The Barber Pole – Origin of the red, white and blue barber’s pole

Why is the barber pole red, white and blue?

The barber pole, or barber’s pole is a more and more common sight today all over the world. The well renowned craftsmanship of the barbers are coming back after falling out of style during the eighties. Much due to the aids/HIV hysteria going on back then, barbers lost customers who where afraid to get infected by poorly cleaned razors and equipment. That is however a thing of the past, and much have changed since then, both in sanitation and precautions, but also equipment is much better nowadays, especially shavettes, or disposable blade razors which almost completely eradicate any chance of some kind of disease spreading through blood. But, that’s not why we are here, no, we are talking about the barber pole, or barber’s pole, and why is it red, white and blue?

Red, White and Blue

Some say that the red, white and blue stands for the American flag, but there are no proof thats the case. In some countries the barber’s pole is only red and white or blue and white. Archaeologists have found evidence of razors dating back to around 3500 BC in ancient Egypt, which also suggests that there were some kind of barber profession back then. However, barbers back in the old days was a little bit different from our modern time barber who only cut hair, trim beards etc. Barbers were actually a kind of surgeon in the beginning, besides cutting hair and beards, they also performed dentistry in the form of pulling teeth, blood letting* and other surgical things. This however was banned in the 1160’s, which separated the surgeon and barber profession into two different professions.

George Klipp Spånga barber


The barber pole, or barber’s pole dates back to the middle ages, back when barbers performed all kinds of things on patients, which may seem gruesome today. The barber pole with it’s red, white and blue stripes, where originally BLUE, WHITE and RED at the bottom. Blue symbolizing a vessel filled with leaches used in bloodletting, where the leaches sucked the “infected” blood from patients, thinking it would help cleanse the blood. The red stripe at the bottom then symbolized the vessel where the blood was caught or stored, and the white was the pole itself, where the patient would grab on to increase blood flow of the veins, draining the blood faster or bandages.

Pretty gruesome right?!

Yes, it was, but there are also other theories about the barber pole, in which where the blue stands for the venous blood, the red for arterial blood and the white stands for bandages, which could make sense as well. In England around the 1300’s the United Barber Surgeon’s Company was formed, and they enforced a law where barbers where required to use a blue and white pole, while surgeons was required to use a red and white pole.

There you have it, even tho these are just historical and archaeological findings and we may not be a 100% certain, these explanations actually make sense.

Barber Pole - George Klipp Spånga barber


Visit Bloodletting on Wikipedia to read more about it!

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