- On the evolution of safety razors
It’s not clear when and who shaved his face for the first time in history. And why. Since most everything has a habit of starting in ancient Egypt or China, it’s a safe bet that the first act of shaving also took place in one of those places. Razors of sorts have been found from archeological sites as old as 30,000 BC, and the phenomenon of shaving could easily be even older. Be that as it may, the tool employed on the historic occasion of the first shave had a single cutting blade. And this remained so up until the latter part of the 20th century. With technology, the materials of the blade kept on changing – flint, clamshells, bronze, copper, carbon-steel, and ultimately stainless steel – but the one solitary blade remained a fixture. In all the intervening millennia, nobody thought of adding another blade to the razor. Before mid-1970s that is, when the twin-blade razor was introduced. Now we have razors with as many as seven blades, which has prompted many a thoughtful soul to wonder what exactly the seventh blade does that the first six can’t.
Of course there are ads explaining with the aid of impressive computer graphics, how the first blade gets chummy with the hair, the second one holds the skin, the third one cuts the upper part of the hair, the fourth one removes the remaining part of the hair, the fifth one tells the skin to hang in there as there are only two more blades to follow, and so son.
Of course there are ads explaining with the aid of impressive computer graphics, how the first blade gets chummy with the hair, the second one holds the skin, the third one cuts the upper part of the hair, the fourth one removes the remaining part of the hair, the fifth one tells the skin to hang in there as there are only two more blades to follow, and so son. Of course, all such explanations belong to the ‘If it says so in the description, it must be true’ category of advertising.
There have only been two revolutions in shaving technology: The advent of disposable blades (with which the ‘straight’ razor gave way to the ‘shavette’); and the invention of the ‘safety’ razor. The rest, including the expendable cartridge and the disposable razor, has pretty much been an evolution comprising variations of these. Electric shavers did at one time threaten to replace the manual ones altogether; but unless we are in for a surprise in future, they will merely be a footnote in the history of shaving. The story of trimmers is different though, but more on that later.
The world was content with the twin-blade device till the late 1990s when market competition forced the addition of another blade. Incidentally, the introduction of the triple-blade razor coincided with increasing numbers of men opting for designer or lazy stubbles. These men naturally favoured electric trimmers. The ‘clean and fresh’ look that the razor manufacturers had been selling since time immemorial now faced stiff competition from the ‘casual and manly’ look. The competition therefore got that much fiercer, and with it the desperation of the manufacturers soared. Luckily for them, it so happened that the group that opted for the beard/stubble was on average more intelligent than those that stayed clean-shaven. The departure of the former left the average razor customers more gullible than they previously were, many of whom fell for the ‘new’ technologies with increasing number of blades; hook line and stinker. For good measure, admen ensured that there was always a pretty lady around who approved as the shirtless protagonist went ahead with his shave.
But that’s probably not the whole story. The author has it on good authority that seven-blade cartridges are not without their passionate advocates, who know from their personal experience that these razors are better than their predecessors. Well, there’s no arguing with anybody’s personal experience (the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and all that sort of thing). Here, the author is reminded of a twenty-five-years-old incident. On a cold January night in Lahore, it was decided by a group of cousins to get outside fried fish from the famous Mozang Chungi. A party of three (including the author) set out on the errand with explicit instructions to buy from the legendary Bashir Darul Mahi and not from any of his numerous competitors. Once at Mozang Chungi, it was clear that Bashir, with a mile-long queue, was the last proprietor anybody with any sense would take his business to on such a chilly night. Fish was duly bought from one of the rivals (who was sitting idle), the wrappers carefully thrown away in the kitchen, and presented to the gathering as fresh from Bashir’s giant pan. It was a hit. Connoisseur after connoisseur observed how Bashir had that extra something none of his rivals could provide no matter how much they tried. It will be interesting to subject some of the fans of the seven-blade razors to a blindfold test where they are asked to guess the number of blades on the razor judging from the shave’s comfort and quality.