Shaving has been an integral part of our society for many
millennia. Few of us ever stop to think about where this ancient
custom came from and how it became
ingrained our daily lives. We also rarely think about the evolution of
razors over time and appreciate how wonderfully easy it is now to
scrape the hair from our chinny chin chins. Finally, for those you who
may have friends who have been mistaken for the cookie monster (first
off they should stop dyeing their hair blue); I would like to go over
the basics of shaving.
Shaving, A History
If asked when and where shaving began, most people would tell you
that it was somewhere in Europe or perhaps in Rome sometime after the
second or first century B.C. Depilation, or the purposeful removal of
body hair, actually began much earlier. There are records of shaving as
far back as 30,000 B.C. These cavemen originally used
seashells or sharpened flint to literally scrape
the hair off their bodies. They also used these stones to cut artistic
designs into their skin that, if filled with pigment, would become like
a tattoo, but that's a different story. Scientists have found these
flint and shell tools and used carbon-dating to determine how old
they were. Scientists have also found a species of lice present on
facial and body hair of cavemen pre-dating these tools. The carcasses
of these lice began disappearing from the cavemens' bodies around the
time that these Paleolithic shaving tools were being developed and used.
As civilization began to evolve, humans gave up their
hunter-gatherer lifestyles and erected cities. With the dawn of
civilized man came new technologies, such as the ability to form
tools from metal. Around the 4th century B.C. the
Egyptians made razors from such metals as copper and solid gold.
Early razors were found in Egyptian tombs along with
hieroglyphic paintings showing how they were used. Around the same
time, the Sumerians were securing obsidian razors to slate handles to
make shaving easier.
The Greeks were known for being clean-shaven and this tradition
was passed onto the Romans, who used an iron novacila, deemed the
"Roman Razor," to shave themselves. This tool looks much like a pair of
"brass knuckles" but was thinner and ended in a long, sharp blade.
Soldiers began shaving their heads and faces so that their enemies
would have less to grab them by, in case of hand to hand combat. This
led to the term "barbarians," because the "less-civilized" cultures
during Roman times were not shaven and therefore "unbarbered." The
tradition of shaving was originally spread by Alexander the Great
during his reign the in 4th century B.C. He would not be seen going to
battle with even a "five o'clock shadow".
Aesthetic shaving had become popular in most modern societies and
was spreading rapidly. Its practice survived the Dark Ages and took
off in the Renaissance once again. In the 1800s, the infamous Steel
Straight Razor was created for the first time in Sheffield, England
in the early 1800s and remained in demand until late 1800s. This razor
was known for not only the closeness of its shave, but also the skill
required in handling it. It is also called a "cut-throat" razor for
On June 15, 1880 patent No. 228904 was granted, changing the
technology of shaving forever. The Kampfe Bros. created the
first ever "safety razor," which helped the user avoid accidents, such
as cutting their throat. This new razor added a wire along one side of
the blade, to protect the user from cutting into his skin. The only
problem with the safety razor was that the blade had to be removed and
sharpened often. This problem was solved on November 15, 1904 when
patent No. 775134 was granted to King C. Gillette for the first
DISPOSABLE safety razor. Gillette made a deal with the U.S. Military
during World War I, to provide their razors to all of the armed
forces, increasing their distribution and popularity. By the end of the
war Gillette had distributed over 3.5 million razors and over 32
million razor blades, demolishing their competition.
In modern times, we have advanced the art of shaving and disposable
razors to a point where the major companies have begun accessorizing
their razors as a selling point. Some razors come with an extra
"Precision Trimmer for tricky spots" (Gillette Fusion Ad). Others use
microchips and batteries to increase the smoothness and closeness of
the shave. And even others sport low battery indicator lights. It is
simply laughable at the things companies try to use to draw the
attention of the reader, but it is the cross we must bear.
Most of this history has been focused on shaving from the male
aspect. I would like to take a moment here to talk about the history of
shaving for women. The records of women shaving pre-20th century are
few and far between, but it would appear that certain classes of women
have been shaving themselves since the Roman Empire. In Rome, women
removed their hair using a combination of chemicals, pumice, and even
fire. It was reported that Queen Elizabeth would pluck her facial
hair with tweezers. It is also suggested that women of lower class,
such as prostitutes and courtesans, would shave their entire bodies as
to conform to the male idea of female perfection, as portrayed in the
sculptures of the Greeks and paintings of the Europeans. Shaving for
women did not become popular until 1915 when the May edition of
Harper's Bazaar was published with an ad showing a model in a
sleeveless summer dress and bare armpits. This was supplemented by the
Wilkson Sword Company, who ran an ad campaign in 1920, whose purpose
was to convince the public that feminine body hair was both unladylike
and unhygienic. This ad campaign was successful and in two years the
sales of razors doubled. Now, this way of thinking has become so
engrained in our society, through generations of daughters following
their mothers, that most women never question the fact that they shave
So Many Razors and So Little Time
Although less commonly used, these razors can still be found and
used by the shaving aficionado. These really fell out of demand with
the invention of the safe and disposable razor, but some barber shops
still offer single-blade shaves. The real problem is the amount of
skill required to safely wield the blade and that fact that, if used
improperly, can lead to serious accidents and possibly fatal wounds.
Disposable Safety Razors
As previously mentioned, the invention of the safety razor made the
others all but obsolete. With the added effect that people stopped
slitting their own throats, these made shaving easy, fast, and cheap
for everyone. The first disposable razor, made by Gillette, was
single bladed and was made completely out of steel. As time went on,
however, companies added a few new innovations: more blades, cheaper
design, smoothing strips, and even micro-pulse technology.
More blades increased the area over which the razor was removing
hair, which decreased the amount of passes a person would have to make
at their skin to rid themselves of all the hair. You can still find
really cheap single-bladed disposable razors from companies such as
Bic, but most of the blades today come with three or four blades. A
highly advertised razor today is the Gillette Fusion (4-blader), but
I can still remember as a kid when the Gillette Mach 3 was the top of
the line in facial grooming.
Razors and their heads became made out of hard plastics, which
decreased their cost. Plastics are also easier to mold than steel,
which led to razors beginning to look "cool." They began to be molded
to the hand for easier grip and were colored in fancy ways to catch the
please the consumer's eye. As well as being made out of plastics, some
new razors added a swivel head. This allowed the head of the razor to
move about 15 degrees above or below the original position. This meant
that the blades would follow the curves of the skin better and
therefore miss less hair in hard to reach places, like around a man's
Adam's Apple or around a woman's ankle.
Many razors now have a small strip at the top of the head which
coats the skin in a soothing and smoothing gloss after the razor has
passed over it. This cools the shaved skin and leaves it slightly
lubricated allowing the user to go over the area with their razor again
without chafing. Some of the razor heads for women have large
lubricating strips on either side of the blades, which eliminates the
woman's need for a moisturizer (shaving cream, soap, etc...) and saves
Finally, micro-pulse technology is something that was invented
recently that sends tiny vibrations through the skin. This is supposed
to decrease friction between the blade and the skin, which makes the
shave feel better. I'm not sure if this really works, I don't use one
myself. Razor companies are constantly coming up with new selling
points for their razors and by the end of next year I wouldn't be
surprised if there was one that greeted you: "Good Morning, Dave."
Electric razors were first introduced in the late 1920s and include
mechanically powered, AC powered, and battery powered razors. The basic
structure consists of a foil head which raises the hair up while a
blade comes along the inside of foil and cuts the hair to the extracted
length. The mechanically powered razors use hand power to either sweep
the blade across the foil or to wind up a fly-wheel or spring, which
would then run the blade. These have fallen from favor in recent times.
Most modern electric razors both look the same, with the difference
that the AC-powered razors require an outlet, while battery-powered
razor users are free to move about the cabin. Originally patented by
Jacob Schick (1928), the idea behind the electric razor was
to create a razor that did not require a moisturizer and could
therefore be used almost anywhere without making a mess. Later, the
Remington Rand Company introduced its first razor in
1937, followed by Professor Alexandre Horowitz, who created the first
successful revolving electric razor. Now battery-powered razors, from
all different brands, are used by many men around the globe. Many a
time have I seen and been seen racing down the highway, drinking a
coffee and shaving the scruff, trying to get ready for work.
What Shall It Be Today Miss? The Legs or the Vagina?
Another interesting progression throughout history is the areas of
the body that were popularly shaved. The past has helped define the
traditions of the present and, as time has rolled on, the new
generations have created new traditions of their own. These new
traditions will, no doubt, define the traditions of later generations.
For men, as previously mentioned, it was custom for them to shave
their face to separate themselves from the "barbarians." It was also a
custom for the warriors to shave their heads as well, as a battle
tactic. In modern times, someone with a purposefully shaved head is
generally thought of as violent and rebellious, hence the term
"skin-heads." For example look at most of the fighters on the UFC,
all of them are of a very violent nature and most of them shave their
heads completely. There's even a patented, custom, head shaver that
sponsors UFC Fighters.
Moving on, it is still traditional of most American men to clean-shave
themselves fairly often (everyday or every other day depending on
growth speed and schedule). This is still an act to look prepared and
put together. As technologies have allowed, however, some men have
began to cultivate beards and trim them in specific patterns and
shapes, which leaves the same effect on the viewer. Most men will not
travel much further than their face when it comes to shaving; however
there are specific occupations that call for more. Competitive
swimmers and bikers
will shave their entire bodies in order to reduce friction between them
and their relative fluids. It has also become a trend for some younger
men to "trim" their armpit hair as well, to reduce "fuzziness."
For women, the real shaving trend did not start until the 1920s. At
that point, however, every woman in America began shaving any hair that
would show with their newly hemmed-up skirt line and sleeveless
dresses. For most women, this meant shaving their legs and armpits (and
in some cases their faces every now and again). As I mentioned earlier,
it was said that women, such as prostitutes,
were said to have shaved themselves in order to appear as the epitome
of the "perfect woman," though it would appear now that
women of all classes in society do it. Nowadays, with swimsuits
exposing more and more skin, American women who want to be "in fashion"
have to shave basically everything.
The Vagina? Okay.
The final topic in this section is probably not only the most taboo,
but also my favorite. It is, of course, the shaving of pubic hair. I
decided that this subject deserved a heading to itself because it is so
new and apart from the rest of the shaving world. Most shaving is to
make something appear more neat to everyone, but pubic depilation is
something that will seen by a very small percentage of the population
and even the people that see will only see it for a brief period of
time. This is completely backwards in my mind.
I blame it all on porn. Porn is a wonderful, exciting, and
educational thing, but it has its definite downsides; primarily that it
IS NOT REAL and the things depicted in it hardly ever happen, at least
not to me! I can safely say that a small percentage of the population
will experience an actual spread eagle (basically a standing 69 for those who don't know).
Something that you notice about all the famous porn stars, both
men and women, is most of them have snipped and clipped their
downstairs like a shrubbery into some curious shape or pattern. The men
either take it all off or just trim it down to a manageable length (so
that it's not getting into the eyes of the person giving them a
blowjob). The women can take it all off, or sometime they trim it
down and then carve patterns into it, creating a sort of
Back to my point, young men and women see this media and take from
it a new idea of what "the perfect man/woman" looks like in the eyes of
the opposite sex. Craving the acceptance of their counter-parts and
generally being a bunch of horny little fucks, the youth then turn to
shaving their privates in order to get a "leg up" on the competition.
Now, I don't consider pubic depilation as "wrong" by any means, in fact
it can be quite comfortable if done correctly, I just find the reasons
people have for doing it interesting.
Tricks of the Trade
Now that you have been informed of the plethora of
areas that can be shaved, it's time for the how-to guide to shaving.
I'm not sure what exactly you want to trim or shave, but if it CAN be
shaved then you'll find out how to do it here.
For most of the body (legs, chest, arms, face, and butt) there are
two main methods for shaving: dry and wet. Wet shaving requires a
razor, a moisturizer (shaving cream/gel, soap, or water in some
cases), and water OR one of those nifty water-resistant electric
razors. Dry shaving only requires a razor and a fierce determination
to shave yourself.
To wet-shave with a razor, first, wet the Area To Be Shaved (ATBS)
with some water, this will suffice as a moisturizer if the razor has
large moisturizing strips on it. Otherwise, apply another moisturizer
afterwards to the entire ATBS. Then run the razor over the ATBS with
enough pressure that you can feel the blades scrape over your skin, but
not so much that you dig into your skin (which, although is hard with a
safety razor, is NOT impossible). Also, be sure to keep the blades
perpendicular to the stroke, otherwise you could slice yourself.
With the "wet" electric razor, simply wet the ATBS with warm water and rub the razor around the area that you
want to shave. Note that electric razors are generally meant for areas
that have fairly short hair, usually the stubble on the face or legs.
When electric razors encounter large amounts of hair not only does the
hair have a hard time making it into the foil, but also the hair that
does get chopped off tends to jam the razor.
Now, dry shaving the same as wet shaving though it does not include
the use of water, which discounts moisturizing strips and the use of
soap. A dry shave can be accomplished by applying a shaving cream to
the ATBS and then shaving like normal. Although a dry shave is
generally quicker, it can result in razor burn, skin
infections and a less-close shave. Using an electric razor, however,
dry shaving can be quick, safe and as good as a wet shave. Thank you
Now, when using a manual razor, there are some useful techniques to
getting that perfectly smooth skin. Some people shave against the flow
the hair (which way the hair is laying in the skin), which would be up
the face and down the neck and this is very effective, but I find that
with delicate skin this can cause little red bumps to form that no one
likes. The other option is to go at around 90 degrees to the growth of
hair (ear to nose and along the jaw-line), which has basically the same
effect as the other way, but is much softer on the skin.
When it comes to shaving or trimming the pubic area there are
numerous ways to go about it, but the steps to safely doing it are as
such: First, the hair in the area must be trimmed down to a level that
will not clog up razors. Then, this hair must be cut down to stubble.
Finally, the stubble has to be cut down to skin level, creating a
As mentioned before, the primary problem is the amount of hair in
the region, assuming it has never been shaven before. The best way to
shorten it is to use a pair of electric clippers with a very short
attachment to take most of the hair off. If you lack that option, a
small pair of scissors with DULL tips will do the trick too. Either
way, take the hair down to anywhere under half a centimeter, but not to
To take the hair down to a stubble, I would suggest that you use an
actually razor for this part so you can see exactly where the blades
are in reference to your sensitive parts. First, wet the area and apply
a small amount of shaving lotion. Then, in very small, slow strokes run
the razor along the growth of hair (normally downward) and wash the
blade off often. Repeat this process at least twice or until the hair
is no more than a stubble or smooth.
Now, this is the tricky part, because this is when you could hurt
yourself in ways that you'd feel with every step you took, literally.
To get rid of the stubble there are three options: First, you can
purchase an electric razor online specifically made to get rid of this
stubble without cutting anything precious. Second, you can commandeer
your significant other or best friend's electric face trimmer
and carefully go over the skin, without pressing down too hard (and
then be sure not to tell them, or at least offer to let them help
depending on the situation). Finally, you can use the manual razor and
apply another layer of shaving cream, but this time run the razor
perpendicular to the growth of hair as described earlier. This will
remove more of the stubble and be gentle on your skin.
The techniques described here are only if you want to return
yourself to your prepubescent-self. I'm personally a major advocate of
the "pubic trim," where you leave the hair at the half a centimeter it
was after using the clippers. This establishes you as a grown-up while
still taming the jungle, so to speak, and it means you avoid the time
when the stubble begins to grow back and you feel like you're walking
around with ants crawling all over your privates.
Now you know how to shave, well, everything. As one last word of
advice, no matter what you shave, take your time to do it safely and
enjoy it. Also, always put some sort of skin moisturizer on after it's
all dried off and smooth. This will help the skin heal up.
Famous Barbers and Shaving Mis-Steps
Barbers of Razors Past and Fiction
The most famous historical barbers are those of the Middle Ages. They, on top of giving the closest shaves,
acted as the doctors of the time. They were famous for "bleeding"
people of their diseases, which lead to a lot of deaths. Stories of
these blade-wielding stubble demons have worked their way into our
society today, showing up in many movies and TV shows such as Monty
Python and SNL. Fortunately, however, these menaces lost their
wrist-splitting privileges soon after the Dark Ages ended and went back
to shaving peoples' beards.
One barber that has recently become very famous around the world is
the fictional character, Sweeney Todd. He has charmed the hearts and
minds of many a young child with his gorgeous display of arterial
sprays and crunching bones. His macabre lyrics and sinister plans have
taken us by storm and have college students around the nation singing
along like it was Winnie the Pooh. Mr. Todd shows to the public, that
even though it may be the 1800s (in the movie), that single-blade
razors can still kill people quite easily.
A famous barber lived on 79 Degraw Street in Brooklyn, NY many years
ago. His name was Giovanni Gucciardi. He had been born in Palermo,
Italy in 1843 and moved to New York with his family when he was still
a child. He grew up integrated in the barber business and worked at
such places as the Everett House and the St. Nicolas Hotel, where he
shaved such men as Horace Greenly, Edwin Forrest, and A.T.
Stewart, before buying his own shop underneath the International Hotel
on Park Row. He had a wife and four children. His obituary can be found
in the New York Times, issue February 5, 1893.
The final barber that I know of is famous to only a handful of women
around the world. This man, who I know through a friend of mine, is the
famous Pussy Shaver of Burning Man (Homey Joe to his
friends)! Think I'm kidding? This man was lying around, toasted out of
his mind at this past year's "Burning Man" event, and a woman came up
to him and asked him "Could you shave my bush for me?" Looking around,
to make sure it was he who was being address, he agreed. The woman,
duly satisfied, then went back and began to tell all her friends about
him and soon this man was surrounded by women asking for him to shave
their pussies; Hence, his title.
Oops!...I Sliced Him Again
Discounting the innumerable people killed by medieval barbers during
the Dark Ages, most of the accidents that occur from shaving consists
of many counts of slight razor burn and some incidents of people
receiving small cuts that take forever to stop bleeding. There are,
however, two famous shaving accidents that I found after some Googling.
First, David Hasselhoff reportedly hit his head on a chandelier in
the Sanderson Hotel in London, while shaving at the gym. The chandelier
then broke and showered him with broken glass, severing a tendon in his
right arm. He spent a night in the hospital, while the public
immediately began to accuse him of trying to kill himself.
Second, Henry David Thoreau's brother, John, cut himself shaving
and caught lockjaw, which killed him in the winter of 1841. After his
brother's death, Henry began experiencing all the symptoms of lockjaw.
Concerned about Henry's condition, Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested to
Henry that he go spend some time on Walden Pond, to think things over
and clear his head. This lead to his famous book, Walden, published in
Note 1: Please remember that the topics covered here are not
universal truths. They are merely generalizations that I have found to
be true among a large percentage of people. If you don't shave
yourself, or if you aren't a horny little fuck, or if your hair simply
doesn't grow in the direction that I said it does, please don't be
offended. I respect every person's right as an individual to be
different from everyone else and if you are, then good for you. This
guide, however, WILL work for most people and I apologize if it doesn't
work for you.
Note 2: Some of you may be asking why I didn't include waxing
in this guide. The reason is that, although waxing is a particularly
interesting and painful form of depilation, it has NOTHING to do with
razors and therefore I felt it would be out of place in a how-to guide
Well, it's been a long and arduous journey, but we're finally at the
end. Good luck! And always remember, practice safe shaving!
Images of Roman Razors:
Images of Kampfe Safety Razors:
Info and Images of Mechanical, Non-Electric Razors:
Info and Images of the UFC "Headblade":
Edit 1: I've been getting a lot of comments on the etymology of the word "barbarian." I apologize, it appears that one of my sources was incorrect in saying that it was because the people were "unbarbered." Its actual etymology is from: the Latin root, barbaria, meaning "foreign country;" the Greek root, barbaros, meaing "foreign, strange, or ignorant;" and from the PIE base, barbar-, representing the unitelligible sound of foreign speech.
Source: Online Etymology Dictionary
Edit 2: I recently received some information on the micro-pulse technology and about how it reduces the friction and causes a smoother shave:
"The working mechanism behind micro-pulse
razors is the vibration makes the stroke literally a series of very
short ones (vibration), reducing friction and adhesion to the face (or
other body part) and making a better shave. Short strokes are best, and
vibration makes every stroke a series of short ones."
-Quoted with permission from smartalix. Thanks again.