The Evolution of Design of Men’s Razors

If you take a look at the design and use of men’s razors throughout history, you will see that they have drastically changed.

The earliest known razors were sharp strips of rock or metal used in the Bronze Age; clearly razors have evolved into more practical forms. In the late 17th-century, the first foldable, metal razors were created; and as time went on, they evolved too.

Image via Flickr

The Straight Razor

Dating back to the 17th-century, straight razors were the number one implement for shaving; in second place were sharp knives and daggers. The straight razor is also known as the “cutthroat razor” due to its deadly edge and high skill level.

The design is fairly simple: a long, steel blade is attached via one end to a sheath that swivels out to act as a perpendicular handle.

According to experts, the straight razor is the best razor to use when shaving because of its single blade. Single blades apply even pressure to the skin, allowing the razor to cut the hairs without pulling, preventing irritating razor burn and bumps.

As mentioned, this type of razor needs a high amount of skill to operate safely; maneuvering around your neck and jaw-line with a single blade has been known to cause serious injury – that’s why many men who prefer this type of shave visit a barbershop.

Thankfully, a man with extreme ingenuity perfected the next razor.

Image via Flickr

The Safety Razor

In 1904, a patent was issued to King C. Gillette for an ingenious new razor: the disposable safety razor.

This little contraption began the fall of the straight razor and the rise of the modern razor.

The design was rather complex for a razor: a single, detachable, horizontal blade was attached to the top of a stationary, perpendicular handle; what made the safety razor different was the comb or bar attached above the blade that protected the face from injury.

This razor decreased the amount of skill needed to perform an injury free shave at home, while also allowing men to throw away dull blades, allowing a close shave every time. During World War I, the government issued every soldier a safety razor and disposable blades.

By the end of the war, over 13 million razors and 30 million disposable blades were in the hands of soldiers. Men were able to groom themselves at home without the fear of cutting their throats accidentally. However, it still needed quite a bit of skill to use; that’s why Gillette began production of the next razor.

Image via Flickr

The Multi-Blade Razor

Multi-blade razors are the most modern design. Similar to the safety razor, multi-blade razors have three to five blades mounted on top of a stationary handle with an aloe strip to moisten and condition as you shave; some are battery powered to vibrate the skin to allow a closer shave.

Most razor manufacturers make multi-blade razors as a priority since the skill level to use them is practically nothing; it is nearly impossible to find straight and safety razors in common department stores, but can be found at certain shops where classic men’s razors are sold.

Multi-blade razors aren’t only for men these days, however; some are advertised to women for grooming needs as well. Although easy to use, multi-blade razors have up to five blades which can pull on the hairs as you shave, causing irritating bumps and burns; that can be prevented by using certain after-shave products, but that’s a different story.

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A Brief History of the Barber: Old, New, and Weird Traditions

Before the days of disposable razors and aerosol cans of shaving cream, there were barbers; in big cities, small cities, urban cities and rural cities, most every man went to the town barber for a clean shave.

Barber image via Flickr

Who Were The First Barbers?

Yet what many people don’t know is that barbers existed even before the invention of modern cities – there were ancient barbers from as early as 6000 B.C.E.!

These early barbers did almost exactly the same things that modern barbers do; they cut hair, colored hair, shaved beards, trimmed beards, and even did facial makeup (okay, maybe modern barbers don’t do everything that the older ones did).

Whether it’s a Boston barber or a Chicago barber, all barbers share a rich historical lineage that weaves through some of the most identifiable times in history.

Here are a few highlights.

Military Advantages of a Clean Shave

Greece was one of the first societies to embrace barbers, as well-trimmed beards were a sign of fashion and wealth in this area during 500 B.C.E.

However, by 334 B.C.E., Alexander the Great ordered that all men must shave their beards, thus giving Greece a military advantage over their enemies.

Alexander’s reasoning was that his men could grab and hold their enemies by the beards, yet their enemies would not be able to grab them back; this gave Alexander’s army a distinct advantage from a military perspective.

One can only imagine that the barbers of this time period were exceedingly busy keeping Alexander’s army clean-shaven throughout Greece’s many military conquests.

The Social Implications of Roman Barbers

Less than 100 years after Alexander demanded his army go beardless, the practice of barbering became popular in Rome.

Around 296 B.C.E., barber salons became a popular sign of luxury, similar to the recreational fine baths of that era. These salons skyrocketed in popularity, becoming hubs for daily gossip and town news.

But the Roman barber salons were more than just recreational hotspots; they were also figurative representations of social status in a very segregated culture. Free men set themselves apart by being clean-shaven, while slaves were actually forced to grow a beard.

The societal implications of barber salons reached every nook and cranny in Rome’s societal class system. Unlike the world today, where both rich and free men alike grow beards for various reasons, the men in Rome lived by a very strict set of societal rules pertaining to their facial hair.

Old, New and Weird Barbering Practices

If you were to list off the services that modern barbers provide, “bloodletting”, “pulling teeth”, and “administering medicine” probably wouldn’t be among them.

Thankfully, modern barbers don’t continue these practices, although many barbers during the early Christian era did all of these things – plus more.

The practice of barbering, fortunately, has involved the same skill set for the last couple hundred years by eliminating both bloodletting and dentistry from their services.

Today, a Boston barber and a San Diego barber will both offer similar services: a smooth shave, a quick hair trim, a hot towel treatment, and much more. But at the end of the day, all barbers ultimately offer one thing a relaxing experience that has been a mainstay in American culture for hundreds of years.

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