November 8, 2019 Barber News No Comments

Have you seen the red, white, and blue revolving barber pole outside your favorite Orangevale barbershop? Most people know that those poles represent barbershops, but did you know there is actually a secret oft forgotten meaning behind them?? You won’t believe what they really used to represent!

When we think of a classic striped barber pole, most of us think of barbershop quintets and clean haircuts. However, the true meaning of the barber pole is far darker than you might imagine.

Barbers Were the Original Doctors

It is believed that barbering dates back to Ancient Egypt days, circa 5000 B.C. Barbering could be considered one of the oldest skilled trades, as they had to be adept at using sharp tools, which eventually became razors, to perform their work. In fact, barbers evolved to do much more than just cut hair. During the Middle Ages, they were actually referred to as “Barber-Surgeons”.

The local Barber Surgeon was responsible for grooming, dressing, and styling men, as well as performing surgery and dentistry. Their skill and steady hand with a razor was indispensable in treating soldiers injured in the battlefield, and Barber Surgeons were often relied on to perform difficult and often gruesome procedures, like amputations, that physicians were not willing to do.

Blood Letting and Teeth Pulling

Around the Middle Ages, Barber Surgeons quickly evolved to become an important part of the community. In addition to having the skill to perform difficult surgeries, Barbers would perform “blood letting” and teeth pulling! Blood letting is a medical procedure that uses leeches to “cure” patients of blood disease. How effective it was is debatable, however, there is no denying that the job of a Barber Surgeon was bloody and messy.

United Barbering Co Orangevale-blood letting
Image portraying blood letting…notice the red and white stripes in the back?

Soon the “Barber Shop” became the place to go for everything from a haircut to medical help. This is where the barber pole comes into play.

A Bloody Good Time

One origin story of the barber pole says that Barber Surgeons would hang their blood stained rags out on a post to dry. People would see these red and white rags hanging outside a building and know that a Barber Surgeon was nearby.

It is believed that as this symbol became synonymous with the profession, it started to be used as a formal tool and display by Barber Surgeons. Barber Surgeons designed wooden poles with a bowl on top to hold leeches, and painted red and white to let people know of their services. Additionally, it is told that the pole was used for patients to grip tight during blood letting, which encouraged the flow of blood.

Some barber poles have red, white, and blue stripes. In America, people believe that the blue is included to represent the American flag. However, other historical records suggest that as the professions of “Barber” and “Doctor/Surgeon” began to split, blue was used to represent physician services.

Modern Barber with Classic Roots

Today, a Barber can no longer practice medical procedures. However, a “Barber” is still a very specific trade, that requires specific training, tools, and licensing, different than a “Hairdresser”, for example. In fact, only a licensed Barber can use a straight razor.

United Barbering Co. is Orangevale’s classic barbershop, complete with a classic barber pole, and modernized for today’s customer. While we can’t perform any dental work or bloodletting (thank goodness!), we can provide you with a clean, modern haircut and shave, as well as recommend hair products to keep you looking your best. BOOK YOUR APPOINTMENT NOW

Written by The Barber