Believe it or not, one of the oldest recorded professions is that of the Barber. Archaeological studies indicate that some type of facial and hair adornment used to be practice during the glacial age, with actual records of barber services appearing 6000 years ago.
Over the centuries, barbering has undergone many changes to become the profession it is today. Some of the duties that barbers once held might actually surprise you, while others will add interest to that man or woman who cuts your hair today.
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Ancient Barbers of Greece and Rome
In 500 B.C. Barbers in Greece were quite popular as well trimmed beards was the fashion at one time. Later, their popularity decreased as Alexander the Great decreed that all men should be clean shaven and without beards.
The skills developed by this early barbers using rudimentary cutting implements saved many a Greek from facial injuries and scars.
In 290 B.C. Barbers became popular in Rome, and Barber salons were as well known and frequented as the Roman Baths. It was here where men could not only have a shave, but also discuss the news and politics of the day.
The Days of the Barber Surgeons
No one quite knows how it came about but in the days of early Christianity, barbers not only performed such services as the cutting of hair and the shaving of beards, but they also were in charge of blood letting to remove impurities from the blood as well as teeth pulling which was the only dental care of the time.
Later they dispensed herbs and other medications to those who were sick or suffering from injuries.
These ancient barber medical practioners became known as Barber-surgeons and were as much sought after for their medical skills as for their barbering services as well.
Birth of the Universal Barber Symbol
It was during the days of the Barber-surgeons that the universal symbol for the barbers was born. During the process of blood letting, barber-surgeons would wrapp a clean white cloth around the arm of the patient they had just cut to let the blood out.
They would then hang up these blood stained cloths to dry out of doors. These red and white rags soon became an easily recognizable symbol of the barber-surgeons establishment.
Later, wooden poles painted with red and white stripes would become a universally recognizable symbol of the barber that still appears outside most barber shops today.
The Fading Away of Medical Duties
Over time as the study of medicine became more advanced and medical skills grew among professionals, Barber-surgeons were limited by law as to the medical services they could perform.
At first, they were restricted to only blood letting and teeth pulling and still later, even these duties fell by the way, although teeth pulling by barbers lasted well into the 19th and in some places the early 20th century.
For a while after losing their ability to “practice medicine”, barbers went through a phase where their profession was looked down upon and barbers were thought to men of little skill.
Becoming More Professional
Late in the 19th and early in the 20th century, the barber shop became a major part of the community. Men visited these shops to relax and enjoy the luxury provided by a skilled barber who used that shaving brush and luxurious warm shaving soaps and straight razors with great skill.
It also was a place where men of the community would gather to often play checkers, share news, discuss crops, seed prices and talk about the most recent events in the community.
In 1893, the first barber college opened in Chicago, Illinois followed rapidly by other barber colleges. These schools helped to not only train barbers, but to also define the profession. Up until the 1980s, most of the graduates of barber colleges were male, but in recent years females have made up ½ the barber graduates each year.
Even today, Barbers remain skilled at shaving and cutting men’s hair, and Barber shops are still a place where people gather to share news, talk about current events and even gossip.