The real (and disturbing) meaning behind barber poles

Those rotating red, white, and blue poles outside barbershops have become an icon. At first glance, you’d probably assume barber pole designs have a patriotic background. But the reality is pretty gruesome.

Barbers have been cutting hair for centuries, but they used to have a longer job description. In medieval times, the professionals were known as barber-surgeons, which is just what it sounds like. They weren’t just there to give customers a trim—they’d also perform minor surgery, pull teeth, and amputate limbs, according to PBS. But one procedure—bloodletting—led to the barbershop poles you see today. Want to learn more about the past? These are the 16 history questions everyone gets wrong.

At the time, people thought having too much blood in a certain area could cause disease like fevers or the plague, and letting some out would make them healthy. In 1163, Pope Alexander III ordered monks and priests to stop performing bloodletting anymore, so barbers started offering the service instead, according to History.

RELATED: Long bobs we love:

15 long bobs we love
See Gallery
15 long bobs we love

We never thought T. Swift would part with her signature mermaid waves, but after several years in the spotlight, she finally went for the chop in a big way. Taylor's versatile cut is sophisticated and versatile, and it lends itself particularly well to this type of classic styling.

We have serious bob envy in the case of Emma's sleek, shiny cut. Long layers and face-framing curls are flattering and unexpected on this abbreviated length.

Emma has succeeded in growing out her gamine post-"Potter" pixie in style. A smooth center part, large barrel waves, and a touch of height at the crown alludes to slightly retro glamour that still seems contemporary.

Katy's blunt bob, complete with eyebrow-grazing bangs, is as classic as they come.

Kristen shocked fans when she lopped off her long locks in favor of a sleek to-the-chin bob earlier this year.

Alexa Chung has truly perfected the long bob. With ombre highlights and a length that goes just beyond her shoulders, this style will look good on anyone—even as it grows out.

The Mad Men actress never wears her long bob the same way twice. To get these waves, use a curling iron to curl hair away from the face.

Kate's long bob looks great pin-straight because it's all one length. 

Dress up your lob like Katharine's with thick, loose waves and a deep side part. 

Kerry wears her lob straight and curly, but we especially love the messy texture on this shoulder-skimming look. To replicate the style, curl pieces of hair at random with a curling iron, and then use a flat iron to go over the ends.

Lily has similar texture to Kerry's style, but without the bangs. For a boost in volume, copy her deep side part.

Marion Cotillard wore a more angular lob to the Golden Globes awards earlier this year, pairing the look with side-swept bangs. To keep hair smooth all night, try rubbing a dime-size amount of John Frieda Frizz-Ease Sheer Solution ($9.99, into hands and then distributing through hair, starting at the ends.

Nicole Kidman looks seriously elegant in this classic haircut, that extends just past her shoulders. We hope this means she's said goodbye to long extensions for good!

Nicole recently went back to a lob and blunt bangs, which accentuate her eyes. We love this length, which hovers just above her shoulders.

Rose caught a lot of attention after cutting a short bob and blunt bangs, and her hair keeps getting better as she grows it out.


During the treatment, barber-surgeons would give patients poles to hold. Grasping the staff made their veins pop out a bit, making them easier to find while the barbers went all Sweeney Todd.

Even back then, people knew there was a limit to bloodletting, so barbers would stop the bleeding with a white cloth. They’d then tie those towels to the poles and hang them outside their shops, according to History. Some towels stayed blood-stained even after they were washed, so it was common to see a pole with white and red swirling around in the breeze.

These days, barbers leave the medical treatment to doctors, but their poles are a nod to their bloody past. In Europe, barber poles are just red and white—reminiscent of the poles from the Middle Ages. There are a couple theories about why the United States added blue to its design. Some say it represents the blue of the veins barber-surgeons would target when bloodletting; others think it’s just copying the American flag as a sign of patriotism. Learn more of the biggest lies in history here.

Some places are very selective about who’s allowed to display a barber pole. In certain states, it’s against the law to have one outside a salon unless a licensed barber works there. Licensed or not, though, we’re just happy to know there won’t be any bloodshed. Here’s why money is green–and 10 more fun facts about colors.

[h/t Mental Floss]

The post The Real (and Disturbing) Meaning Behind Barber Poles appeared first on Reader's Digest.

Read Full Story