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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Celebrating the Old Ways - In Praise of the Safety Razor

This post may seem out of character, but at heart it's about simplicity and the fact that slick marketing sometimes convinces us that more is better - and then gets us to pay for it. If you shave, and most of us do shave some part of ourselves at least every now and then, and if you use a blade razor to do so then this blog is for you.

Long, long ago when I was in high school I had the misfortune of stepping on my mother's safety razor when I was in the shower and taking a divot out of the arch of my foot. The experience instilled in me a mistrust of those silver headed razors with their opening doors that resembled a B-25 bomber from World War II. At the time I used an electric razor. Later, when I used a blade razor I chose what were in my mind much safer options, razors with enclosed shaving heads that ejected off the handle or were completely disposable. They were inexpensive, efficient, and made it hard to cut myself. Even though I have had facial hair on and off for the last twenty-five years or so I still need razors - unless, of course, I want to look like someone who just stumbled out of the woods after being raised by wolves. Even a full beard requires maintenance, and it's easier to do with blades than with an electric razor - though I do own an electric razor for those times of year when my facial hair takes a holiday, or at least a few hours off.

Over the last few years something odd has happened in the blade razor market. There are fewer companies making blades, and the ones that do have increased prices dramatically. The Gillette Fusion, for example, is priced from about $4 per razor head and up. There are four blades inside the head of a Fusion razor, and (for reasons that quite frankly escape me) those who chose to do so can even purchase a Fusion razor that vibrates. Recently an enterprising entrepreneur has entered the replacement blade market and will send you four replacement blades a month for between $1 and $9, depending on the number of blades in each head. It's better than $16 and up, to be sure, but still a bit ridiculous.

A couple of months ago I visited a newer barbershop in Milwaukee called Stag Barbershop. It is run by a local entrepreneur who happens to be a woman and features, among other things, straight razor shaves. With the exception of the person who works at the desk, the staff are all female but they avoid the sleazy atmosphere of some of the trendy chain salons that cater to an exclusively male clientele. They have the old barber pole in the window, a manly ambiance including dead animals on the floor and walls, and an impressive quality control program for their young barbers in that a more experienced barber checks your haircut before you leave the chair and points out corrections that need to be made. In truth, that didn't keep me from getting a haircut that was MUCH shorter than I wanted, there seeming to be this culture among the younger barbers that everyone must want a haircut that belongs on a twenty-five year old. I also had to tolerate some pretty inane conversation from my barber that I am sure would have been fascinating to a twenty-something year old guy but left me wanting to harm myself. However, in their product case they were selling the old-fashioned safety razor. I've noticed the same thing at the local mall in a store called The Art of Shaving, so I got curious and went on eBay. On eBay I found a red handled safety razor (trying to avoid flashbacks to the shower incident, I avoided silver) for under twenty dollars with ten blades included and ordered it. I noticed that I could get twenty-five replacement blades for well under ten dollars - a far cry from four dollars a piece, but how would they work?

To be honest the first time I used the razor I cut myself in a couple of places, but I quickly discovered that the reason I was cutting myself is that I was pressing too hard. All those years of apparently inferior cartridge razor use had caused me to press down pretty hard when shaving, something that isn't necessary with a really sharp, single blade safety razor. Since that first day I rarely cut myself, and the results are at least as good as a cartridge razor with fifty seven blades in every head. I am a believer! There are even an array of accessories that you can buy including the old-fashioned razor brush, mug, and shaving soap as well as stands to put your razor on when it's not in use. Since there are toddlers in our house I have avoided temptation in those areas and just secure my razor in the medicine chest, though I have discovered the joys of shaving oil. If you are shaving your face with a blade and not putting shaving oil on your beard before your shaving cream you are missing out. It's only a few dollars for a bottle that will last a couple of months (though you can spend much more) and well worth the investment. I change my blade once every other week or so, keeping in mind that since it's winter I am only shaving below my beard line. When summer finally arrives and I shave more of my face I will change the blade every week. Perhaps best of all, it feels like I am engaging in a bit of self pampering, which is definitely good for the soul.

So get on eBay, or go to a local outlet if you want to pay too much, and order yourself a safety razor and some shaving oil. You'll get back in touch with your face, and save a ton of money too!

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