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The History of Barbers

The History of Barbers

Barbering has historically been one of the most revered professions in society. The esteemed tradition dates back to Ancient Egyptian times when it was believed that evil spirits could enter a person's body through their hair. Regular haircuts were seen as vital in preventing demon possession, affording the haircutter religious and almost shaman-like status.

From the Middle Ages onwards, barbers came to perform a host of services, not only tending to the physical appearance but performing surgery, pulling teeth and other feats of dentistry, the time proven arts of leeching and bloodletting, fire cupping, enemas, the lancing of boils and cysts and even spinal manipulation. This impressive list of talents made barbers medical all-rounders that earned much higher rates of pay than standard surgeons, whose range of skills paled in comparison.

Geo. F. Trumper's flagship barber store is located on Curzon Street in Mayfair, London.


Ever since the invention of coloured advertising devices, barbers have publicised their services via the instantly recognisable barber pole. While legends to the origins of the tri-coloured pole abound, some explanations relate specifically to medical bloodletting, blue being the colour of veins, red representing the colour of the spilt fluid, and white the bandages subsequently applied, an explanation that seems to have at least some validity. The colours were split by act of English parliament in 1540 when the Fellowship of Surgeons legally merged with the Barbers' Company to form the Company of Barbers and Surgeons. The act specified that no surgeon could cut hair or shave another, and that no barber could practice surgery, the only common activity to be the extraction of teeth. The law required barbers to advertise their services via a blue and white pole, while surgeons were left with the colour red, a measure designed to prevent public confusion at the enforced changes. When barbers established in the new world, American patriotism dictated that all three colours again be utilised in their spinning glory. Whatever the truth, barber poles have survived as an enduring, almost universal symbol, the only distortion occurring in some Asian countries, where the barber pole often symbolises a brothel, a mistake a curious haircut-seeking-tourist only normally makes once.

Schorem is an old school men-only barbershop located in the heart of Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

As well as curing all manner of ills, barbershops have historically played the role of social forum, a place for men to gather and discuss the issues of the day, be it sporting contests, business wheeling and dealing through to all things political. They also offer a sanctuary, a legitimate reason to escape the demands and attentions of womenfolk for a few hours of carefree masculine company. Legendary gambler Arnold Rothstein would use his local barbershop to place large wagers with unsuspecting rubes, utilising an extensive network of tip-off agents who would alert the sure-thing punter to the colour of approaching motor vehicles, the results of horse races that had already been run and won, or whatever random event that likely sporting types might gamble on while having their locks tended. Entrepreneurial barbers could make a month’s salary by subtly providing Rothstein with such valuable information, often just by the way they held a pair of scissors, or a tapping movement with their free hand.

During recent history's flirtation with all things metro-sexual many men forwent the humble surrounds of the barbershop for the smooth polished surfaces of the hair salon. History's pendulum has however recently swung with men again flocking back to the barber shop, a place where chaps can take a load off, let it all hang out, chew the fat and get a good old fashioned shave and snip.

Drop into one of the Men's Biz stores to sample the authentic barbershop experience for yourself.