A History of Shaving

For most of my adult life I haven’t shaved. I grew a moustache at 20, a full beard at 23, which I then wore (with two brief looks at the naked chin to make sure it was still there, before quickly growing the beard back again) until I was 50. At that time I looked like a caricature of a bald and bearded middle-aged clergyman. I no longer needed the appearance of maturity and gravitas I clearly thought I lacked in my 20s; I now concluded I looked mature enough, and shaved it off.

After that I wet-shaved for a dozen years or so before getting tired of the fun-less scraping and scratching, and bought an electric shaver. Thereafter, less blood, but not so much in the way of close shaves.

And in May 2014, after a retreat on Lindisfarne with a number of bearded Celtic Christians, I grew the beard again. It was nice to save the time spent shaving each morning, but I never liked the beard much, and always kept it as short as possible. The feeling was that I only kept it because I disliked shaving even more. Until a couple of weeks ago, when I again tired of the beard and thought I would give shaving another try.

The trouble is, not only do I not have much recent experience of it; I also don’t feel I ever knew enough to be called a shaving ninja.

I hardly have any recollection of starting to shave, presumably in my teens. I’m guessing that I used a safety razor with double-edged blades because there wasn’t anything else in the 1960s. The first (single-blade) cartridge was introduced by Wilkinson in 1970 - the year I spent in Germany - and the Mach3 didn’t come in until 1998. This time around I’ve had a good experience with The Bearded Colonel’s subscription razor service, especially in discovering the joys of using a badger-hair brush and nice shaving cream. But their 5-blade cartridges scrape your face five times as much as a single blade, and even though they’re better value than Gillette (which they denounce as a rip-off) they are still lots more expensive than using double-edged blades. I mean, lots more expensive: four blades from The Bearded Colonel cost £10 - £2.50 for each blade - while some of the typical prices for double-edged safety razor blades are £3.50 for 10 - 35p a blade. Other reasonably priced makes of blade include Derby and Personna. Feather are also among the cheapest, and some say the best; though they are also reputed to be the sharpest available, which puts me off wanting to try them. Executive Shaving recommend trying several different blades to see what works best for you, and they sell a ‘sampler pack’ for £20, containing a selection of six leading brands: Feather, Personna, Wilkinson Sword, Merkur, Timor and Gillette Silver Blue.

In fact, ‘Dr Shave’ has this to say about safety razors and blades:

Initially, a safety razor will cost more than one of its modern Mach3 and Fusion type counterparts. However, in the long run a safety razor will prove itself to be a cheaper alternative. A pack of four Fusion razor cartridges, enough for about a month, costs on average about three times the price of a pack of ten safety razor blades that will last over three months! On that basis it’s not hard to see how safety razor shaving will benefit your pocket in the long run.

[Seems to suggest you can make a DE blade last up to 8 days?]

My first attempts at re-learning the use of the safety razor were a bit bloody. It really does require a different way of holding the razor, from the multi-blade cartridges which follow the contours of your face. I managed quite a cut on the very first day - more than just a nick -to the left of my mouth. Then there’s that mole on that cheek - maybe that’s what I was trying to avoid when I made the cut. And the places I always seem to draw blood: the middle of my chin just below the mouth; the moustache area between nose and mouth.

Sometimes you need to take a day off shaving to let the wounds heal…

Tomorrow, to try a different make of blade: a Derby.

Written on February 23, 2016