Chances are, you’ve seen a barber pole before—the nostalgic spirals of red and white stripes in front of a barbershop, often intertwined with blue. But what’s the story behind the barber pole? Find out more about the history of this beloved symbol and where it originated from.
When was the first barber pole?
It was believed that the first barber pole was developed after 1307 for barber-surgeons to advertise their service as their original display of congealed blood in windows was banned. Citizens of London found the scene too bloody and an ordinance was passed in 1307 directing the barbers in London to have the blood "privately carried into the Thames under the pain of paying two shillings to the use of the Sheriffs."
The Fellowship of Surgeons merged with the Barbers' Company in 1540 by Act of Parliament to form the Company of Barbers and Surgeons. The Act specified that no surgeon could cut hair or shave another and that no barber could practice surgery; the only common activity was to be the extraction of teeth. Some claimed the red/white pole was designated for surgeons and the blue/white pole was designated for barbers but we could not verify the claim.
The Symbolic Traditions of Barbering
Barber poles have historical connections to many different cultures and have been associated with haircuts, beards, surgeries, or dentistry dating back as far as the Middle Ages for improving soldiers' hand-to-hand combat.
The traditional colors of a barber pole are red and white, which symbolize the historical medical services performed by barbers. The combination of these two colors is meant to symbolize the blending of hair and medical care under one roof.
- The red represents blood, as barbers in the past not only trimmed hair but also performed surgeries and bloodletting. The red stripe is often said to represent the blood that was collected during these procedures.
- The white represents the bandages used in these medical procedures. In the past, barbers often performed medical procedures such as bloodletting and surgery, and the white stripe on the barber pole symbolizes the clean bandages used to wrap wounds
Blue is sometimes added to the red and white colors in barber poles to symbolize the inclusion of shaving services in addition to hair cutting and medical procedures. The addition of blue stripes represents the lather used in shaving, thus representing the full range of services offered by a barber. However, this is not a universal convention and the colors and meaning of barber poles can vary from region to region such as representing the colors of America.
Why does a barber pole spin?
There are 3 possible reasons why the barber pole spin
- A barber pole spins to symbolize the cleaning of the instruments used during barbering procedures such as cutting hair or performing surgery. In the past, barbers would hang their used instruments outside to dry after cleaning them, and the spinning of the barber pole represents the turning of these instruments as they dried.
- The spinning of the barber pole is meant to represent the flow of arterial blood downwards, as it does in the body
- The spinning motion also helps to attract attention and draw customers to the barbershop.
American Influence on Barber Poles
Barber Poles quickly became popular in American culture when soldiers brought the style home from the war in Europe. During those times, there were no buildings like today’s modern-day salons dedicated just to haircutting – many businesses also offered dentistry or medical procedures along with styling hair care services.
The original meaning soon changed – instead of representing medical procedures and services, they represented haircutting alone with the ever-strange addition of blues color representing female clientele welcomed within its walls instead of often banned by male-only criteria persisting through the 19th Century.
Modern-Day Barber Poles
Today, barber poles keep their traditional red-white-blue design but look much different than they did centuries ago – they can be made out of plastic illuminated signs or wooden weather vanes displayed on rooftops.
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Many have decorative stars adorning them whilst others will bear various slogans creating unique tags hats familiar within specialized regional areas assuring that each store maintains unique personalities which have helped diverse companies remain competitive throughout the evolution of expected business branding approaches inspired by marketing trends leaning towards only media over last few decades.
With today's technology advancing every day, maybe one day these iconic symbols will disappear altogether–at least in physical form–but until then, you can still find old-school spiraled poles outside many local barbershops all around the US!
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