How to Shave the Old-Fashioned Way
Updated: Jul 4, 2022
And why it beats the modern equivalent!
The double-edged safety razor was once the gold standard of men's razors. Invented in 1901, the safety razor revolutionised the way men shaved, because it made shaving quicker, easier, and, as the name denotes, safer. Though straight razors would take some time to phase out, the safety razor would go on to flood the market and make its way into the hands of nearly every man, the same way cartridge razors dominate the shaving scene today. When the 21st century started, straight and safety razors had become nearly extinct, however, today they are making a bit of a resurgence, especially the safety razor, which has become popular among both men and women as a higher quality, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly option.
What's the difference?
Very quickly, I'll explain the key differences between a safety razor and modern cartridges. Safety razors are often 3 parts (not including the blade). On a traditional safety razor, there's the handle, the razor bed, and the head of the razor (the head closes off the top of the blade and screws in to the handle). On a butterfly safety razor, the head and razor bed form one piece, and do not detach from the handle. Instead, you twist a part of the handle (usually the base) to open the head of the razor, at which point you can insert the blade into the razor bed.
Cartridge razors you are probably more familiar with. These are only two parts, the handle, and the cartridge, which houses the blade(s). They come in all sorts, disposable, reusable, with 3 blades, 4 blades, or even 5. A safety razor has only one. Though at first the set up of a safety razor might seem a little more cumbersome than using "click and go" cartridges, stick with me, and I'll explain why the extra hassle is totally worth it.
Safety vs. cartridge?
As I mentioned above, safety razors use only a single double-edged blade. Some of you might be wondering, "How could one blade compete with five?" I know it seems a little counter-intuitive, but less is really more when it comes to getting a quality shave. A single blade means less materials, so you end up spending less money, but more importantly when it comes to shaving, it means less irritation for your skin, and a closer shave! The best part is, once you get the hang of using one, it won't take you any longer to shave with a safety razor than it does with a cartridge.
Now, less skin irritation and a closer shave is not something I can show you, it's something you really have to experience to understand. However, with regards to saving money, I can break down the cost-benefit for you quite easily. An average (not top of the line) cartridge razor will likely cost you around $15-20 to start with. You'll get a few blades with the razor, but, you're going to run out in fairly short order. So, you'll need to buy some new blades, and those will likely cost you the same price as the razor! Often a 4 or 5 pack of cartridges can run you anywhere from $12-$30! You can buy a quality safety razor brand new for less than $20 (you can always spend more if you want to go fancy!), but get this--a 100 pack of premium blades (which will last the average guy a little over a year) costs exactly the same. Twenty dollars. (That's only 0.20 cents a blade!) Much preferable to $5 and up for a single cartridge. Even with companies like Dollar Shave Club offering a cheaper alternative to the big brands, the quality of your razor and your shave will be incomparable once you experience a DE safety razor. Not to mention, safety razors omit the need for plastic. When you ditch your cartridge razor and opt for a safety razor, you can feel the quality in the weight of the handle and the sharpness of the blade. It's all solid metal. Your razor will never break or wear down, so you'll never need a new one! Now that is environmentally friendly!
Safety razor shaving 101
To do safety razoring properly, there are a couple of things you are going to want to learn. First, you'll need a quality soap, as foaming shave cream typically doesn't work as well to loosen the pores and prep your skin for the blade. To use your soap, you'll also need a shave brush. Badger hair is best, but boar's hair will do just fine, especially when you're just starting out. Place your soap in a mug or bowl, and wet your brush with some warm water. You'll want to leave it there for a few minutes to prep the soap (perhaps while you shower). Once the soap and brush are both prepped, you're good to go. Just start working your brush around your shave mug to work the soap into a thick lather. Finally, all that's left to do is apply! You're all done the hard part.
When it comes to the shaving portion, remember two things: hold the blade at a 30 degree angle, and let the weight of the razor do the work. Because a safety razor is a lot heavier than a conventional razor, you don't need to push or add pressure to cut the hair. Some people worry about cutting themselves with a safety razor, but trust me, as long as you follow those two steps you'll be fine! Finally, and this is optional, but a good safety razor shave usually involves three passes with the blade. Once with the grain, another against the grain, and finally one more with the grain, lathering every time.
I am lucky enough to have found an incredible deal on an antique used safety razor for my own personal use. Patented in 1932 by the Gillette razor company, this particular safety razor was made in Canada. It's got a great weight to it, and shaves like a dream. It's not fancy, but it's a workhorse and has served me well as my daily shaver for 4 years now! My shaving mug is a vintage men's Avon mug. These were advertised in the Avon catalogue back in the 1980s, and it is everything you want from a classic shave mug. The classic, milk white glass and a sturdy handle. Plus, the "gentleman's regiment" badge is super cool. Finally, the best and most expensive part of my set is my brush. Kent brushes are known in the shaving world to be the best a man can get (pun intended). Handmade in England with pure badger hair, they feel great when lathered up, and are just coarse enough to mix up your soap whilst remaining soft enough to keep your skin feeling great.
Where to go from here
Not sure how to get started? Need some more convincing? I've dropped some links to some of my favourite videos as well as my favourite entry level products down below. I hope this primer has been enough to at least pique your interest in one of the best activities I've incorporated into my own #VintageLifestyle.
Entry level products:
(that won't break the bank!)