Requiem for the Razor
Sheffield Cutlers and the Fate of Shaving
Groomed for Power‘s second chapter argues that the trials of home shaving (introduced in Chapter 1) were only exacerbated by the consequences of American economic nationalism. Distressed by the republic’s dependence on British manufactured goods, a number of white male elites pressed for protective tariffs – the most significant of which, for present purposes, was the so-called ‘Black Tariff’ of 1842. Imposing stiff duties on British razors – the cheapest and highest-quality in the world – the ‘Black Tariff’ effectively forced American shavers to make an impossible choice. They could either pay more for British razors (the quality of which suffered as British producers cut corners to stay competitive on price) or they could purchase the expensive, questionable wares of an immature American cutlery industry. Not surprisingly, many chose a third option: abandoning the razor altogether and letting their facial hair grow.