you are looking for an alternative to cartridge shaving with minimal fuss and added time to your routine, DE is probably your best bet. If you are looking for a hobby that can be incorporated into your daily routine and you can afford the time, effort, and financial investment, then straight shaving is for you. I recommend straight shaving to anyone who can afford the time, as there is nothing quite like shaving your face with a precision crafted, razor-sharp piece of history.