Shave and a haircut, and a tooth extraction, and some bloodletting

I would venture to say that most people probably know what a barber pole looks like. You may even still have one hanging outside the local barber shop in your town. But, do you know what the barber pole represents? It’s history is quite shocking. The local barber shop hasn’t always been just a place for a shave and a hair cut.

In the Middle Ages barbers also performed surgery, tooth extractions, and bloodletting. French authorities drew a fine distinction between academic surgeons (surgeons of the long robe) and barber surgeons (surgeons of the short robe), but the latter were sufficiently accepted by the fourteenth century to have their own guild, and in 1505 they were admitted to the faculty of the University of Paris. As an indication of their medical importance, Ambroise Pare, The father of modern surgery and the greatest surgeon of the Renaissance, began as a barber surgeon.

The barber pole as a symbol of the profession is a legacy of bloodletting. The barber surgeon’s necessities for that curious custom were a staff for the patient to grasp (so the veins on the arm would stand out sharply), a basin to hold leeches and catch blood, and a copious supply of linen bandages. After the operation was completed, the bandages would be hung on the staff and sometimes placed outside as advertisement. Twirled by the wind, they would form a red white spiral pattern that was later adopted for painted poles. The earliest poles were surmounted by a leech basin, which in time was transformed into a ball.

One Interpretation of the colors of the barber pole was that Red represented the blood, Blue the veins, and
White the bandages. Which has been retained by the modern Barber-Stylist.There are others that hold the position that barber poles were originally red and white, and that the blue was added by Americans to match the colors of the American Flag and to quell it’s gruesome symbolism. Regardless of which is true, the barber pole today is representative of the tradition of going to get a haircut, a shave and good conversation.

Unfortunately, the barber pole has begun to slowly disappear into oblivion as we see the influx of quick cut joints, specialty salons and spas. So, if there is still a barber pole in your town, cherish it, for tomorrow it may be gone as are the roots of the barber pole itself.

The Barber Pole –

Barber’s Pole –


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