There are certain things one expects to find at a barbershop. Old guys mumbling about baseball, issues of Field and Stream from the previous decade, and, most importantly, a white, blue, and red striped pole out front. The pole is what tells people it’s a barbershop. But, how did that come to be?
I did a little research and discovered that the red, white, and blue pole has a rather interesting back story. Back in the Middle Ages, the barber didn’t just cut hair, he also conducted surgery. A 1981 article explains how the symbolism began. “In addition to cutting hair, he’d (the barber) pull teeth, let blood, use leeches, and lance boils. He’d hang his bandages out to dry, and they’d blow in the wind and twist around red and white together.”
It wasn’t until the 19th century that barbers gave up the more bloody aspects of their job and focused exclusively on giving customers stylish haircuts. However, the red and white poles remained as a symbol. The blue came along a bit later, according to an excellent article from the BBC. Some believe that the red represents blood and the white represents bandages. “Another interpretation is that red and blue respectively stood for arterial and venous blood, and white was – still – for the bandages. A third suggests that the spiral pattern represents a white bandage wrapped around a bloody arm.” Finally, some believe the blue was added as a sign of patriotism, so the barber poles would match the colors of the American flag.
How many of you guys still go to a barber? I try to, but it seems like there aren’t as many as there used to be. Fortunately, thanks to the poles, they’re still easy to spot.
Thanks for reading,
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