When Dollar Shave Club disrupted our costly enslavement to expensive premium blade systems back in 2012, the shaving game was turned on its head. Harry’s followed Dollar Shave Club with its own subscription model, offering premium blades and better looking handles. Then Gillette clumsily copied the cool kids with it’s own subscription model with more multi-blade cartridges and hideous handles, calling it “Shave Club.”
I was an early adopter of Dollar Shave Club. As a man with limited means and the creator of a blog that explored sartorial stealth and effective living on a budget, DSC offered a brilliant and very affordable solution. But even then, I was always bothered by the waste and the plastic. We get a plastic container of plastic blade cartridges, which all get thrown out at the end of the month. It seems small, but the waste adds up. If I could be one less person contributing to the floating continents of plastic in the ocean, I’d be a happier man.
I wanted to see if I could cut the cost (and the waste) even more. And I did.
A terrific piece in The New York Times Magazine by Malcolm Harris opened my eyes to an option that was in front of me the whole time: the safety razor. In fact, the safety razor is a perfected option that’s been around since the late 19th century, invented by… wait for it… King Camp Gillette, a utopian socialist who invented a safe and effective shaving system designed to avoid prohibitive cost and excessive waste.
So I took Mr. Harris’ suggestion and bought a handsome chrome-finished Merkur safety razor for $25 and a carton of 100 double-edge blades by Astra for $10. Since each blade is good for about one week (or five shaves) like Dollar Shave Club, that carton of blades should last just under two years. That means that my annual blade costs just went from $312 with Dollar Shave Club to less than $7 with a safety razor. In terms of the even longer game, Harris’ article offered some sobering comparison numbers:
Estimated lifetime cost of a daily shave, by brand: Gillette Fusion ProShield: $22,000 Schick Hydro 5: $13,000 Gillette Sensor3: $7,000 Bic single-blades: $2,000 Astra blades (for the safety razor): $400
And the shave? To be honest, shaving with a safety razor certainly feels different and heavier than the lighter cartridge system, and it takes a little more time and care. If the whole shaving process took about three or four minutes with a cartridge razor, it takes me about five or six minutes with the safety razor. As for the shave itself and my skin afterwards… to quote the founder of a popular shaving brand, it’s fucking great. And since it’s a very simple system with all metal parts that rinse cleanly and easily, it’s probably more sanitary. (And I don’t miss those skin-soothing strips on cartridge blades, which I’ve always suspected are just a cosmetic marketing gimmick anyway.)
Another important aspect of the safety razor’s appeal is aesthetic. It’s beautiful. Made with a chrome finish and a design that is at once elegant, simple and distinctly masculine, it’s a really handsome razor, which makes it even more of a pleasure to use.
In my quest to find better ways to do things, it seems I’ve found the perfect shave. Not with a new product, but with something that’s been around for over a century – something that startups with investors and old corporations with shareholders don’t want us to notice.
Over the past few years, I’ve been embracing the same philosophy and approach with other tools I use to live more effectively. My bicycle is built with a decades-old design. My Chemex coffee maker was invented in 1941 and hasn’t changed. Even the style and craftsmanship of my dress shoes go back a very long time. And they all still do the job beautifully and effectively. As Eve Moneypenny says to James Bond in Skyfall (just before giving him a straight-razor shave), sometimes the old ways are the best.
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I started shaving with a safety razor about 6 years ago. Razor bumps and burns are a thing of the past. I’ve probably only spent $25.00 in the last 6 years on blades too. Shaving with a safety razor is a skill, you know, like driving a shift stick. Manly!
Great article George, welcome to the best shave club of all! I’ve been shaving with my Edwin Jagger for about four years now. I enjoy shaving now in a way I never did before. Shaving used to be a chore, but now I look forward to it. It does take a bit longer with the safety razor, but the shave is well worth it. I started with Derby blades, but I find Feathers work better for me. I tried different soaps over the years, and I like Proraso the best.
Any idea where one can buy a safety razor and blades live and in person? (not Amazon)? It’s the razor with which I learned to shave from my Dad.
The Art of Shaving at the Shops at Columbus Circle.
I actually picked up everything at Walmart… razor, blades, soap and cup.
Been shaving this way for several years I have very sensitive skin and once I took the de plunge I was hooked I’ve bought several razors from as little as 3.00 to 30.00 my most recent is the premier rasage adjustable can’t wait to give it a try
I’ve been shaving with a safety razor for about a year now after asking the same questions about the common shaving practices of our generation. I agree with everything mentioned in the article and comments. I’ve been to The Art of Shaving and they have a lot of good options. Something I’d like to add is that I’ve been using coconut oil as a pre-shave and post-shave, while using castile bar soap with my badger brush. I’m curious to try the traditional Barbasol as mentioned in the article.
I’m with you on this. I first started with a straight razor ala straightrazorplace.com, but there are times when I was a little more in a hurry than I should probably be with that type of razor, and the safety razor has been great. I prefer the Gillette 7 O’Clock razors, amazon has some great multi-brand packs to test out the ones you prefer. I switched off Art of Shaving creams to the traditional soaps, but still use their aftershave lotion. I get a much better shave, it’s a better impact on the environment, and less of a waste. I still have a jar of razors I hold for recycling for the past few years, barely full.
Amusingly, after your article on DSC, I ordered from them online. Straight away I gave it to someone else and bought a safety razor (Wahl) and haven’t looked back 🙂 It took me a little while to get used to it – I was shaving electric prior – but it’s a far better experience than the cartridges they had when I was younger (I *hated* that sticky goo conditioner crap!) My dad uses Bic disposable, which I’m sure are fine but the waste really bothers me. Using Feather blades and Proraso and loving it. That’s probably a big thing for safety razors – it’s highly customizable to the user!
In Australia, Shaver Shop in person are first-rate, very knowledgeable and helpful, and they also sell online.
You’re missing out just sticking with Barbasol! By far my favorite part of wet shaving is lathering with a brush and old school cream or soap. In fact I quite regularly still use a cartridge razor (in the interest of saving time…and not being fully awake yet in the morning) but I always build a lather the traditional way!
I’m with you on this – I lather with an old school soap and it really adds to my shaving routine! Getting it into that whipcream lather is really satisfying, too.
I ordered a Merkur 34C online last weekend and it came in the mail this past Tuesday. I had been watching wet shaving videos online to see how it’s done and to make certain I would use the proper techniques. I first used the safety razor on Wednesday and- . . . wow. It really makes a big difference.
Commenters on various wet shaving forums speak about how relaxing the process is. I thought that might be hype and was a little skeptical. Plus I didn’t really want to add another “thing” to my daily routine. I have found it to be true however; shaving with the safety razor forces one to concentrate and be more deliberate. I am finding it relaxing and contemplative. The shave is better too.
Stated using a SR around 2 years ago. Shaving used to hurt and I would break out on my neck. I would recommend getting a mix bag of different blades on amazon. Every man’s skin is different sp uou want to try multiple blade types. I spent 35 on razer and 9 on a 100 pack of blades. You can also save a bit on shaving creams if use a brush and shaving soap.
I’ll chime in from the ladies’ department–I’ve been using an old-school safety razor for years and would never use anything else. I love the steady weight of a steel razor and the aesthetics too. Love that there are new options (my bf also ordered a Merkur after the NYT article) but there are also a lot of charming vintage options on eBay and elsewhere.
My one complaint re the Astra blades is the individual wax paper wrapping which I find finicky and a little dangerous to manage. I prefer the type of dispenser where you slide the new blades out and then deposit the old blade in a slot on the back–very handy.
Been using a safety razor for a few years now and I love it! I was very happy to leave the thieving ,multi-blade manufacturers behind.
I spend a bit more to get Merkur blades from Solingen, Germany. As for shaving soap, my local shave/smoke shop guy turned me onto this Canadian product and I love it. If you can find it, give it a try. I use the Bay Rum. http://www.elvadoformen.com/index.cfm?pagepath=Elvado_Products&id=51000
There are SO many safety razors on the market; you forgot to mention which one you use? Pray tell. Also, do you find it difficult to get the right angle? It seems like these safety require more time.
Hey, Roger. I bought a Merkur 23C and I love it. As far as actual shaving, it is somewhat different from shaving with a cartridge razor, but VERY similar. My best suggestion about technique is to just start off lightly. You’ll quickly get a feel for it.
I learned to shave with a safety razor (my father was old school) but then quickly moved to multi blade apparatus until about 10 years ago. Anyway I want to emphasize this great point – use LIGHT pressure! You don’t have to nor do you want to press hard as you often do with a multi blade head. If you get a vintage razor that you can adjust set it to the shallowest least aggressive setting to start – then adjust to taste! Cheers to a better and more conscientious shave!
I’ve used a safety razor for about forty years, but your article convinces me to trade in my old Gillette butterfly safety razor (which must be twenty years old at least) for something better. I completely agree with the need to stop producing plastic waste. I use soap rather than foam in a can to reduce metal waste as well. Thanks for another great article, George.
Although Merkur is a fine starter razor, after much experimentation I found that some (not all) Gillette butterfly razors are much better. My ultimate favorite is Gillette Superspeed from the late 1940’s, with Gillette Fatboy (60’s) a close second. Which razor will fit your face is very personal, but finding your own Holy Grail is a fun project.
Nice article. Been wet shaving for 10+ years after using an electric, soooo much better! I too use the Merkur razor, but found that Feather blades are by far the best. That’s the first step. Next is to get a decent brush (real badger, but it doesn’t have to be expensive or exotic) and some soap (after having tried many different brands I find Musgo Real, Proraso and Geo F Trumper the best seen from a function + aesthetic point of view). Once you get away from the chemical goo in a can you get at a grocery store, you won’t go back. It’s also cheaper and much better for the planet.
Likewise, going on 2 years now with a safety razor and never looking back (for all the reasons above). Didn’t know about the historical point on Gillette, feels like poetic justice now.
I dived right in and got a nice Muhle R41 and silver-tipped badger brush, elegant and perfectly weighted. I recommend trying a sampler pack of blades initially (still working through my $20 investment there), but I too have settled mostly on Feather (and Muhle) blades.
For soap, Proraso is fantastic for that refreshing barber feel. I’ve got to say though, hands down the best quality lather I’ve had is Taylor of Old Bond St Sandalwood. It’s just as cost effective too as you quickly realise that it’s so concentrated, you barely need to lightly touch your brush to it twice and that works up into an incredibly thick lather.
Great article. I just “discovered” the safety razor last month and am loving it. Like you, my motivation was all the plastic waste that my wife and I were generating. And it was so refreshing to see that many others echo this same sentiment. I feel a bit ashamed that I didn’t do this sooner but I suppose better late than never.
New to your site but am loving it. Keep up the great work and the great material.
Thank you so much!
So my man has decided to take the plunge into safety razoring, too. After that declaration, he followed up, saying, “Can you check what George Hahn’s using?” You’re just the freaking Pied Piper!
I LOVE the safety razor! Game-changer, money saver and effective old school tool that was in front of us the whole time.
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Nice article! It is astonishing how much you could spend throughout a lifetime on traditional cartridge replacements. I got an Edwin Jagger DE89L for Christmas a year and a half ago and have not looked back since. I am frugal, but the DE razor also provides the best shave! For me, it’s a no brainer. I appreciate you shedding light on the effectiveness of these razors, and also helping to cut down on plastic waste as well!
I switched to safety razors not just to save on waste but to look after my skin. I had struggled for years alternating between electric razors and cartridges – both left me with shaving rash and painful razor bumps.
Safety razors are cheaper, better for my skin, better for the environment and give a better shave (those blades are damn sharp). The razor also looks cool in your bathroom!
All of the above! Thank you!
I have just made the switch. What a welcomed change; a great shave. I highly recommend the sampler pack of blades to start. There is a surprising amount of differences between the different blades. Thanks, George,
Another good piece, George — and I am quite chuffed by your tonsorial recommendation. It feels like validation. I’ve been shaving for more than 50 years with the same Gillette TTO razor I used in high school.
I’ve been using a shavette for about 6+ years now, and I love it. Like you say, ‘distinctly masculine’, and the exercise is just brooding with heritage that comes to mind with every single shave.
I’ve hesitated with upgrading to straight razor proper, only because I have since grown a beard, so the actual shaving process now is far quicker and easier, with only a few light strokes to tidy up the edges. The idea of forking out for a bone handled straight razor has felt a little redundant. I still might though.
As it is I get to enjoy the heritage of a centuries old technique, which costs almost no money. One of the best habits I ever picked up in adulthood.