A badger hair brush is a grooming product, used by men, for the application of shaving cream. Though brushes made with synthetic hairs are available, badger hair is generally prized for its ability to generate a thick, consistent lather. As such, a badger hair brush commands a significant premium over other natural or man-made alternatives.
The first shaving brushes became popular in France in the middle of the 18th century. They were developed in tandem with the straight razor, allowing gentlemen to shave at home rather than paying a barber. The tools quickly became a symbol of conspicuous consumption, and rich men were able to showcase their wealth through grander and more elaborately-handled brushes.
Though gilded handles may have reflected the taste and wealth of their owners, the trait that has always made a shaving brush useful is its ability to retain water and generate a good lather. Badger hair was quickly discovered to be superior in this regard, and a badger hair brush has remained the best option for a wet shave, despite hundreds of years of innovations in the synthetic fiber industry. For many years, the only inexpensive choice were boar's hair brushes, until the 20th century, when the invention of Nylon® made for an even cheaper option.
Most modern badger hair brush alternatives combine both synthetic and boar's hair to provide a reasonable lather and degree of comfort. Typical complaints about these cheaper types include a prickly feel, poor water retention, and a lack of resiliency. Though cheaper than badger brushes, these other types generally need to be replaced more often.
The quality of a badger hair brush is distinguished by three categorical ratings. The most premium is known as super or silvertip, followed by best, and then pure. For a brush to be rated at least as pure, it must be 100% badger hair. Pure brushes are lowest grade because, though the hair comes from the underbelly of the animal like the other two categories, it is thicker and rougher than that taken from more premium locations. This pure-grade badger hair is ordinarily dark grey in color. Badger hair rated as best is thinner than pure, and therefore is packed more densely onto a brush, which results in a softer feel and greater lather.
Super or silvertip badger hair is the softest and thinnest hair found on a badger. It is naturally light-colored, and often almost white. Given its rarity and quality of shave, a silvertip brush can see for upwards of $1,000 US dollars (USD), depending on the quality of the handle. At that price, the embellishments on the handle are often quite extravagant. For all but the most particular shavers, a pure badger hair brush is likely to be the best balance of value and quality for day-to-day lathering.