Why Are Barbershop Poles Red and White?

barbershop pole color meaningA statement in a small town newspaper today said that the red and white colors used in a barber pole are symbolic of bandages: white for clean bandages and red for blood-stained bandages. This caught my attention both because I had never heard this before and couldn’t image what bandages had to do with barbershops.

Although I’ve seen haircuts I would describe as “butchered,” I clearly didn’t think any bloodshed was involved. So what do bandages have to do with a barbershop?

Come to find out that during medieval times, in addition to a shave and a haircut, your barber could perform surgery, tooth extractions, and bloodletting. Oh the need for bandaging was becoming more clear. The red and white stripes symbolize the bandages used during bloodletting.

Originally, these bandages were hung out on a pole to dry after washing. As the bandages blew in the wind, they would twist together to form the spiral pattern similar to the stripes in the modern day barber pole.

The barber pole became emblematic of the barber/surgeon’s profession. Later, the cloths were replaced by a painted wooden pole of red and white stripes.

Blue sometimes appears on poles in the United States, possibly as an homage to the national colors. Another, more fanciful interpretation of the addition of blue to the barber pole is that the colors red and blue represent the two types of blood – red for arterial blood, blue for venous blood.

Continue Learning: More about the meaning, symbolism and psychology of color

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  1. tiffanig says

    I was told the blue stripe represents a barber that does tattoos…meaning the blue stripe was ink, and the red was blood for bloodletting and the white was for shaving cream.

    • I have not heard that association or found it in my research but I can understand why someone might make that connection.

    • actually the blue was used the seperate the two professions. The barbers to use a blue and white pole while the surgeon to use a red pole. But back in a time when barbers were expected to perform medical procedures to heal the sick; red represented blood, blue is symbolic of veins, and white depicts the bandages. In todays world it just means you can go get a hair cut lol