History of the Barber

What is the history of barbering?

Have you ever wondered where the word barber originated? The term comes from the word barba, which means beard. In ancient Egyptian and Asian civilizations, it was believed that both good and evil spirits entered people through the hairs on their heads and their faces. Thus, barbers were highly revered and respected. The belief at the time was that the only way to rid people of the evil spirits invading their bodies was to cut their hair.

Barber in front of Barber Shop Sign & Barber Pole

Barbers were so idolized at this time that they were allowed to routinely perform religious and marriage ceremonies. In preparation for marriage, both bride and groom were encouraged to grow their hair long and then shake out evil spirits at a dance after the ceremony. After marriage, the barber would cut the hair short in order to keep evil spirits at bay.

Why do barber shops display a red and white barber pole?

In ancient times, barbers performed many duties in addition to cutting hair. They were also expected to act as surgeons, dentists and religious officials. The red and white pole that you see outside of many barber shops today is in reference to a time when barbers were expected to engage in bloodletting in order to heal people. The ribbons represent two bandages, with one being red for the color of blood and the other being white to represent the color of the bandage to stop the bleeding.

The first barber organization was formed in Rome around the year 1094. At that time, barbers were referred to as barber surgeons, because they also performed teeth extraction, cupping and leeching, bloodletting, surgery and enemas. Some of the more modern barber practices, such as shaving, hair cutting and hair styling, were also performed. The occasion of an adolescent boy’s first shave was seen as a major rite of passage in ancient societies, so it was not uncommon for a celebration to take place at the barber shop during the shaving.

Today’s barber shop bears little resemblance to barber shops of times gone by. For one thing, a barber is not expected to play the role of other medical professions at the same time. Barbers are free to focus on meeting only the cosmetic needs of their customers. Beginning around the early 1900s, barber shops became a place for men to socialize and hear the daily news and gossip. Most barber shops were owned by tradesmen who set up their shops in storefronts of small towns.

How did modern-day barbering come about?

In 1893, the first barber college opened in Chicago, Illinois, followed by two more barber colleges in Iowa in 1899 and 1900. Over the course of the next 20 years, barbers began to be recognized as professionals who could trim men’s hair and treat disorders of the skin and scalp. The profession was dominated by men until approximately 1980. At that time, a shift had occurred and almost half of all barber school graduates were women. That trend continues today, and nearly half the barbering work force is women.

Considering a career in barbering? Find a barber school now.