Barber pole

How many times have you seen a barber’s shop without noticing a red, white, and blue striped pole at its entrance? ”Candy” was the only word that crossed my mind in that brief moment between noticing it and going through the front door, never to give it another thought — until now.

Today, we are going to talk about the barber pole. More specifically, we are going to reveal the secret meaning of the pole and the interesting history behind it.

Oh, and I assure you that nowhere in any part of the barber pole’s history is candy. So, if you are craving some sugar, please bring some of you own!

The evolution and significance of the barber pole

Earliest model

The earliest barber poles consisted of a wooden pole with a white cloth or strip wrapped around it. At the start of the day, the barber would soak the cloth in water and wrap it around the pole, signaling his readiness to provide his services (shaving and haircuts) to the public.

The introduction of the red stripe

As time went on, the red and white colour scheme emerged as barbers started performing medical procedures such as bloodletting. After the operation, they would wash the blood-stained bandages and leave them to dry on the pole. The bandages would blow and twist together to form the spiral pattern that we know today.

The red and white stripes on the pole thenceforth began to symbolize the dual role of barber-surgeons.

The introduction of the blue stripe

Blue was later introduced to represent venous blood, completing the trio of colours associated with the practice of bloodletting. In America, the addition of blue was often seen as a show of patriotism, reflecting the white, red and blue of the American flag.

The modern day’s barber pole

As medicine and surgery became more specialized in the 18th century, barbers and surgeons went their separate ways. Barbers retained their connection to the barber pole while surgeons went on to adopt their own symbols.

While barbers no longer practice surgery, their surgical legacy lives on in today’s barber pole, which often incorporate modern lighting and materials to give it a more contemporary look.

Final thoughts

Often seen as nothing but a decorative element, the barber pole reveals itself as a hidden time capsule of the past.

From its humble beginnings as a wet white cloth to its transformation into the red, white and blue stripes, the barber pole carries the tale of a profession that spans centuries. Today, it graces barbershops with a touch of nostalgia and tradition, a visual reminder that even the simplest symbols can harbour a rich history.

So, next time you pass by a barbershop, take a moment to appreciate the story told by the spinning spiral; a story that echoes through time.

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