The Rise and Fall of the Hair Stylist

Oh hairdresser, what went wrong? Many of us get our hair trimmed or cut every two or three weeks. Some may even have a daily routine, but as the years have passed by we have forgotten the history of the hairdresser.

We take our hairdressers for granted nowadays because there are so many of them to choose from. Many hairdressers struggle to keep a returning customer base, especially in today's economy. It is amazing how much the profession has changed over the past 2,400 years. They have gone from surgeon to dentist to priest. Can you imagine seeing a priest carrying around a straight razor.

Would you believe that hairdressers were once paid more than doctors? What if I told you that they performed a similar form of exorcism?

History of the Hair Dresser

The first hairdressers were actually known as Barbers, stemming from the Latin word "Barba" which means beard. The history of barbers can be traced back all the way to the beginning of mankind. There have even been several razors discovered in Egypt that date back to over 6,000 years ago. Some of the earliest accounts we have of barbers stem back to 2,300 years ago in Sicily, thus giving us the term, "Sicilian Barber" and operas like "The Barber of Seville".

The Barber trade in Rome was adopted by many amateurs. The profession was a lot different than it is today because a lot of barbers didn't even have their own shops. Some would cut hair in their households or even on the streets. Shaves were usually offered for very little money because of the amount of competition, however, some barbers managed to become very wealthy because they were favored by the upper class citizens and could charge more for their services.

The musical film "Sweeney Todd" was actually inspired by such Sicilian barbers who earned the moniker, "butcher", because of their dull, copper razors which would sometimes scar their customer's necks, chins and cheeks.because of this, many customers refused to be shaved with a razor, forcing barbers to come up with new ways of hair removal.

The Barber as a Priest

Some of the earliest Barbers stemmed from surgeons and priests. The reason priest became barbers is because the people of ancient Egypt were very superstitious. They believed that spirits entered into the body from the tips of the hair on one's head. Cutting these hairs from the head was thought to expel the evil spirits like some sort of exorcism. This placed barbers in very high standard among their community. Since barbers were thought to be religious men, they would often be called upon to baptize others and conduct marriage ceremonies.

The Barber as a Surgeon, Dentist

Since barbers were so good with their razors, they also were entrusted with performing surgeries such as enemas, dental work and bloodletting, which was thought to cure all types of illness a long time ago. Since these barbers were performing surgery, they came to be known as Barber Surgeons in England. The barbers were actually paid more than the average surgeon, because they possessed multiple skills.

History of the Barber Pole

Bloodletting, which was the most common method of curing many illnesses, was a primary duty of the first barbers. The original barber pole was usually nothing more than a column or banister outside of the barber's shop. Barbers started to wrap their cloths, which were covered in blood, around those poles which would let people know that this was a barber shop. Since many were  illiterate, this became a common practice. Around 1100 A.D. barbers stopped hanging their bloody rags out and developed a painted, red and white striped barber's pole which hung or stood outside their building, marking their shop as a place of barbering and surgery.

The fall and resurrection of the Hair Dresser

During the 15th century, many surgeons began to complain that barbers had too many rights to be deemed as a hairdresser, dentist and surgeon. Most barbers had no previous medical education and in turn resorted to unconventional methods to try to cure their customers, which would usually end up hurting the people more than it helped. Toward the middle of the 15th century more and more medical discoveries were being made and made it hard for barbers to keep up with surgical procedures. This led parliament to restrict their surgical duties. By 1450 barbers were limited to pulling teeth, cauterizing wounds and bloodletting. With the barbers out of the picture, this opened up a brand new path for up and coming, educated surgeons, however, up until the 18th century each new surgeon would have to be approved by two barbers before they could receive their surgeons license. So unless you knew someone high up or were good friends with many barbers, it was pretty difficult to break into the surgical profession.

By 1745 the barber and surgeon professions were split into two different fields. One now had to either be a barber or surgeon or possess both licenses. By the end of the 18th century all surgical duties were stripped from barbers, including bloodletting. They were strictly limited to styling hair and shaving beards and mustaches. Since the late 18th and early 19th centuries were dominated by wig wearing, most barbers were forced to become wig makers or go out of business. Instead of being known as men of an artistic profession, barbers were now mere production laborers.

Up until the end of the 19th century, the barber profession was not a much sought after career. It wasn't until the popularity of motion pictures, that the hair dressing profession came back into popularity. In the 1920's hair styling schools began to open up and students were taught a whole new form of hair dressing. Since many people wanted the latest hairdo to resemble their favorite actor, actress, athlete, politician or singer the cost of haircuts and styling skyrocketed. To make it easier for women, cosmetology was now combined into the same certification so that one could get all of their pampering needs in one place.

Did You Know?

Barbers and Cosmetologists actually have the same type of certification. Their license is what makes them different. While cosmetologist are allowed to cut hair, they are actually not certified to use a straight razor. That duty is actually limited to those with a barber license. This is still a law in every state except New Jersey. So even though cosmetologist are licensed hair dressers, they must also possess a barber's license in order to use a straight razor.

This is another fun fact that I'm sure every lady will love to hear. If you have ever spent an extended amount of time in a salon, you know that there is a lot of gossip/news exchanged each day. This actually stems back to the earliest barber shops. Some people would come in on a daily basis just to freshen up on the latest news and/or gossip. If you wanted to know what was going on in town, the Barber Shop was the place to go. Since all barbers were men, back then, this means that the male is actually the one to blame for all this gossip going around at salons today.

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Comments 8 comments

sameerk profile image

sameerk 6 years ago from India

nice one


bcatgray profile image

bcatgray 6 years ago from United States of America

Very interesting. Had no idea what the Barber's Pole meant. Now I'm wondering when and why the blue stripe was added.


Helen Bolam profile image

Helen Bolam 6 years ago from South Shields

Another interesting hub.


libby101a profile image

libby101a 6 years ago from KY

Wow. Amazing! Very educational hub!


BobbiRant profile image

BobbiRant 6 years ago from New York

Cool I used to be a hairdresser. Talking all day was part of the fun.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

This is a great informational piece that should be part of the cosmetology training program. I still keep up my license although I don't use it professionally anymore, just for family members. When I worked in a huge salon (the late 70s) in the men's styling section upstairs (The Man), we were trained to use a straight razor and give a hot towel facial. Never did surgery though! Good one here.


charmgirl 6 years ago

Always thought men were the biggest gossipers! Interesting Hub thankyou


Tamarajo profile image

Tamarajo 6 years ago from Southern Minnesota

interesting tidbit about the difference between the Barber and the cosmetologist.

I'm still looking for a hair dresser that cares about what I look like before I leave her chair.

Interesting article.

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