Once upon a ridiculously long time ago, a caveman scratched his wet beard and felt icicles start to form within his impressive beard. He and his friends soon began plucking their hair with improvised tweezers made of seashells and fish bones to keep the dreaded frostbite at bay. Fast-forward 60,000 years and these tools get an upgrade to obsidian glass flakes, iron, bronze and even copper flint knives.
A world away, on the hot and humid banks of the river Nile, Egyptians were tired of their long locks that attracted pests and led to infections and disease. They opted for the baby-smooth look and went completely hair-free with the help of pumice stones and hatched shaped rotary blades (yikes!). They loved these instruments so much, in fact, that they literally took them to their graves to help tame those wild whiskers in the afterlife. The delightful term 'barbarian' was also coined during this era to refer to the 'unbarbered' or unsavory factions of society such as mercenaries, criminals and slaves.
Civilization quickly progressed from peasant settlements to war led political conquests. Way to go mankind! Alexander the Great dictated that the men in his army maintain short haircuts and clean-shaven faces. This strategic move kept enemy soldiers from gaining the advantage by grabbing and pulling their hair or beards during combat. Novacila was used to scrape off the hair while plaster ointment made of spider webs soaked in perfumed oils and vinegar was dabbed over nicks and cuts to heal them.
The world was soon at the mercy of this new trend in facial grooming. All of Europe soon embraced the art of shaving and colonists like the British brought it to the east and to the Americas. While shaving and frequenting salons was de rigueur in wealthy circles of society, the military, sports and the fashion industry of the time made it almost mandatory for the common man to adopt it as well.
Before long, our good ol’ friend industrialization came along and nudged the grooming industry into its next phase with the invention of the straight razor. It was crafted by artisans of cutlery in Sheffield, England during the 17th century and was sharp enough to slit a man’s throat if used incorrectly. Yet another reason to tip your barber well gentlemen. These razors also earned the charming nickname – cut-throat razors.
In 1792, barber, inventor and man with the most French sounding name I have ever heard, Jean-Jacques Perret, introduced the world to the single-edged safety razor. The Kamfe brothers improved upon this design to help reduce the possibility of cuts and injuries but the razor kit they developed still had its problems. The blades they provided with the kit lost their precision over time and required regular sharpening.
In 1985, an enterprising salesman named King Camp Gillette entered the foray and changed the game forever. The infamous razor and blades model, although not pioneered by Gillette, set the precedent for the razor industry for decades to come. He received patents for both his razor and blade in 1904 and the rest is history.
The world of men’s grooming is full of interesting anecdotes. For example, did you know that it was a US Army General, Ambrose Burnside, whose "mutton chop" style facial hair that gave birth to the word "sideburns"? Stay tuned to stay discover more as we deep dive into the fascinating history of shaving.