The Little-Known History of Barbering

To truly learn about the complete history of barbering, you’ll have to turn the clock back a little further than you’d expect – thousands of years, to be exact. For centuries, barbers have played an important role in a wide range of cultures. From their earliest existence to modern day, barbers have held a highly respected place in societies across the world, commanding a certain respect for their skill and talent.

Barbering in Ancient Times

When most people imagine the early years of barbering, they think of old-fashioned barber chairs and the iconic striped red barber pole, but the art of barbering can actually be traced far beyond this, all the way to the ancient Egyptians. Archaeologists have uncovered ancient records and artifacts that date back to 3500 BC, demonstrating the presence of barbers in ancient Egyptian culture. During that time period, barbers were highly respected, often serving as religious priests in addition to caring for their community’s hair.

For the ancient Egyptians, it was commonly believed that evil spirits were capable of entering the body through the hair and that cutting your hair was an essential protective measure. During religious ceremonies such as marriages and baptisms, the barbers were typically responsible for performing a variety of symbolic rites. After the ceremony, the barbers would cut the hair of the participants, tying back the remaining hair to ward off evil spirits and preserve the presence of good ones.

Ancient Greece was also home to a highly regarded society of barbers, whose skills were constantly in high demand due to the society’s propensity for large, thick beards. The poets, statesmen, and philosophers of ancient Greece frequented the area’s barber shops, paying high prices to have their beards cared for. When trends shifted towards a clean-shaven face, the barbers maintained their important role by offering luxurious grooming services.

The Middle Ages and Barbering

Barbers maintained their connection to the medical field through the Middle Ages, a historical period during which they were often called “barber surgeons.” This title came from a highly unusual combination of job responsibilities, blending the role of barber and surgeon into one. Barbers were expected to perform a range of medical procedures in addition to cutting hair and shaving, as well as a number of religious and cultural ceremonies. It was common for barbers to perform dental work and surgery as well as bloodletting, an ancient procedure rooted in the mistaken belief that releasing amounts of a patient’s blood would cleanse them of ailments. It’s said that the red stripes of the barber’s pole are symbolic of these outdated procedures.

Barbering in the Modern Era

Although there was a period in the 18th and 19th centuries in which barbering was considered an undignified career, with barber shops unfairly stereotyped as houses of gossip and bad behavior, it didn’t last long. Towards the end of the 19th century, barbering began rising to its former place of respect, and 1893 was the year America’s first barbering school was established. A.B. Mohler opened the educational facility in Chicago, and the school for barbers was the first of its kind in the world.  By the 1920s, major efforts were being made to professionalize the art of barbering, with barber school branches quickly spreading across the United States. Barbershops once again became a highly popular place for people to enjoy an excellent haircut and great company, earning status as a place for friends to hang out and partake in some good conversation.

Barbering Today

Today, barbering has continued to rise as a career path that requires the utmost skill, education, and dedication. Professional educational facilities such as Bellus Academy provide high-quality education to prepare students to successfully enter the field of barbering, covering topics that run the gamut from recent trends to proper techniques.

If you’d like to learn more about barbering and how it could be the perfect career path for you, check out the Bellus Academy Barbering Program today.

Learn More About Becoming a Licensed Barber

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Image: Bill Chizek

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