When we see one, we know immediately what it means. The red, white and sometimes blue stripe on a pole outside a shop indicates that a barber is hard at work within. The Barber’s Pole has an interesting origin that dates from the Middle Ages. It was associated with the art of bloodletting, leeching, surgery and tooth extractions. After a procedure, the bandages were washed and hung on the pole to dry. As the bandages whipped around in the wind, they formed a spiral, and it’s believed this action began the tradition of a striped pole to indicate a barber’s shop. It is thought the red respresents the blood spilled during surgery and the white the bandages. In England during the late 1800s, a statute was enacted that separated surgical procedures from those performed by barbers. From then on, a red stripe on a pole indicated a surgeon and blue for a barber. This made their places of business easily recognizable for the mostly illiterate population.
The barber’s pole in the photograph is in historic downtown Fort Myers, Florida.