The Interesting Reason Why Barbers Have A Red, White And Blue Pole Hanged Outside Their Shops

The famous red, white and blue pole is the universal symbol of barbershops. But have you ever wondered how did we end up using these colors and what do they actually represent? Well, wonder no more because we have the answer for you.

Here’s the (bloody) story.

Back in the Middle Ages, in addition to cutting hair, European barbers performed several other duties. These duties included performing minor surgeries, bloodletting, resetting broken bones and pulling teeth. During those times, since most people were illiterate, to advertise their business, shop owners were hanging symbols outside their door so people could recognize them by image (remember when we talked about Why Do British Pubs Have Weird Names Such As The Cat & Fiddle And My Father’s Moustache?) (the article continues after the ad)

Since barbers were dealing with… blood all the time, they chose the red and white pole. The red ribbon represented blood while the white ribbon represented bandages. To make them more noticeable, they formed the familiar spiral pattern so when the wind blew, the whole pole twisted.

This was the case up until 1540, but then, something changed.

A law was passed that forbade barbers from performing surgical operations and required that barbers and surgeons should distinguish their services by the colors of their poles. Surgeons kept the red and white pole as it represented their services, while barbers switched to the blue and white pole. Later on, when the symbolism was later carried on to the US, all three colors (red, white and blue) were added to the pole as a nod to the nation’s flag.

If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: Why The Symbol For Pawnshops Is Three Golden Spheres Suspended From A Bar?

Photo: Matthew Morris / Flickr
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: History of the Barber | The History of The Barber Pole | The Bloody History Behind the Barber’s Pole | Barber/Surgeon Guild

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