Over the past three months I’ve been learning to shave with a cut throat razor. When I tell people about this I’m faced with the same response every time (you might even be doing it right now). It’s as if I’ve just announced I’ve started cutting my hair with a machete, or trimming my nails with a flame thrower. Their eyes get much wider and they inhale air between their teeth, like they just stubbed their toe on a door frame. You must be mad. Apparently old-fashioned shaving is held in the same esteem as Russian roulette: practically suicide.
Maybe it’s because the name ‘cut throat razor’ immediately implies that the practice is going to end in tears. Maybe it would help if I said my razor is technically known as a shavette, because the fold out blade is replaceable. This, I think you’ll agree, has a much less threatening effect on the ears. After all, nothing with the ‘ette’ sound on the end has ever caused any harm to anyone- take pipette, toilette or cigarette for example. Harmless.
The fact is, despite sounding insanely dangerous, cut throat shaving is a growing trend in the UK. A rise in the demand for vintage concepts has resulted in more barbers offering traditional shaves as standard. This even got so far as to feature on the last series of the BBC’s Apprentice. But even people who’ve paid for a traditional shave have fixed me with a terrified stare when I tell them I’m doing it myself. It seems DIY-ing’s still not OK.
There is a skill in it, mind. You don’t just pick up a razor and start hacking away. I learned a lot of things fast, like holding the blade flat against your skin and not, as I first guessed, at a ninety degree angle.
I don’t think I ever really knew the lower half of my face until I took a razor to it; you have to learn the shape of it in intense detail, each bend and bump in your chin. And yes, I’m not denying I’ve cut myself while learning. Quite a lot if I’m honest. But the cuts you get are tiny, the same as the ones you get from a safety razor when you’re learning to use that. The same rules apply, don’t slide the blade sideways and you won’t get hurt.
No, the real cost of using a shavette is time. It takes triple the time to shave while you learn, you have to plan it out a little more (and you can’t do it when you’re drunk either). But the feeling of doing it right is infinitely more satisfying and, when its done properly, the result is ten times better as well. Also, 10 new razor blades cost about one or two pounds, so you save yourself about eight quid each time on replacement heads.
Surely, the reason the cut throat shave died out wasn’t danger or cost but convenience. It takes less time to learn how to use a Mach Three so people moved on. But in the same way fast food looked like a really good idea until someone realised it made you fat, maybe the razor will be appreciated by all one day for its subtler values. The truth is that when you take the time to teach yourself this skill it’s quite liberating. That, by far, is the best reason for doing it.