A few months ago, I picked up a 1960s-era [Gillette Slim](http://wiki.badgerandblade.com/index.php/Gillette_Slim) “safety” razor off eBay. It was only about $30, and I thought it would be fun to give it a shot.
Up until using the Slim, my only previous experience had been with cartridge-based razors (and an electric, briefly), but I’d been reading about the alternatives, and had been curious to try them out.
### The “Safety” Razor
The thing that kicked me over the edge was having had a wet shave with a blade at a barber shop—it was close, with no burn, and it felt fantastic. When I started looking originally (both on eBay, and at [more pricey options](http://www.classicshaving.com/)), I had been looking at a mix of straight-razors and safety-razors.
What emerged in my research, though, is that a straight-edged razor really is a very scary thing. You have to go _much_ more slowly, and it’s difficult and dangerous to give yourself a shave using one. The “safety” part of the classic safety razor was that the worst-case injury was reduced from a surgical incision to a mere surface nick. When Gillette supplied three and a half million safety razors to the American soldiers in WWI, they made a generation of men into appreciative devotees of the convenience, speed, and safety of the invention.
So, safe? Compared to a straight-edge, undoubtedly. Compared to today’s cartridges? Harder to say.
### Razors and Blades
People sometimes talk about the “[razor and blades](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freebie_marketing)” business model, where you sell a thing at a loss, and recoup your costs selling a necessary consumable. Printer manufacturers are notorious for this, to the point of including [DRM modules in their ink cartridges](http://www.exponere.com/2009/printer-ink-drm/), to prevent you from saving money by buying generic.
It’s a great illustration, but I always had trouble with it when actually reflecting on razors themselves. When I buy a Gillette Mach 3, it makes sense that the blades would be pricey compared to the razor itself. The “razor” is just a plastic handle with some interface on the end of it—the blade cartridge is where all the fancy technology is. Of course it costs a lot!
Well, in the olden days of the Gillette adjustables, the blade really was just that—a blade. It really was their business model to sell the razor at- or below cost, and rake it in on the blades.
Unfortunately for them, though, a blade that’s just a blade is easily knocked-off.
The fact that it did get copied is part of the reason Gillette (and Wilkinson/Schick, and others) eventually abandoned the safety razor in favour of cartridges. Once there were companies manufacturing blades at ten for a dollar, it didn’t make sense to make that kind of razor any more. With a cartridge, they could patent and trademark it, and ensure enough inherent complexity and variety that no one would ever try to knock it off again.
And thus was born the 8-pack of razor cartridges that costs $25.
In the next post, I’ll talk about how the Slim actually works, and what it’s been like having it as part of my routine.
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