Barbering dates back to early 4000 B.C in Ancient Egypt, where they would use oyster shells & sharpened flintstone to perform haircutting services. Barbers were highly respected for their work in society. Cutting the hair of the elites, Priests & even pharaohs.
Questions You Might Have About Barbering:
- Who were the first barbers?
- Where did the profession of barbering start?
- How did the profession evolve through the years?
- Why is the red and white barber Pole a customary part of a barber’s shop?
- This article will answer all these questions along with other interesting facts about the barbering profession.
“Every profession should know the history and the individuals who have lived or were contributors to the advancement of their profession”
Fun Fact: About The Word “Barber”
Have you ever considered why a barber is called a “barber?” The word barber was derived from the Latin word “barba” meaning “beard.”
The Profession of Barbering:
Back in the day, barbers were the most capable men of their tribes and usually mastered more than one field of expertise. Back then people were very superstitious about haircuts and shaving as they believed that evil spirits entered the body through hair.
Only the most trustworthy men were entrusted with the responsibility of barbering, which in most cases used to be the priest or the chief of the clan.
The Earliest Records – Egyptian Barbers 4000+ BC
Archaeologists have discovered relics from the Bronze Age that point towards the use of sharpened flintstone and oyster shells for shaving. Also, the paintings and markings recovered from the remains of the early Egyptian civilization display clearly the profession of barbering as a regal profession that was honored.
It has also been discovered that hairstyles were a part of the social class system in early Egypt. Kings, clergy and Slaves all had unique hairstyles to differentiate between their classes and roles in the societies.
Likewise, there were different barbers for each class of society.
The Greek Barbers – 1500 BC:
After the Egyptians, the next great civilization that showed importance to the barbering profession was the Greek civilization. Around the 5th Century BC, the beard became a symbol of masculinity and strength in the Greek culture. The power of beard can also be easily observed in Greek mythology, where all the powerful male gods like; Zeus, Poseidon, Hercules, Aries, etc. All had beards that were full and well kept.
Also, in ancient Athens, the beard was considered to be a sign of intellect and wisdom and people would challenge each other based on the quality of their beards. Once again this tells a lot about the importance of the barber in their society as it was impossible to manage a great beard without a great barber.
The barbers of Athens ascended and became powerful members of the society as the barbershops became the center of all social activities. Philosophers, warriors, poets and all the other important men of society used to regularly frequent the barbershop where they used to share their ideas, stories and other topics of common interest.
3rd Century B.C:
During the 3rd century B.C., Alexander The Great gave a general order for his countrymen to shave their beards. Once again the barbers became the center of attraction as they had to keep up with Alexander’s orders. The main reason behind the order was the defeat of Alexander’s armies at the hands of the Persians during the conquest of Asia.
The Persians pulled Alexander’s army men’s beards to pull them down and kill them. The orders were followed and barbers were greatly in demand to fulfill Alexander’s orders.
Barbers in Rome – 30 BC to 640 AD:
Shaving was introduced in Rome back in 296 B.C. when Ticinius Mena of Sicily came to Rome. Shaving soon became the vogue, And the barbers of Rome were elevated to the highest position in society. The barbershops not only provided haircuts or a place for discussing ideas, but they also offered services like massaging, manicuring, hairdressing and application of special ointments.
The upper-class ladies of Rome used to have specialized barbers as one of their slaves. And so did the rich and the clergy, who had “private tonsors” to cater for their tonsorial needs.
The Early Christian Era – 1 AD to 1000 AD:
There are multiple biblical references to the profession of barbering directly or indirectly. For instance, Moses ordered the people recovering from Leprosy to be shaved, which had medical reasons behind it too.
In the Bible, the prophet Ezekiel is also reported to be saying, “A barber’s razor” showing the prevalence of the profession and its associated tools at the time. Throughout Europe, the hairstyles and fashion varied with the trends set by the rulers. For instance, Charlemagne introduced the long, flowing hair as a fashion.
Barbers immediately had to upgrade themselves with the latest fashions to keep the people up with the latest fashion in the kingdom.
The first millennium of the Christian Era was marked by the high number of illiterate and uneducated people. Even many of the nobles could not read or write. Thus, the era has been termed as the Dark Ages. During the dark ages, the most learned people in a society were the monks and the priests.
Since professional doctors or surgeons were not present at the time, it was up-to-the priests and monks to perform the surgeries and minor operations.
A famous method of curing was “bloodletting.” It was considered to be a cure for most of the diseases and was very popular among normal people.
Barbers were the closest people to surgeons at the time and hence were selected by the clergy to assist them during their surgery sessions. Until the 12th Century, the barbers continued to provide assistance to the clergy in their surgeries.
But after that, the barbers evolved into something much more powerful, known as the surgeon-barbers.
The Surgeon-Barbers – 1000 AD to 1745 AD:
The era of the surgeon-barbers began with the announcements at the council of Tours and the barbers assumed the main role of physicians-surgeons of the era. The surgeon barbers were considered the Doctors, Physicians, and Surgeons of the time in addition to their primary field of expertise in tonsorial services.
Throughout Europe, barbers became the most important people of the society. By the end of the 14th Century, the barbers in Europe were involved in bloodletting, tooth extraction, cauterization, and other regular duties.
But naturally, it was not humanly possible for the barbers to master everything from surgery to dentistry. Especially, with the advancements being made in the field of surgery it became difficult for the barbers to keep the pace with the research.
Also, a lot of people started becoming skeptical about the surgeon-barbers’ skills and started pressing for separation of the professions. It is interesting to note that the first barbering school that specialized in imparting training on surgery to the barbers was opened in Paris, in the 13th Century.
It came to be known as the Brotherhoods of St. Cosmos and St. Domain. Later on, the school became a model for other surgery schools set-up during the middle-ages.
Fun Fact: Many of the prominent surgeons of the time were students of the St. Cosmos and St. Domain schools. The school can be considered as one of the greatest contribution to humanity by the barbers.
It was not long after the barbers started playing an active part in the surgeries that they established their first organization. One of the first barber organizations that were established was in France.
It was established in 1096 after the orders from William, the archbishop of Rouen, who passed the orders that wearing beards, was not allowed. The surgeon-barbers were seen as a threat to the regular surgeons who properly specialized in the field.
The barbers maintained their hegemony over the surgeons because of the patronage they received from the royals and the clergy. Another account of an early barbering association is found in the “Worshipful Company Of Barbers, In 1308.”
All the barber-related issues were delegated to Richard le Barbour, who was declared as “the Master of the Barbers.” His main responsibility was to upkeep the quality of barbering services being provided by the Barbers of London.
Also, he reprimanded the barbers who had joined other “lowly-ranked” professions instead of the prestigious profession of barbers. In addition, there were strict punishments in place for the barbers who had entered the profession without proper authorizations.
The Barbers Guild of the 14th Century was a very powerful association of the barbers in the middle-ages that took the profession to new heights. In 1450 the barber’s guild and the surgeon’s guild were amalgamated by the parliament. However, the patronage that the barber’s guild had enjoyed still continued.
The board of governors of the barber-surgeon guild comprised of 2 barbers and 2 surgeons. The rule asked for the signature of two barbers and two surgeons on the diplomas of all surgeons and barbers.
This move was largely resented by the surgeons since every time a surgeon was awarded a diploma he had to get it signed from 2 barbers, which they found as derogatory to their field of study.
The barber’s guild dominated the era up-to-the middle of the 18th century. It is also to be noted that Henry VIII, Charles II, and Queen Anne greatly patronized the barbers by giving away expensive gifts and appointing barbers to high positions in their administrations.
The era of Henry VIII marked a new era for the surgeon-barbers who were now allowed to dissect 4 executed criminals every year for research purposes. The Surgeon-barbers Hall still exists in London; this was the place that housed the experimental surgeries performed by the barbers.
Fun Fact: The association of the barbers and the surgeons ended in June 1745 and both professions parted ways, a separation that exists to date.
History Behind The Barber Pole:
The barber pole has been associated with the barbershop for a long time. We have seen the barber pole on barbershops, but a lot of us might not know where did the barber pole originate from? And what does it indicate? Or why it has been associated with the barbershops for a long time?
The barber pole originated during the barber-surgeon era. Back in the days when the surgeon-barbers used to provide bloodletting services the sign was developed.
The two spirals around the pole represent the bandages that were tied to the patient’s arms. One bandage was tied before the bleeding and the other was tied right after the treatment was completed.
Initially real bandages were put around the pole so they can be used when needed, but later on, for convenience, the poles were painted instead to mark the similarity with the original pole.
Although the tradition of bloodletting by barbers has completely stopped, yet the barber pole hangs outside most of the barbershops re-living the grandeur of the golden era of the barbering days.
The Surgeon-Barbers – 18th and 19th Century:
With the separation of the barber’s and surgeon’s guild, the profession saw a steep decline as their importance started eroding day-by-day.
The barbers were now back with their original job of haircutting and shaving only. Which was a large drop from the once powerful three-in-one barber-surgeon-dentist role that the barbers had once enjoyed.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, wigs came into fashion and the barbers again found a new niche to work with.
The time was low for the barbering profession and a lot of people started entering different professions at that time.
The barbershop turned into a place for the poor and the low-waged to hang-out. It had lost the charm of its glory days as now the barbers were classed with the mechanics and labor of the society.
The barbering profession was waiting for a miracle to happen and the miracle came!
The Rise – After the Fall – Late 19th Century
Late in the 19th century, a lot of developments were made by the prominent members of the profession heling to restore the confidence in the profession and the protection across the country.
In 1893 A. B. Moler of established a school for the barbers in Chicago. It was truly a great moment for the barbering profession as after its inception, the trend spread like wildfire throughout the other states and similar schools started sprouting.
In the beginning, only the practical aspects of the profession were focused upon in the syllabus. The students were given practical lessons on shaving, hairstyling, facials, etc.
The school truly marked a new trend in barbering as the interest among the populace started growing and the barbering profession was on an upward trend again.
Although the training schools were only focused on the practical elements, it was not until the 1920s when the scientific research in the profession of barbering started.
Towards the end of the 19th Century in 1897, the first ever state law regarding barbers was passed in Minnesota.
Later on, the other states also started adopting laws related to barbers that greatly helped in protecting the barber’s rights.
The Early 20th Century:
“Barbering is a professional service” Like the surgeons and dentists when the barber moves he attracts to himself those having confidence in his ability, and the greater his professional skills the more difficult it is to alienate from him those to whom his services have given satisfaction.”
Kansas Supreme Court, July 6, 1901:
The 20th century saw perhaps the greatest development to making barbering a full-time profession with its unique identities like those of surgeons and dentists.
In 1916, there was a remarkable advancement in the field of barbering, known as the “Terminal Methods.” The Austrian Barbering expert, Mr. Schuster, who had settled in New York, with the assistance from Mr. McAdoo introduced the great system in the city.
The “Terminal methods” laid the grounds for the sanitization and sterilization of the equipment. The earliest methods included were the packing of the equipment in the airtight packets and the sterilization via hot boiling water in front of the customers.
The methods became very popular among the barbers and also increased trust among the customers. Barbers who were not implementing the techniques were forced to do so because of the extreme pressure of losing clientele.
The different sterilizing method evolved with time including baking the barbering tools and dipping them in sterilizing solutions. Subsequently, impressed by the response the methods received from the public, the Moler System endorsed the methods and adapted them into the syllabus in 1926.
One of the most important steps towards the advancement of the Barber profession, as we see it today, was the establishment of the Master Barbers of America.
It was an educational-cum-professional council whose prime objective was to bridge the gap between the barbering schools and reputable barber shops. It can be considered as the greatest service to the barbering profession in recent times.
In order to get their unique identity, there was growing pressure from professional barbers across the United States for the formation of a national association.
In this regard, the first ever meeting was held in Chicago and continued for 3 days from Nov 17-19, 1924. Initially, a total of 2800 enthusiasts from the profession of barbering participated in the convention.
The Chicago convention was followed by a meeting in the Kansas City, a year later, where the drafting of the charter began and thus the first steps for the establishment of a nationwide association were in motion.
In 1926 the model license law was formulated. It was later used as the basis for the formulation of the beneficial legislation in various states.
The bill was later approved in 1926 in Chicago, by the joint session of the Associated Master Barbers of America and the Journeymen Barbers’ International Union of America, together with representatives of the National Association of Barber and Beauty Culture Schools.
By 1927 the number of enthusiasts who were rallying for the cause had tripled. In 1927, at Detroit, a total of 10,000 delegates participated in the convention showing their overwhelming support for the cause among the professionals.
The final principles agreed upon were made a part of the preamble of the Constitution and By-laws of the Associated Master Barbers of America.
With the passage of time, hairstyling, facial care, and other cosmetic treatments were also clubbed with the barbering profession.
Hair stylist had a new demand in the market, with the popularity of Hollywood, the barbers again started becoming the center of attraction. Barbers started being associated with celebrities And that is what increased them in popularity.
People started to follow the trends of the celebrities and Hollywood stars and posters of famous actors and actresses were seen on the walls of the barbers as a means of promoting their businesses.
Later on, the barbershop turned into brand names. Subsequently, the name of an outlet was considered to be a sign of quality and great workmanship. Jumping onto the bandwagon, a lot of celebrities opened their own hair salons that were super successful overnight.
The Modern Times:
Modern-day barbering has been evolved a lot. From the tools to the cutting techniques at the barber’s disposal everything has changed.
Technology has given the barbers freedom to experiment with their skills. Also, with the increasing competition barbers have to stay on the top of their game to satisfy the clientele resulting in exquisite results that have generally raised the standard of barbering around the world. There have been certain additions to the basics of barbering that are listed below:
The Evolution of Barbering Tools:
From seashells to modern electric razors, barbering tools have come a long way. The major barbering tools that have evolved over the years are:
The classical razors that had to be sharpened every few days were replaced by modern safety blades. These blades provided a safe alternative to shaving with the straight razor that required quite a lot of skill to perfect it.
Manual clippers have now been replaced with electronic clippers that provide a very easy and quick clipping. Further, the cordless clippers are even more convenient for the barbers as it provides them with a greater degree of freedom to move around.
Another great addition to the barber’s arsenal was the hair straighteners. These straighteners allowed easy straightening of the hair and gave great styling power to the barbers.
Tech Savvy Barbers:
Technical advancements have really transformed the profession of barbering. For instance, take the role of Photoshop in barbering. Now using Photoshop barbers can predict what a person will look like after the haircut and which would suit him the most. Also, the barbers can now try out new styles without having to experiment it in real-time.
The history of barbering is one of the oldest professions in human history. It has a rich history that should be studied by every barber that’s taking the industry seriously. Hopefully this article will make you feel proud to be apart of this age old fraternity that dates back over 6,000 years!
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