In search of the perfect shave

God forbid

Facial discrimination


In search of the perfect shave

In search of the perfect shaveMen feel that having facial hair is a basic affirmation of manhood. In a market survey which asked men if they would buy a wonder cream which permanently removed facial hair (and thus the tiresome need to shave), 95% said that they would not use it.

Nor would they undergo waxing even though it would give a much smoother and longer-lasting hairless face. But shaving for most men is the result of a paradoxical desire to appear bearded even when beardless. A waxed face would begin to look way too feminine.

So, shaving it is. And that is how Gillette and others made their fortunes. From that moment in the First World War, when tens of thousands of soldiers were given free samples of Gillette blades, the trend switched from having your face shaved by a barber, to standing by the sink at home and doing it yourself. In the century before, most men paid for a shave two or three times a week at the barbers. Competition was fierce and many barbers hired young women to apply the soapy lather - Greta Garbo started her working life in Stockholm as a latherer.

I wrote an article for the Independent on Sunday magazine about the shaving paraphernalia that people collect from that era and before. A cut-throat business is still up on the Independent website.

The original layout, with photos looked like this.

Philips rasoirBetween the wars, the advent of the safety razor with its disposable blades changed everything and men started to shave the 8,000 to 20,000 hairs on the face themselves. As more manufacturers entered the search for the perfect shave they introduced electric shavers in the 1930s, disposable razors in the 1970s and now, shaving is a multi-billion pound market.

History shows a change in attitude towards shaving - from the ancient Egyptians who insisted on close shaves and cropped hair to avoid parasitic lice and omnipresent sand, to the ancient Greeks who believed that a man not wearing a beard risked being mistaken for a woman.

A very short written précis of the history of shaving is captured in this response to a Notes & Queries question in the Guardian. When I refer to the bi-valve shells and other instruments that have been devised and used in different civilisations, some of them can be seen in this clip we shot at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford when making the half hour documentary I produced 20 years back. In search of the perfect shaveI would love to make a longer film with their collection to help their artefacts come alive. Click video alongside to see a part of their collection.

One day someone will commission me to write the full story of shaving including its history and controversy, shaving superstitions and religion. The full checklist of what I would cover is here. In the meantime, I have included in the following pages  a couple of the topics that would be included in such a book. The first, God forbid, takes a look at some of the faiths which have expressed a shaving bias one way or the other. From the Mormons who insist that their followers go bare-faced, to the Sikhs who regard the beard as God-given and therefore not to be touched.

And then, the last page in this section looks at controversy in the workplace where being unshaven can be a sackable offence for millions more.

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