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How Did the Three Pass Shave Originate? One or Two Passes Were Standard Historically.

Curious as to the origination of today's recommended three pass DE shave with, across and against the grain? Is anyone familiar with the basis for this? My attempt to research the topic hasn't found any historical basis for this beyond the more recent posts and videos from DE shavers who recommend the approach. Details of my experience and research on the topic are as follows:

I started DE shaving during my college days (After 5 years I went electric returning after decades to DE three years ago) and don't recall any instructions regarding this approach for shaving back then. Basically applied canned foam, shaved and did some touch up for a DFS. Today I achieve a BBS shave with two passes and some touch up. No need for a full third pass.

Research of historical commercial shaving directions hasn't surfaced anything on the three pass shave though there was some discussion of a two passes if an extra close shave was desired. Way back in 1905 a pamphlet on straight razor shaving (link below) stated " If you desire a really clean shave, you must go over the face the second time......In shaving over the face the second time, some reverse the stroke. That is, they shave upward against the growth of the beard, instead of downward, as during the first time over." basically suggesting an optional two pass shave with the first pass with the grain and the second against.

More recent DE shaving instructions from the mid-20th century either recommend one pass with the grain with some against the grain touch up (1961 Gillette Directions link below) or, similar to 1905 a single with the grain pass with an optional " if necessary" second against the grain pass (1963 Gillette British Directions link below). The 1958 directions (link below) only mention a single pass with long diagonal strokes that appear to be a trademark of many Gillette shaving instructions from those days. More recent Gillette instructions from the 1970s & 80s only focus on operation of the razor.

Found an old 2014 thread on B&B (2nd to last link below) where the posts also affirm that a one or two pass shave was pretty standard at the time these instructions were distributed.

I did find one possible source for the three pass shave in an open source professional barbering textbook (last link below) that talks about a three pass shave though interestingly it notes that the third pass is almost never done. The specific text instructions are"

"There are three main types of shaves traditionally practiced in barbershops:
  • The first time over: The standard shave service performed in barbershops today. It is performed using a lather on the beard and by shaving in the direction of the grain. This shave removes all visible hair growth and leaves the skin smooth and without irritation.
  • The second time over: This shave is performed immediately after the first time over to create a closer shave by removing any remaining hair. The second time over shave is generally performed on dampened skin with no lather, while working with or across the grain.
  • The close shave: A shave that is typically not practiced, unless the client has a particularly challenging beard or growth pattern, in which the first time over and second time over shaves were not enough to adequately remove all of the hair. This shave is performed against the grain, therefore it is not commonly performed as it is more likely to cause irritation, ingrown hairs, and the possibility of infection.
Source: Barbering Techniques for Hairstylists by Arden Magtiza and Gary Franceschini

In the detailed instruction section the text notes that "The Second Time Over" shave is only done where needed. It is not a full second pass. So really the recommended professional barber shave is a single pass with touch up.

Back to the original question. Is anyone familiar with how the three pass shave became the recommended approach for DE shavers today? Wondering if there is any real basis for it or if in reality, as noted in the text above, we just need to determine what works best for us given our unique beard characteristics and YMMV.

Post with links to 1905 shaving pamphlet

1958 Gillette U.S. Razor Directions:
https://mr-razor.com/Anleitungen/1958 TV Super-Speed.jpg

1961 Gillette U.S. Razor Directions

1963 Gillette British Shaving Directions

The History of Multiple Pass Shaving - https://www.badgerandblade.com/forum/threads/the-history-of-multiple-pass-shaving.436596/

Barbering Textbook Link
It was probably a marketing $cam, sell more blades, and also sell more balms for the irritated skin........ . And as they said: some, few with dense/coarse beards may need 3......
In reflecting more on this thread I suspect that one reason for the all the discussion of the "3 pass shave" was also part of an effort for marketers to better convince shavers that a single DE blade could shave as well as the cartridges that many were using. This was in addition, of course, to the desire to sell more product.

Bottom line is we should each do what works best for us whether it's a socially acceptable standard one-pass shave, my preferred 2+ passes or 3 passes.
Very good point I never looked at it like that


This may be considered off topic.

For the common working man, were brushes commonly used back in the day with canned foam? Or was hand lathering the norm? I am thinking brushes were not cheap but not pricey?


Were they popularized by the hobbyists who just wanted to spoil themselves during their “fancy” picky’s up in the air? Dry humor.

Enjoying your thread.
Both of my grandfathers mixed up their lather with a shaving brush and soap. This was even after canned foam was invented. My dad and his brothers all learned to shave that same way in the 1960s and even later before switching to canned foam. They mostly used Old Spice shave soap.
Can’t speak for everyone but I started shaving in 1973 with a brand new SuperSpeed. It was one pass, WTG on the cheeks but ATG on the neck. I shaved that way til B&B came along. Now I’m 2 passes, one WTG, one ATG. Works very well.

In 1973 a well-shaved man had no visible shadow, but his face was by no means BBS. Good enough was good enough. Then came the internet and …..
Can’t speak for everyone but I started shaving in 1973 with a brand new SuperSpeed. It was one pass, WTG on the cheeks but ATG on the neck. I shaved that way til B&B came along. Now I’m 2 passes, one WTG, one ATG. Works very well.

In 1973 a well-shaved man had no visible shadow, but his face was by no means BBS. Good enough was good enough. Then came the internet and …..
When I started wet shaving with a DE razor around 2010, I was doing 3 passes, but I wasn’t usually shaving everyday. Maybe three days a week. I’m now bearded, so I don’t shave much at all now, but to trim around my beard lines. If I was going to shave everyday now, I would likely do two pass WTG/ATG just to save a little time. I work in a large auto factory in southern Indiana(45 miles one way), so I don’t have as much time to shave like I used to.
I started shaving in 1970 and never heard of a 3-pass shave - it was once, with minor touchup (still that darn cowlick right below the right jawline), and done. First I heard of a 3-pass was here at B&B...
I started shaving about then. My Dad taught me two pass: first WTG, second ATG. I always touched up.
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