The history of straight razor shaving
K Kyle Tarter

The history of straight razor shaving

27 feb 2022

Straight razors have a vast and fascinating backstory. There’s a handful of modern tools and instruments that can be traced throughout history. Razors are one of those objects that have found themselves etched into most history books. While they might not have toppled kingdoms or won wars, they did their part in making sure our ancestors were well groomed. A simple google and Wikipedia search will have you believe that straight razors were used as far back as the prehistoric ages. I for one find it hard to picture a caveman staring at his reflection in a river using a shark's tooth or sharpened clam shell to trim his neck beard, but who am I to judge the beauty standards of Neanderthals? Here’s what I was able to gather about the history of straight razors:  

The oldest recorded straight razor can be traced back to the 4th century BC. Solid gold and copper razors were discovered when excavating tombs in Egypt. After that, they were eventually introduced to Rome by King Lucius Tarquinius Priscus in the 6th century. Lucius was the fifth king of Rome and ruled for thirty eight years and like the ancient Egyptians, proper grooming and an extravagant appearance were essential elements to his rule.

Fast forwarding to 16th century England, the first straight razors were manufactured in Sheffield and were exported by John Spencer to Finland. Astonishingly, modern day straight razors still stay true to their original design. To this day, Sheffield is still considered very high quality steel and is still used by manufacturers in France. 

For the better part of the next two hundred years, straight razors defended their title as the primary way for one to achieve a good shave. They remained unchallenged until 1903 when King C. Gillette introduced the first system razor, a two-piece safety razor with a thin, strong, sharp double-edge blade attached to a reusable handle. Over the 20th century, these razors became the new standard. 

And that’s where we find ourselves today, trapped in a world ruled by razors with multiple blades. Ok, maybe the words “trapped” and “ruled” are a bit dramatic. In this day and age, we’re seeing the reemergence of vintage ways and fashion. Records, cassette tapes and high waisted jeans are just some of the outdated trends and fashion that have once again found themselves in the spotlight of modern society when they were believed to be extinct. As we continue to strive towards a constant state of nostalgia, It is my hope that we also embrace bringing straight razors out of the archives and back into our daily shaving routine.

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