Saturday, January 4, 2014

Close Shaves

Those who do not remember the past will shave with it. ~ Zoltan, with apologies to Santayana

So I'm watching the H2 or the History Channel, and the bald guy from that pawn shop show comes on, but he's not plugging his show. He's hawking a wonderful retro device for shaving, which he calls a single blade razor. What it is, of course, is the Gillette-style safety razor which is a single blade with two edges. The big deal is that it is somehow superior to multi-blade razors which have proliferated in the market for years.

I find this ad to be hilarious for a couple of reasons.
  1. When I started shaving, I used one of these things and damn near removed my upper lip.
  2. On the flip side, I worked for a razor blade company years ago, so I know just how silly multiple blade razors are.
First a bit of history. For lord knows how long, men shaved with straight razors, the original single blade razor (and convenient murder weapon in numerous flicks. One reason that men wore beards is that these things were a great way to hurt yourself. Think about it: A naked blade of dubious sharpness is scraped around your face in places you can't see well. This is painful and dangerous. It's no wonder that men preferred to get shaved at a barber shop. At least the barber could see what he was doing.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, King Gillette's gang came up with a covered blade on a sturdy handle which limited how much blade was sticking out. This was a whole lot safer, but you still cut yourself or ended up with razor burn which you treated by throwing sweet-smelling alcohol-based products on (a real man managed not to scream during this operation). They eventually improved on this by adding an adjustment device that would control how far out the blade extended from the razor, which may have saved a few lives.

This razor sold a lot of blades for Gillette (the razors were free with a pack of blades). But, when Bic came along with it's lightweight disposable razor, Gillette knew they had to come up with something, so they dusted off one of their many patents and gave us the twin blade razor.

I worked at American Safety razor, which made Personna blades, but made most of its money making store-brand razors. One thing I wanted to know when I started there concerned the Gillette ads. They claimed that, in a twin-blade razor, the first blade pulled the whisker out and the second one cut it off so more hair was cut. This was, of course, baloney. Think of how much shaving would hurt if every whisker was tugged on before getting cut. It would also require that the first blade be duller than the second, not an easy thing to control in manufacturing.

What actually happens when you shave is that you make little adjustments with your hand, mostly to try to avoid cutting yourself. With a single edge device, that means the blade actually cuts less at times because it's off your face, leaving stubble. So, you make another pass to get the stubble, but you tend to be careful (remember those little cuts), so it's still not as close a shave as it might be unless you go over spots again and again. Then you hit it with the old Aqua Velva and try not to scream.

With a twin-blade razor, when you make the little adjustments, one blade may still be in contact with the face, cutting those hairs you would have missed with your single-blade. It also means you'll probably nick yourself more. This is particularly true with pivoting razors, which defeat you subtle attempts to move the blade (I've run the lab tests to prove it; no matter whose blades you use, you cut yourself more with a pivoting razor than a non-pivoting one).

So, you can get the same shave with both razors, but you'll probably be done quicker with the multi-blade. Personally, I quit shaving after I left the razor blade company in 1984, so I have no idea if a five-blade razor does something wonderful compared to a twin-blade. My guess is all it does is cost more.

I suppose there will be people who go for the old razor. There will be old-timers my age who will want to take a trip down memory lane and younger guys who'll think this might be some really neat retro thing. Of course, their main hook is to get you to buy blades. I looked at my local Wal-Mart and didn't see any old single blade packs. So the only easy place to get them is from the outfit that sells the razor The ad says that 24 blades will last you a year, but if you've got real whiskers, you'll use a blade a week, which means you'll be buying more regularly. In fact, I'll bet they have a deal where they'll sell them to you on a regular schedule if you like.

And that, as King Gillette knew, is where the money is.

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