Have you ever wondered where the history of the barber pole came from? Let Uppercut Deluxe take you on a journey back to when it all began, when being a barber wasn’t quite as straight forward as it is today. A universally recognised symbol of barbering, the origins of the barber pole can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Hundreds of years ago, barbers didn’t just cut hair and trim beards; they also worked as dentists and surgeons, providing their services to poorer people who couldn’t afford to see a physician. If you were unlucky enough to get a sore tooth or some kind of illness in those days, a barber was often the only option for treatment. Medical care was fairly primitive back then, and even simple procedures were risky. Working as a barber must have been an interesting job, to say the least.

A wooden version of the more modern barber poles seen today. Photo taken from Eddie Yerkish
A wooden version of the more modern barber poles seen today.
Photo via Eddie Yerkish

The red and white stripes of the barber pole originated from a practice known as bloodletting. One of the nastier aspects of barber history, this practice involved drawing blood from the patient, in an attempt to cure them of disease or infection. Thanks to the progression of modern medicine, we now know that draining blood from a sick person probably wasn’t the best idea. However, this method was used to treat everything from common colds to deadly diseases back in the Middle Ages. The bloody bandages associated with bloodletting inspired the red and white stripes, while the barber pole itself symbolises an instrument people gripped onto during the procedure to encourage blood flow.

Adapted for more modern times still symbolizing the same barber tradition. Photo taken from Keep it Cool
Adapted for more modern times still symbolizing the same barber tradition.
Photo via Keep it Cool

Barbers would place the barber pole outside their barbershop, to let customers know they were open for business. Many modern barber poles have a blue stripe, which some historical sources cite as a tribute to the colours of the America flag. In Europe, the blue stripe was meant to differentiate barbers from doctors, as the two professions gradually began to grow apart. Men’s hairstyling has come a long way since the Middle Ages, but the barber pole still perseveres an iconic representation of the trade.

 

 

 

 

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