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:
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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 vintage design, geometry and materials. 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.