Many Have Wondered Why Barber Poles Are Red, White, And Blue

Red, white, and blue barber poles may look patriotic, but there’s actually a very different reason why they are that color. In fact, the truth behind this coloring is far more gruesome.

Though barbers have been cutting hair for hundreds of years, there used to be more that they had to do as part of their job description. Not only did they give haircuts, they also performed minor surgery, pulled teeth, and amputated limbs. It was one procedure in particular called bloodletting that led to barber poles being given the colors that they have now.

Back then, it was believed that people who had too much blood in a certain area of the body could cause diseases like fevers or the plague, and that letting this blood out would improve their health. In 1163, Pope Alexander III ordered monks and priests to stop performing bloodletting, which is when barbers started doing it instead.

The procedure would involve barbers giving patients poles to hold, which were the original barber poles. Holding onto the poles tightly made their veins pop out a bit, which made it easier for barbers to drain the blood. Gross, I know!

Barbers knew even back then that there was a limit to how much blood they could drain, so they would eventually use a white cloth to stop the bleeding. Once they had done this, they would tie those blood-stained towels to the poles and hang them outside their shops, which meant that it was common to see a pole with white and red swirling around in the breeze.

In Europe, barber poles are still red and white, and there are a few theories as to why the United States added blue to it. While some say that it represents the blue of the veins barber-surgeons would target when bloodletting, others say that it is an ode to the American flag.

Who knew the red, white, and blue barber pole had such a bloody origin story?


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