10 January 2016 WHY ARE BARBER’S POLES RED, WHITE AND BLUE?
WHY ARE BARBER’S POLES
RED, WHITE AND BLUE?
I bet you have seen a coloured pole outside a barber's shop. Ever wondered why it is like it is?
pole’s colours are a legacy of a (thankfully) long-gone era when people went to
barbers not just for a haircut or shave but also for bloodletting and other
medical procedures. During the Middle Ages bloodletting, which involves cutting
open a vein and allowing blood to drain, was a common treatment for a wide
range of maladies, from sore throat to plague.
Monks, who often cared for the
sick, performed the procedure, and barbers, given their skill with sharp
instruments, sometimes provided assistance. After Pope Alexander III in 1163
prohibited clergymen from carrying out the procedure, barbers added
bloodletting—something physicians of the day considered necessary but too
menial to do themselves–to their repertoires. Known as barber-surgeons, they
also took on such tasks as pulling teeth, setting bones and treating wounds.
Ambroise Pare, a 16th-century Frenchman considered the father of modern
surgery, started his career as a barber-surgeon.
The look of
the barber pole is linked to bloodletting, with red representing blood and
white representing the bandages used to stem the bleeding. The pole itself is
said to symbolize the stick that a patient squeezed to make the veins in his
arm stand out more prominently for the procedure. In Europe, barber poles
traditionally are red and white, while in America, the poles are red, white and
blue. One theory holds that blue is symbolic of the veins cut during
bloodletting, while another interpretation suggests blue was added to the pole
as a show of patriotism and a nod to the nation’s flag.
mid-1500s, English barbers were banned from providing surgical treatments,
although they could continue extracting teeth. Both barbers and surgeons,
however, remained part of the same trade guild until 1745. While bloodletting
largely fell out of favour with the medical community in the 19th century, it’s
still used today to treat a small number of conditions.