Simulated Materials in Two Disposable BIC Shavers

Posted on May 22, 2011 by

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Despite the fact that I have a beard and Caitmechanic doesn’t shave her legs, we both use disposable Bic shavers for trimming, etc. Here is a photo of the shavers we use:

Caitmechanic's shaver, above, and Skymechanic's shaver, below

In the photo above, the pink shaver above is a model STWP101 “Twin Select Silky Touch” disposable shaver, marketed to women. The green shaver at bottom is a model STOP101 “Twin Select” disposable shaver, marketed to men. The two are, in design, completely identical – they are made on the same machines. They are also, as far as shavers go, about as simple as you can get. No rubber pads, no three- or six-blade cartridges, no ergonomic rubberized handle, you get the picture. They’re not too different from the first Bic (one-blade) disposable shaver introduced in 1974, which is still in production, unchanged, today.

The two shavers are completely identical in every way except for three: name, color, and simulated material.

First, we have name. Both shavers are “Twin Select,” but the women’s model has the added name “Silky Touch.” On the package, the words “Twin Select” appear smaller over the larger words “Silky Touch;” it denotes a variation of the “Twin Select.” But there is no counterpart to this variation in the men’s model. It’s simply the “Twin Select.” The women’s product is a special variation of the men’s product and not sold under a separate name.

This is just guesswork, but I imagine that the first three letters in the men’s model name stand for “Shaver Twin Original” and the first three letters in the women’s model are “Shaver Twin Womens.” Again, the men’s product is the standard and the women’s product is a variation. This squares well with the history of the razor business in the first place. For hundreds of years, razors had been tools for men who wanted to keep the hair off of their face. But as the safety razor became ubiquitous in the late 19th century and women increasingly wore clothing that exposed their legs and armpits, razor makers realized that they could double the size of their market by creating demand for razors among women. Razor companies started targeting advertizing for women, first emphasizing the need for shaving the armpits (In his article on the subject, Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope quotes an advertisement that proclaimed that “The Woman of Fashion says the underarm must be as smooth as the face,”). Later, advertisers added pitches for smooth, clean legs, and women’s razors were here to stay.

Color is the most obvious difference. The women’s model is, of course, pink, although the shavers are sold as an assortment of pastel shades of pink, blue, green, and purple. The men’s shaver comes in one color, a masculine shade of hunter green. The gender-determined colors are predictable enough, but I found it interesting that the men’s shaver is sold in one color while the women’s shaver is in an assortment. Perhaps this reflects an assumed men’s desire for consistency and an assumed women’s desire for variety. But also, this reinforces the idea of the men’s product as a standard and a women’s product as a variation.

But here’s the important difference between the shavers that isn’t so obvious – the two plastic shavers visually simulate different materials. Both are made of cheap, thin plastic, but are treated in such a way that they suggest more expensive, sturdy and traditional materials. This isn’t very new or interesting – plastics everywhere, from pleather to “wood” furniture veneer to “metal” cell phone casing, are made to resemble more desirable materials. What’s interesting is that Bic chose to have the men’s and women’s models to resemble different materials.

The men’s model is opaque and somewhat shiny. The overall effect is something like brushed aluminum, and the simulated material here is metal. This decision is possibly historically founded – the safety razors that today’s plastic shavers were based upon were nearly always made of steel. But it is certainly also intended to give the product the macho feel of a tool or weapon, the same marketing and design practice that gives rise to the atrocious-looking, expensive cartridge razors that most men use to shave today.

The surprise comes when the men’s model is compared to the women’s model. You might think that the women’s model would also have the metal-like sheen of the men’s model – after all, women’s razors have been traditionally made of metal just like men’s razors. But it doesn’t look like metal at all. It’s translucent, exposing the hollow inside of the handle to view and showing the handle’s inner structure. The simulated material here is glass.

There is not much historical precedent for this. As I mentioned before, women used metal safety razors just like men’s models. I was able to find some glass-handled razors, including this opulent, antique Waterford crystal handled one (which does not seem to be particularly marketed to women) and some new, artisanal ones (which are being sold to men). But as far as I can tell, there has never been a mass-produced razor with a glass handle at all.

So the glass means something else. If men get metallic razors to simulate tools and weapons, do women get glass-like razors to simulate Pyrex casserole dishes and drinking glasses? This seems a little far-fetched, though the idea of women being “fragile” and associated with glass or porcelain is a strong tradition. Do men get metallic razors to suggest the rugged look of their shaved face, while women get glass-like razors to suggest the smooth look and feel of their shaved legs? This seems more like it. The women’s shaving industry – creams, razors, and everything else – is obsessed with smooth look and feel. It’s no surprised that Bic has chosen the smoothest material they could find to simulate in their plastic shavers.

So, once again, while the men’s shaver is the simple standard – they just take the material used for old safety razors and simulate it in plastic – women’s shavers must be a variation in order to differentiate it from the men’s model. And here Bic, in making the women’s shaver simulate glass, is at its most creative (not that that’s saying much). With no obvious historical materials to choose from, they’ve simulated a material that is abstractly associated with their sales pitch – Use our shavers to make your legs as smooth as glass.

One last note:

I can’t say I’m proud to use a disposable Bic razor. They’re definitely not the best choice for the environment or for getting a good shave. I bought a pack as a temporary measure while saving up for a safety razor with cheap and less wasteful blades like this one. If you want to stop paying a ton of money for wasteful disposable or cartridge shavers check out the advantages of the safety razor in one of Put This On’s awesome webisodes. If you’re really nerdy and have lots of time on your hands, you could also use a straight razor.

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