Mad Men-scaping

by Josh on August 16, 2011 · 9 comments

in Bathroom,Journal

Multiple choice: What do I have in common with style icon of the moment, Don Draper, the fictional 60’s ad executive of AMC’s drama Mad Men?

Yeah, it’s the shave. - I'm like Don Draper on Mad Men minus the looks, charm, style, talent, and sex life But for me, shaving like a Mad Man is as much a matter of economy as it is style. That’s because the double-edged safety razor dates to the era before the “give away the razor, sell the blades” business model and the blade-count arms race that define this market today.

An all-metal safety razor and quality badger-hair shaving brush are things that men only needed to buy once–or at worst once in a long while. In fact, I’m pretty certain I could be shaving with my grandfather’s safety razor today if I’d had the sense to take it 15 years ago when he was giving away some of his things. Meanwhile, the rechargeable electric razor I was using at that time went in the trash years ago.

Shaving kit So just how thrifty is Don Draper’s shave? Here’s how my costs compare to a contemporary cartridge razor:

My shaving gear

  • Vintage Gillette razor and badger brush from Junk Bonanza: $15
  • 100 Shark stainless double-edge razor blades: $17
  • Proraso aloe & green tea shaving soap: $9
  • chrome razor stand: $20

Total: $61

Contemporary cartridge razor

I have had my shaving kit for 10 months and I haven’t used up any of it. The 100-pack of blades will easily last 2 years at my current rate of consumption. Even if each cartridge razor lasted 4 times longer than a double edged blade, I would need to spend $84+ to get the same number of shaves I can get from $17 of safety razor blades.

The double edge blades also use much less packaging, are much simpler to produce, and yield a much smaller volume of waste. That means this is one instance in which the thrifty choice happens to be the green choice, too.

“That’s all great, Josh,” you’ll say, “but how well does this old razor work?”

Absolutely fine. After all, how much technology does it really take to cut hair? (I don’t see hair stylists using 5-blade cartridge scissors.) A razor that is sharp–no matter how many blades it has–is the most important part of getting a close, safe shave. Because my blades cost only $.17 apiece, I change them frequently so I’m always shaving with a sharp blade.

A closing confession
When I bought bought my vintage razor and badger brush I wasn’t really sure I would use them. I just thought they would look great on my bathroom shelf. And they do. But I also found out that if I ignored the modern day Don Drapers pushing expensive high-tech disposable cartridge razors, an old-school shave can be close, classy, green, and wonderfully cheap.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

plantingoaks August 16, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Apparently you’re not alone in your accessorizing ways.

I remember an episode of House where Hugh Laurie’s character shaves his omnipresent stubble. The camera shot showed a shaving stand like yours next to the mirror, but he was using a modern disposable razor. I thought it was just a set direction oversight, but maybe people actually do this?

We’ve talked about getting old-fashioned shaving equipment, but most of the shaving going on in our house is either my legs or his head, and I don’t get the impression safety razors are suitable for that sort of thing. Correct me?


Josh August 16, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Yes, House has company using a modern razor in an old-school stand with a brush. Brush-applied shaving cream is seen as superior to canned lather because the brushing action helps to lift and soften the beard and because the shaving soaps can be made of more natural ingredients. Someone looking for the best performing shaving kit (without regard to price) might choose a modern razor and brushed on shaving soap– in fact, there are matched brush and cartridge razor handle sets made for just this group.

As for using a safety razor for something other than beards– why not? Before cartridge razors were invented this is exactly what people did. If you go that route you’ll need to adjust your technique to short straight strokes instead of the long sweeps shown in razor commercials. That could take a bit more time than you are used to, particularly when you’re getting the hang of the new equipment. You’ll have to weigh your own time, budget and curiosity.


threadbndr August 18, 2011 at 12:18 pm

When I was a teen (in the 1960s geeze), I used to shave my legs with an old style razor. Just be really careful of the CORNERS of the blade. It’s sharpened all the way to very edge and those corners stick out just a bit from the head. I did badly nick my ankle bone a couple of times when I was just learning.

Reply August 16, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Great to hear you made the switch! I did back in December 2009 and wont go back to more expensive methods. The old razor is classic with only the price of blades as the cost. Took me a month for my face to get uses to the close shave but I love it now. Since my skin is sensitive Ive found a couple products that work pretty god for me. Proraso from Italy works the best for me. I picked up Gillette brand blades on Amazon made in Russia. Works great. I dont shave daily so these blades are going to last me forever!

If you buy old razors from ebay, swap meets, etc… dipping them in an ultrasonic for 5-10 minutes are going to clean them and make them look brand new.

Some people are sending theirs in to be re-chromed or gold plated… I think last time I checked it was around $50 per razor. I never did this though.

The only thing I dont have is a stand! Maybe next Christmas 🙂 Anyways, awesome news and great to read! I hold up a Sidecar drink to you and wish you the best. Cheers!


Josh August 16, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Great tips, thanks! I use Proraso sensitive skin soap, too and I love it. It works wonderfully and smells fantastic.

Inexpensive razor stands can be found new on Amazon and elsewhere, and vintage examples are in the usual places. As you know the stand is more than display because it helps the brush and razor dry quickly and last longer. Here’s hoping one finds its way into your Christmas stocking this year.


Kirsti @Living in Lovely LaLaLand August 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Thanks for the information. I’ve been wanting to purchase one of these sets for my husband but never have. He’ll appreciate seeing the cost benefits.


PAppel August 16, 2011 at 11:36 pm

I love your canisters. Source, please?


Josh August 17, 2011 at 7:28 am

The canisters are from Target a few years back.


threadbndr August 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I had a boyfriend once that used a old school straight razor, hand sharpened on a razor strop. He was into the whole civil war re-enactment thing and said that it gave him the best shave, hands down. The badger brush and soap are the same and probably the key thing.

My son has my grandfather’s shaving mug (to whip the soap up in) and brush. Another thing that will last for generations if they are taken care of!


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