History of the barber profession

The history of the barber and barbershop is an interesting story. Dating back to 3500BC, barbering is thought to be one of the oldest trades known to man. The word ‘barber’ comes from the Latin word ‘Barba’, meaning beard.

Originally,barbers were known as barber surgeons because, as well as cutting hair and shaving, barber surgeons would also perform minor surgical procedures ranging from extracting teeth to amputating limbs. Mortality during surgery at this time was quite high due to loss of blood and infection. Doctors in the Middle Ages thought that taking blood would help cure the patient of sickness so the barber would apply leeches to the patient.

In some early tribes, a barber was one of the most important members as it was believed that certain evil spirits could enter a person’s body through their hair and that cutting it was a way to drive them out. Due to their spiritual and religious beliefs, barbers even performed religious ceremonies, such as marriages and baptising children. During these ceremonies, they would leave people’s hair hanging down until after dancing; they would then cut the hair and tie it back tightly so that no evil spirits could enter and no good spirits could escape.

The barbers pole, featuring red and white spiraling stripes, is thought to symbolise the drying bandages that barbers would have wrapped around a pole outside the shop to dry after a surgical procedure. The spinning of the barber pole represents the bandages blowing in the wind.

alan jones barber hair cut
Barbering dates back to ancient and biblical times and a ‘barber’s razor’ is even mentioned in The Book of Ezekiel

Barbering today

Although one of the oldest trades around, barbering was beginning to become a dated industry. The barbershop was seen as a cheap haircut where customers would go for a ‘short back and sides’.

In recent years, the barbering trade has flourished and its no longer a cheaper alternative to the hairdresser but a multi-million pound industry which everyone wants to be involved in. Barbershops are now a cool hangout where customers can watch football, play pool or a games console whilst enjoying a beer. Some barbershops also sell clothes or locally made products.

At one stage it was deemed fashionable to go to a unisex salon where hairdressers were trained in
both ladies and men’s techniques but specialised mainly in ladies hair. However, with the changes
in fashion and the popularity growth of male grooming, it was recognised that men required a
barber who specialises in men’s hair to be able to create the look they desire. The rise in the number
of men growing beards and moustaches has drastically helped the resurgence of the barber.

Today, there have never been so many barbershops, barbering training schools and students as it is now an attractive industry to join. Men have never needed their barber as much as today to keep their image tip top with their hair in place and their facial hair shaped to perfection.

Being a barber is a privilege as it’s not just a job but a way of life and an art form. Enjoy!

This article has been taken from Mike Taylor’s Barbering Resource Book, which is available to buy from Salon Services. RRP £6.