The Barbershop Pole
July 16, 2019
Most of us would easily recognise the striped pole that can be found outside many Barbershops. A white pole with red and blue stripes, spinning away. It catches your attention, it is a well known motif of the barbershop, but have you ever wondered how it came to be and what it actually symbolises?
According to custom, Barber Poles have traditionally comprised of three colors, each of which has a deep meaning. These days you would be easily forgiven for not knowing what those meanings are, or for not coming anywhere even close with your wildest of assumptions.
The actual origins date back to more ancient times, an era where very few doctors or surgeons could be found. At that same period of time there was a common practice surrounding those with illness in that leeching or letting of blood was performed. This involved the sucking of blood by leeches or the draining of blood by incision. The belief was that the body could be brought back into balance by releasing the bad blood. Many barbershops of the time doubled up as surgeries and the barber pole came into use as a way to signify those shops where surgery was practiced.
The typical tradesman at the barbershop of the day was a groomsmen, surgeon and also someone who practised dentistry. Those were also the days before tooth paste and tooth brushes so you can only assume that they were kept damn busy and had their work cut out.
The pole itself is said to have been derived from the staff that the patient gripped onto to encourage blood flow during the leeching or blood letting procedures. As for the colors red, white and blue, there are a couple of theories, both in agreement that red is symbolic of blood and blue of veins. There is however debate over whether the color white is symbolic of nerves or the bandages used to wrap the wounds.
The barbershop and the role of the barber have both come a long way since those grizzly days of pulling teeth and chopping limbs off. While much has changed the barbers pole remains, often understood only to show that the barbershop is open for trade, but to those in the know it also carries that rich history of a timeless and proud profession.