Part two of three.
In one way, the introduction of any disposable element represents the first step away from the purity of the cutthroat. Another viewpoint is this: shaving with and maintaining a straight razor is, to put it lightly, a terrific reason to grow a beard. So did the disposable razor initiate a decline down a perfumed and gel-slicked slope towards expensive, gimmicky cartridges? Or are safety razors one of those few innovations that has both improved the user experience while dispensing with the need to further innovate? In my experience a good safety razor really is the first and last word in wet-shaving.
To understand why, one must first honestly assess wet-shaving today. Who needs it anyway? Facial hair is not just acceptable, but popular, and for those who wish for a smooth-ish mug there are very capable electric razors that decently eliminate ordinary stubble in half the time of a wet shave, and without all the high-drama of risking a nick. The wet-shaver, then, is a particular sort of man who wishes closer, lasting results. He might also experience a certain frisson as the blade tracks smoothly through a fragrant and favorite soap, but recognizes that more than a few minutes indulging his preference seems ludicrous given how unnecessary a ritual it is. To maintain loyalty, then, the big names in wet shaving have organized their offerings around a core principle: innovation as a means to speed and comfort.
This doesn’t sound so bad until one considers the casualty: common sense. No wet shaver I’ve met can convincingly explain why more blades are better, or what that strip of jelly does (or is), or, heaven forbid, why a vibrating handle represents an improvement. It doesn’t matter. What does is that innovation has taken place—that a change has occurred that now makes an old or competing cartridge seem embarrassingly outdated. That the cost of these cartridges climbs incrementally with each improvement is less shocking than the impression that there is no alternative—that the modern wet-shaver is betrothed to a handful of restless options. This is innovation run wild, uncivilized mass delusion.
The original safety razor is refreshingly simple. A disposable razor blade is held snugly in an easily operable device. The angle of attack seems intuitive, the movement made confident by a well-balanced, knurled handle. The economic argument is strong; a package of thirty razors costs a fraction of what the same number of high-tech cartridges do. There are intangibles as well: a good safety razor sings a metallic monotone as it tracks through thick stubble. It looks nice on a shelf too.
So, can a safety razor evolve the right way? Absolutely. The highest quality examples today are machined to extraordinary tolerances, making examples from fifty years ago seem rudimentary by comparison. The disposable razors themselves are far sharper but more durable than ever before too. But it must not be ignored that these are material improvements upon a largely unchanged straightforward design of a single, angled blade at the end of a sturdy handle. Rather than arms-race style innovation, the goal is precision within sensible parameters. Comparatively civilized, no?