Why are there swirling red, white, and blue poles outside of barbershops?


The barber trade has been around for a long time. Razors have been used to cut hair at least dating back to the Bronze age. The reason the barber pole is the way it is goes back to this time period.

Early physicians thought that some surgeries were beneath them, so barbers would end up performing many of these messy procedures. Barber-surgeons would commonly use a staff, a basin, and white bandages during these procedures. Patients would grab onto the staff, causing their veins to stand out. The basin and bandages were used to catch and clean up the excess blood.

Barber shop pole
A typical barbershop pole.

When not in use, the staff would be placed outside with the bandages wrapped around it so the blood could dry out. The basin was placed upside down on top of the staff. Eventually, the bloody bandages would leave red stains on the staff. On windy days, the staff would rotate around, showing a distinct red and white swirling pattern. This is the origin of the modern day barbers pole.

Eventually, a red, white, and blue painted pole would come to replace the staff. The red representing the blood, the white the bandages, and the blue the protruding veins. Over time, bloodletting fell out of common practice and barbers began to focus solely on haircuts and shaves. To maintain the symbol that people had grown accustomed to, the red, white, and blue barber-surgeon pole remained and is still used to this day.

  1. In Egypt and other ancient cultures, barbers were often priests whose main job was to keep evil spirits from possessing people. They did this by shaving off the hair which was thought to be where demons like to enter the body.
  2. The oldest surviving barber shop in the world is Truefitt and Hill in London. It was established in 1805.
  3. The word barber comes from the Latin word “barba”, which means beard.

  1. History.com – Why are barber poles, red, white, and blue?
  2. MentalFloss.com – Why Are Barber Poles Red, White, and Blue?
  3. Booksy.com – 13 most interesting facts about barbers

Leave a Reply

2 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
2 Comment authors
Newest Oldest Most voted
Notify of

Wow! I had no idea the backstory on the barber pole. Fascinating!

Thanks for sharing!

I didn’t even ever think of that question, though when I saw a was interested.!