When you think of barber shops, chances are you think of those blue and red barber poles that swirled outside of old-fashioned shops in your town that invited men in to get a haircut, a grooming service and friendly conversation. Barbering goes back not only decades to those classic images–it actually goes back centuries.
Barbering is a trade that has been undertaken for much longer than you might think–all the way to 5000 BC in Egypt, in fact. The first of many barbering services were completed using sharpened flint and oyster shells. Barbers were highly respected for the way they made men look and the way they helped clean them up. Barbering was something that was significant across many continents with different cultures using shaving as a way to distinguish between different classes of people and their roles in society mostly during times of war.
Barbering evolved in the middle ages, with barbers not only cutting hair and grooming beards but actually being surgeons and dentists as well. It may sound strange, but barbers were believed to be skilled with the blade and were often involved in surgery and bloodletting. Enemas, fire cupping and teeth extraction were also commonly performed by barbers, and those men were called barber-surgeons. They actually received a higher-paying salary than standard surgeons, and they were valuable in war times. They helped soldiers with neck manipulation, draining boils, cleaning scalps and ears, lancing cysts and more.
In the 19th century, barbering took a turn and became a major part of African American business; it ended up aiding the development of the African American economy and culture, and the barbershop was a pretty large cultural center in many Black neighborhoods. Alongside serving the Black community, African American barbers were also known to serve wealthy white people, which helped make it a more mainstream practice. Back then, haircuts only cost around five or ten cents.
Past that, through the 20th century and beyond, barbershops were far more common. People still went to barber shops for haircuts and grooming, but they were also social meeting points. People would sit around and play board games, gossip, talk about their farming business or just chat about recent events. Sometimes they were used as public debate centers or places for citizens to voice their concerns.
Today, barbers have evolved even further. In hair salons, they have special chairs for washing and drying hair, and they serve not just men but also women as well. Barbers and stylists are still known for their typical chatty nature and will talk to you while doing your hair, still keeping up that classic barbershop feel even if there are no longer board games sitting about. Now, there are barber schools for anyone who is interested, as most states now require a barber’s license in order to take on the job.
Though barbershops have gone through quite the change, they have always been important and will continue to be crucial to society with no end in sight.