A History of Shaving

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 11, 2014


Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

https://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/417A0EFEDTL._SL500_AA300_.jpgI was tooling around Fred Meyer in the housewares department debating whether to buy a Cast Iron Lodge Logic Skillet on sale at Half Price, which I really don’t need but these things will last into the next century and remind me of the old heavy cookware the Henry the Cook at the Homestead Unitarian Camp used, and bring back great feelings of Nostalgia.

I walked through the TV Gadget aisle which has all sorts of things like Vegematics and so forth you don’t need, and on one of the shelves was a “Retro” Safety Razor like the one pictured at the top. This was the kind of razor I first started shaving with, before the disposables and the multi-blade plastic jobs now up to like something like 5 blades all sandwiched together. The first one I remember was the “Trac 2” from Gillete.


https://i2.wp.com/www.shavemyface.com/gallery/albums/userpics/10041/normal_injector.jpgIn between there I used an Injector type razor for a while like the one at left, and tried an Electric Norelco one also with the rotary heads. The idea with those gadgets was you would save on all the razor blades and shaving cream, and it would be quicker.https://i2.wp.com/cdn.instantshift.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/create-electric-razor-final.jpg

It never was quicker, since you had to buzz the thing over your face over and over again to get anything approaching a close shave, but never really close because the blades are behind a screen, which no matter how thin means there is always something left at the surface. The only time I ever really found these things useful was during the OTR years in the Big Rig, waking up in some parking lot with no bathroom to shave periodically.

Also, in the early years all of the electrics had to be plugged in, they didn’t have so many rechargeable batteries available back then. So it was a bit of a pain with the wire trailing around as you ran it over your face. Obviously you could not take one of those in the shower with you as electrocution would be likely, but the modern ones are “wet/dry” and safe to use in the shower.

I often wondered about the constant “improvements” in “shaving technology”, since the first Safety Razor I had seemed to do a pretty good job at the time. However, eventually the blades which fit it were no longer available, so I HAD to switch razors to the injector. Then the injectors disappeared, and once again had to switch to the multi-blade dealies.

It was at this point I began to realize that these changes were merely to get you to buy a new razor periodically. Not enough you have to buy replacement blades regularly to keep Shick and Gillete in bizness. Besides, those original razor blades were easy for anybody to make, so you weren’t a captured customer.

Each one of the new razors that has come after has had some different means of attaching the handle to the blade cartridge. Over time I collected about a half dozen different handles, all of which I still have, under the hoarder theory that no matter what Blade I found available, I would have a handle for it. LOL. In reality of course, none of those multi blade cartridges will be available and those handles are worthless junk once I can’t find blades that fit on them, which is already most of them.

http://scene7.samsclub.com/is/image/samsclub/0004740007104_A?$img_size_380x380$The solution to the handle problem is of course the all-in-one Disposable Razor. Notice the package at left has 52 razors in it. Why 52? Because Gillete is encouraging you to use a razor for 1 week, then dispose of it for a new one.

Now, early on with both blades and disposable razors, I did change them pretty regularly, but then the prices started going up and up to the point these days where some of the cartridges go for $2 a piece. So I stopped changing them so often, and lo and behold I discovered that with my pretty light whisker growth, they pretty much never wear out. I have kept the same blade in a razor for over a year at times without changing it. It gets a little more dull than the first few times I used it, but not that different. The shave ends up no different either, as I just do an extra pass over the face and it’s plenty close, definitely closer than an electric, even with a year old blade set in it!

On top of this, periodically when I see a sale on blades or a new razor they are hawking at a discount to get you to start buying the NEW blades, I buy 1, with the 2-3 blades cartridges it comes with. Bottom line on this, I have plenty of razor blades to last me the rest of my life.

Recently I bought 5 super cheap “off brand” disposables, just to see how those might last. The package cost around $3. 2 months later here, I am still using the 1st one, with no end in sight to its utility.

The only issue with these is it diminishes the “shaving experience”. The flimsy plastic handles don’t have that same nice heavy “feel” of my first all metal Safety Razor. This also is why I mostly bought razor handles with blades rather than all-in-ones, since usually they incorporate at least a little metal in there to give them a weightier feel.

Shaving for men appears to go back to go way back to the Stone Age, though I gotta figure shaving with a stone blade was mighty tough.

Gizmodo has a nice History of Shaving, here’s a snippet:

Shaving in the Stone Age

A Nick in Time: How Shaving Evolved Over 100,000 Years of HistoryExpand

Flaked obsidian was equally useful as a hand ax and shaving stone. Image: farbled

While our early ancestors are routinely depicted as scraggly vagabonds, in the unending winter of our last Ice Age, facial hair was a liability. Once wet, it would hold water against the skin until frozen, accelerating the onset of frostbite. To remove the dangerous stubble, early humans are believed to have begun pulling out their hairs about 100,ooo years ago—mainly using seashells like tweezers, based on cave paintings depictions. 60,000 years later, the technique had advanced from plucking to actually shaving using flakes of obsidian and clam shell shards.

The first depilatory creams—rendered from arsenic, quicklime, and starch—made their first appearance around 3000 BC, and were employed primarily by women. At the same time, the new agricultural revolution allowed for the development of settlements, metalworking, and consequently, metal blades.

Shave Like an Egyptian

A Nick in Time: How Shaving Evolved Over 100,000 Years of HistoryExpand

Egyptian King Narmer wearing the White Crown and a false beard Image: Keith Schengili-Roberts – Royal Ontario Museum

In the fourth century BC, Greek historian Herodotus (485-425BC) derisively noted that the Egyptians “set cleanliness above seemliness” by bathing several times daily and maintaining a strict regimen of shaving their bodies clean—men, women, even children. Everybody, especially the upper classes, went completely bare. And for good reason.

Egypt is insanely hot—and living along the muggy shores of Nile River with shoulder length hair is intolerable. What’s more, long hair can house pests and diseases alike (looking at you, head lice). And given the general lack of effective medicine available to the majority of the public—or soap, for that matter—going bald was a much safer and more hygienic alternative. This early health advantage eventually evolved into the mark of the “superior” Egyptian civilization, wherein only barbarians, peasants, slaves, mercenaries, and criminals sported hair.

To achieve this hairless state, Egyptians routinely applied depilatory creams and repeated rubbings with a pumice stone to remove every trace of stubble. Archaeologists have also found both circular bronze razors and hatched-shaped “rotary” blades in many burial chambers, for use in the afterlife.

It’s kind of remarkable to me that since there seem to be numerous negative aspects to sporting facial hair, that this was retained in the genetic code. It’s also curious that men retained facial hair and more body hair than women did over the evolutionary time period. You can make the case that facial hair has some utility in cold weather, but what is the utility of armpit hair or pubic hair?

Also of interest are the various cultures that have men sporting HUGE Beards they basically never cut, like the Amish and the Hassidic Jews.

The Amish have had a growing problem with “Beard Cutting” incidents

https://i0.wp.com/msnbcmedia.msn.com/j/MSNBC/Components/Photo/_new/120827-mullet-vsmall.380;380;7;70;0.jpgAs part of our reporting on the story, sociologist Charles Hurst spoke about the significance of facial hair among the Amish and why the beard-cutting resonated so deeply among the community.

“Having a beard is a sign of adulthood, it’s a sign of maturity and it’s a sign of marital status. So it’s a sign of a man being a man. So, to cut the beard is a kind of humiliation,” he told reporter David Barnett.

https://i0.wp.com/wpiqradio.com/RequestBreakfast/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Swedish-Women-Take-to-the-Streets-to-Support-Hairy-Armpits.jpgFor this group of people, to have your whiskers cut is a form of humiliation, where as most of the population these days considers it routine.

Then for women, you have American women here who would not be caught DEAD without their legs and armpits shaved, whereas it is routine for European women to shave neither one. How did this cultural difference evolve, considering most Americans come from European stock?

Another interesting Shaving Phenomenon is in male homosexuals, who sometimes if they have a lot of body hair choose to do FULL BODY shaving, which has to be a major pain in the ass to undertake every day, and if you don’t do it every day having Stubble all over your body would seem an even worse problem. On top of that is the cost, because doing THAT much shaving I doubt you could make a razor cartridge last a whole year.


One of the interesting cultural changes for men over the last century is the disappearance of the traditional Barber Shop, where besides getting a Haircut you could also get a Shave from the Pro Barber with traditional Straight Razor.


The Barbershop used to be a place where men would congregate, talk about politics and the price of hogs at the market and so forth, just as women used to congregate at the Beauty Parlor, as my mom used to call it. Both Barbershops and Beauty Parlors have basically disappeared, with Unisex Hair Salons taking their place over time. Not much conversation happens in these places anymore, at least not that I can tell from my periodic visits for a haircut.

Far as getting a Shave in such a place, maybe some of the now referred to as “Cosmetologists” still do them, but I haven’t seen anyone get one in decades. Far as the hair on the back of my neck goes that the Barber used to shave off with a straight razor when I was a kid, they trim that down now with an electric clipper. I sat for a shave a few times back in the Wall Street years, but in reality it wasn’t any better than the shave I did with my safety razor so usually I didn’t bother with it.

One of the Preps I considered buying was a Straight Razor, but after realizing that my current supply of razors will last me the rest of my life, I couldn’t see a real good reason for buying one, other than as a Nostalgia trip. I AM however considering buying the Retro Safety Razor they have for sale at Fred Meyer. Even though you can’t find blades for these things anymore on the usual shelves in the Shaving area of Walmart, the Razor comes with a package of 10 Blades, which again is probably plenty for the rest of my life, particularly if I don’t use it every day, just once in a while on a Sunday Morning when I feel the Nostalgia rising inside of me, and want to take one more Time Trip back in my head to when I first picked up a Razor for my first shave. Doom was very far away then, and that Safety Razor felt very good in my hand.



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