Colours Design

What do the Red, White and Blue Stripes Mean on a Barber Pole?

Banner for Barbershop Pole History

Outside of a barber shop, there are striped barber poles that turn with a swirl design. The stripes are white, red and blue on an angle that turns in a cylindrical pole with a bronzed top. This design reflects back in a time where barber did more than cut hair but were surgeons to some degree.

Since Ancient Egypt and the age of antiquity, barbers were cutting people’s hair. Over the centuries more responsibilities were added onto their daily routine. The barber had once a very important job of being the one stop shop for hair, dental care and medicine. From cutting hair they started to do, bandages, pulling teeth, setting bones, bloodletting and leaching. They were the usually the only option for many people for anything to do with the body since they were the only ones with the sharpest knives and the clearance to help with certain tasks.

Bloodletting was a common medical procedure that barbers did because in the 12th century Alexander III prohibited priest and monks to do these tasks since he said they were too menial for their duties. The clergymen can continue with their studies but had to leave the bloodletting to the barbers since the Pope at that time believed that bloodletting would discrete the body in the eyes of the Lord. While the barber was still.servicing the church by cutting their hair in the respectable papal haircut and servicing the Royals of the land with basic medical care from the 12th century, they were also helping the common people with all of their dental, medical and hair styling needs due to their convenience in the neighbourhood.

How barbers would do bloodletting during these times was to have a  basin to catch the blood and fleams or lancet to cut the vein of the patient and the blood would be expelled out of the patient. Sometimes leeches would be used for the bloodletting process. The leeches they would have used were Hirudo medicinalis which were medicinal leeches that who expand 10 times their size while ingesting 5ml to 10 ml’s of blood.

The bowl that they used for bloodletting or the vessel they used to contain all the leeches they used would be on the top of the pole outside of their shops airing out and advertising their services. Other items that would be airing out would be the bandages they used on the previous patient. The pole would be wrapped in clean white bandages and used blood red bandages. They would have twisted the bandages around the top of the pole and the wind would sometimes spin it around drying it out even more.

After the practice of bloodletting fell out of fashion after a few mishaps with King Charles II of England having seizures and procedure becoming more problematic of time. Around the 18th century, bloodletting was discontinued as a procedure that was commonly available to the public. Barbers were now barbers again but they now had an iconic image outside of their door.

The white bandages are the white stripes and the blood bandages are the red stripes. In North America, there are some barber poles with blue stripes. The blue can stand for the veins, not barbicide. The pole was mechanized in the 1880s mimicking the slow turning wind.

Banner Credit: Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
Reference:
BCMJ – The History of Bloodletting
Today I Found Out – The Bloody History of the Barber Pole
Mental Floss – Why Are Barber Poles Red, White, and Blue?
History Channel – Why are barber poles red, white and blue?
Wonders and Marvels – A History of the Barber’s Pole
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