The Art of the Shave

This will be one of my first lifestyle posts. Of all topics, it is about shaving. I’m not sure this blog/site has an overarching theme. I usually take a good book and try to apply an observation from the real world. If you read my review of A. J. Fikry (For the Love of Books), the post is more about the loss of the bookstore and what that means. Sure, technology is great but gossiping at the local gas station or playing cards at the neighbors (this is my subtle nod to Lewistown) or learning about good books through word of mouth is far more important. In life, there is always a balance.

When I was a kid, I really didn’t know what shaving was all about. I’d watch my dad and think that has to be the greatest thing in the whole wide world. Look how cool that must be. At age seven, you will try about anything. I would lather up and use a make shift razor made from duct tape and cardboard to scrape the soap off. At an early age, I realized you can indeed do anything with duct tape.

Then, the day came when I really had to shave. After years of anticipation, the big day had finally arrived. There were whiskers on my chin that needed to go. This was a glorious day. The problem was that I had to do it again two days later. And again … and again … Sigh … Well, you get the picture. Be careful what you ask for. Dreams can come true.

This is such a pain that Gillette has been working to make a better razor for the last hundred plus years. Without taking anything away from Coke, the King of razors might be the world’s number one marketing brand. They have a captive audience. Everyone has to shave and most hate doing it. There has to be a better way. Enter Gillette stage right, who gets to redefine the market every few years and coerce us into spending millions on doing the same bleeping hated activity each and every day. Americans waste at least a good forty to fifty hours a year standing in front of the mirror and that might be on the low-end. You can go to the moon and back in the same time span (but only using Russian made rockets right now, which is pathetic America).

What most people don’t realize is that the Gillette Mach 3 might be one of the most significant innovations in history. Sure, everyone talks about iEverything, Windows, Facebook, Twitter, Tesla and the next IPO flavor of the day. How soon we forget truly great innovations. Considering Gillette spent almost a billion in Research and Development and marketing costs in 1998 dollars, it might be one of the biggest risks in business history. Even taking inflation into account, Nasa spent less taking us to the moon. The entire project took years to develop, those three little blades are honed by science and lasers, and it was so secretive not even the board of directors saw the product before release. When it comes to product launches, even Apple plays second fiddle to the blade company. A concept this revolutionary had to work perfectly coming out of the gate. There are no second chances for software updates when you cut someone.

From a strategy standpoint, Gillette also locks you in. There is a reason the system costs less than the cartridges. It’s only a razor but they always keep you coming back for more. However, all of the marketing, high-tech lasers blades and focus testing does come at a price. These cartridges are expensive. I cringe every time I buy a pack. Yes, a gallon of milk and package of razor blades can run north of $40. So, I decided there had to be a better way. It was time to embrace shaving, take a time machine and go back to the good old days.

I grew up in the era of the electric shaver. This is one of the things in life you should consult with your father about once in a while. He used an electric shaver and so did I, until Gillette and its three and five bladed razors changed the world. I am still waiting for the nine bladed razor. Come on Gillette, the world wants it. Let’s get started.

When I started to think about razors, I really didn’t know how to shave. What does the rest of the world use? What did we have before the electric shaver? I started to look for options and discovered the original safety razor. There are actually several companies that still make these, including Gillette. I ended up going with the Merkur 34C. Why? I’m not sure. There are many different models and types. Length and weight vary. When it came in the mail, I was shocked by how heavy it was. Compared to a Mach 3/5 (and maybe nine one day), the 34C is a beast. Although prices vary, I think I ended up spending about 30 bucks on the blade itself, but here is the kicker. The blades are less than a dollar. If you order in bulk, you can probably get these for a half-dollar or even less if you do a little research. I’ve seen safety razor blades for as low as a quarter. Even at Costco, Gillette Fusion Blades will run you a good $3.50 a pop.

When it came in the mail, I was almost afraid to use it. I went out to YouTube and found a quick tutorial. Then, I went to work. What I learned is that you can’t use this like a Mach 3 blade. There is truly an art to the shave. I think most of us have forgotten. The 34C is heavy for a reason, so it does the work. If you push and pull, it will cut you. It also takes more than one pass. I am pretty sure I shaved a layer of skin off after the first use. I felt like someone had used a blow torch on my face for most of the day.

After a few weeks, I started to get used to it. It takes a little longer each morning, but I have learned to embrace it. I’ll listen to a pod cast or a little music and shave the right way. There is truth to the claims. Less razor burn? Check. Cleaner look? Check. It is the closest shave I have ever had. I was so proud I called up my old man and told him about my little experiment. He paused. I was expecting him to tell me I’m sorry I never showed you how to do it. Instead, he asked, Why in the world would you do that? I did that for thirty years. There is a reason I never showed you one of those. There is a lesson here. 

I almost defended myself because I do like to use the razor. When you add up the extra time, etc., I’m not sure if you save any money, but there is something to be said for art. I remembered my son saying earlier in the day, You don’t know what you’re talking about. I wanted to reply, Well, boy, I have been riding a bike longer than you’ve been on the earth. Instead, I let it go and a few minutes later I cringed when he crashed.

And that is why dad’s don’t tell their children all of their secrets. The safety razor might have been left behind for a reason. Sometimes, it’s just better to learn. Who knows, maybe you’ll like it.