To be fair, I don’t really have a “fear” of megastores, but “mildly self-aggrandizing, idealogical aversion to” doesn’t really roll off the tongue…or fit in a subject line.

So when the guys at MenEssentials first contacted me about checking out their shaving products I took one look at their site and my knee-jerk reaction was to dismiss them. You see, I have always had a deeply rooted affinity for the little guy. I prefer getting things direct from the source; the guy who does one thing really well…that’s my guy. I like to buy meat from the guy who raised it and leather goods from the guy who made them. And where that kind of direct contact can’t be accomplished, my next most comfortable level is the highly curated; Boutiques and carefully selected collections are my happy place.

Now, I’m not trying to be totally bourgeois here…I admit that I do love me some Costco: 10 gallon vats of olive oil, 500 packs of toilet paper and a cart that’s so big it feels like you might actually be shrinking as you walk through the store. But every time I watch You’ve Got Mail I can’t help but desperately hope that Kathleen Kelly would win this time. Like I don’t know how the movie ends!

Anyway…here’s the ‘overcoming’ part. As I (almost begrudgingly) browsed the menus on the MenEssentials site, I had a bit of an epiphany…

Why does a highly-curated, carefully selected collection of finer goods HAVE to be small?

What if that same highly refined process were applied consistently over an extended period of time? Does it not stand to reason that you could amass a collection of goods that is both overwhelmingly comprehensive while still holding to the highly curated boutique standards that I espouse?

And so there it is….my worldview just widened…all thanks to a simple Men’s grooming megasite.

In addition to the massive selection of products, MenEssentials has also done a lot of great work creating interesting content that guys who would be shopping there might find useful. Check out their YouTube page for more on that.

So how are the products they sent me? I’m glad you asked….

Studio Session-011

Ever since seeing the Marlon Brando shave scene in Last Tango in Paris I’ve been obsessed with shave brushes. There’s just nothing manlier to me than the routine of shaving and a high quality brush is instrument number 1. I’ve owned a ton of these over the years and to me, what sets one brush apart from another comes down to how it feels in the hand. Yes, being well constructed with high-quality bristles is essential, but that should also be a given at this point. Hailing from Spain, not only does this Vie-Long Cachurro Horsehair Brush feature fantastic looking old-world styling, it’s got a great balance in the hand with just the right amount of bristle tension to create great lather without feeling like your skin is being scrubbed by a hazmat team. Cost: $23

Studio Session-019

When it comes to shave cream, I’ve run the whole gamut of options. I’ve tried countless soaps and creams and gels. In fact, in the most recent months I’ve actually been shaving with nothing but a clean razor and water! The truth is, the difference between the available options for lathering up mostly comes down to preference. Unless you’re spending $2 at the local 7-11, any product you buy will do the job adequately and all you have to worry about is what smell you like best. Or at least I thought that was the case before opening up this tube of LEA Classic Shaving Cream….

Also coming over from Spain, this handsome and utilitarian tube of cream has made me rethink my whole position on shaving. Not only does the tube look like something a Parisian painter from the ’60’s would have strewn all over his studio, the shave itself was darn near sublime. It’s smell is clean and earthy, it lathers beautifully and managed to strike the perfect balance between providing a smooth shave without being so smooth that the razor doesn’t actually grab the hair it’s supposed to remove. After one use I’m already nervous about running out of this and making plans to pre-order a apocalypse-worthy surplus. Cost: $9

Studio Session-032

Full disclosure: I’ve never used Alum before and it has always struck me as something that Wyatt Earp would have on the ready in case he ever got nicked shaving (as if Wyatt Earp’s skin could be cut, ha!). But seriously, I had to do some quick Googling to get some context for what this stuff really does. Suffice it to say, there’s a pretty passionate subculture out there who think this stuff is the only way to go. Basically, you simply wet this block, which feels like a smooth salt crystal, and then rub it everywhere your razor just went. Based on the forums I read, I expected a little burning and some skin tightening, but all I felt was a wet smooth stone sliding across my scalp. In fact, I was so convinced that this little block was just a classic snake-oil fad that all the die-hard hipsters were too afraid to admit to each other didn’t actually do anything that I went ahead and applied my normal aftershave as well. But that’s where it got interesting…

When I splashed on my favorite alcohol-based aftershave, nothing happened. No sting…no burn, nothing. I don’t know what that Alum block was doing, but whatever it was, I could barely tell that my regular aftershave was anything more than room temp water. The other thing I learned from the forums is that a standard sized Alum Block can last you several years of daily use, which makes this little guy a heck of a lot more affordable than my standard stuff. Bloc Osma Alum Cost: $9

In the end I have to admit that all three sample products that MenEssentials sent me were a pleasant surprise. Considering that these were picked at random from thousands of other products on their site, I think it’s safe to say that my previous megasite aversion was a pretension that needed some tending.

Check out the MenEssentials site and take a look at what they have to offer.

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