Both. The answer is both.
Shavettes are interesting tools. For decades barbers have stayed away from using traditional straight razors for health reasons, so the shavette was created and quickly gained popularity as a tool of the trade. A shavette is essentially a straight razor that uses half of a safety razor blade, rather than a blade that is sharpened and honed. While this started as a great tool for barbers to shave the back of a neck or edge up a hairline, they quickly became popular for other uses.
For many, the benefits of a shavette are obvious: they are dirt cheap compared to straight razors, never need stropping or honing, and give you all of the precision of a traditional straight razor. So why not ditch the classic razor all-together? Let’s discuss the pros and cons.
There’s nothing cooler and more satisfying than shaving your face with a straight razor. For many, the romance of maintaining a blade for life and passing it down to your children is thrilling. I take meticulous care of my straight razors and in turn, they shave me better than any blade I’ve ever tried. So why would I want to shave with a shavette?
I’m the type of hipster that likes baking my own bread, polishing my shoes, and fixing things by hand (even if I suck at it). But, I also understand that not everyone feels that way. A lot of folks would prefer to have an excellent shave with less fuss — and that’s totally cool. A shavette offers the precision and closeness of a straight razor, at a very reasonable price for a disposable blade that guarantees a smooth shave every time. Shavettes travel well since you don’t need a strop (assuming you are checking your luggage) and have shorter blades that make them a bit easier to use than a longer straight razor blade.
Here’s the tricky part: safety razor blades are designed to use in a safety razor, and not against the skin the way a shavette works. While a straight razor will remain super sharp and precise, the thin steel of a disposable razor can flex slightly, making a shavette less predictable. With over 6 years of experience with various straight razors, I find I still nick myself easily with a shavette and I get more razor-burn than I would with a traditional straight razor, especially in the sensitive neck and chin areas. I have yet to find a shavette that carries the same hefty confidence as a straight razor, so I find myself less confident using one.
You can’t get more precise than a straight razor. There’s no safety guard to get in your way like on a DE razor or cartridge, and you can easily use the razor's tip to pick off individual hairs from the edge of your beard. It's very satisfying.
When you’re trimming your facial hair there’s nothing more important than accuracy. Nobody wants a lopsided beard. While a shavette doesn’t offer the cool-factor and romance of a traditional straight razor, it rules supreme as far as accuracy goes. The incredibly thin blade cuts through hairs effortlessly, and the light handle stops you from cutting off more than you intended. By disposing of the blade after the shave and loading a new one every time, you can keep the blade in perfect condition for maximum control. The cheeks are relatively easy to shave, but take your time around your neck. This area is more sensitive and shaving aggressively or in the wrong direction can be bad. As a general rule, shave in the direction of the hair first, then against it to get a closer cut.
While these razors are often trickier to use than a conventional straight razor, they are still a great way to shave. You will get less irritation and a closer shave than a modern cartridge razor, you will create far less waste, and they are incredibly affordable at $30-40 to get started. They travel easily and don’t require the maintenance of a straight razor.
In order to be successful with a shavette, be sure to use good shaving cream and a shaving brush to protect your skin and soften your whiskers. An aftershave balm helps to soothe the skin following the shave, and an alum block is useful to deal with any cuts. If you’re just edging up the beard, a pre-shave product will offer the glide and protection that you need while allowing you to see what you’re trimming. Keep a razor blade bank handy for the old blades, even dull blades are still far too sharp to be safe in the garbage.
If you are looking to try straight razor shaving before you invest, keep in mind that a traditional straight razor will almost always perform better and last far longer. There really is no replacement for a handmade straight razor. If you want a super convenient and inexpensive way to shave, they rock. If you want the experience before you invest in a traditional blade, a shavette is a perfectly good way to go. Take your time, and keep in mind that your shaves will get even more awesome when you eventually get that hand-made razor and strop for yourself. Either way, a straight razor shaving class will go a long way to help you be successful. I still pick up my Shavette here and there to trim my moustache and wily eyebrows, or to give myself a fun challenging shave and keep my skill-set balanced.