A 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 and prompted me to research barbershop pole color meaning both because I had never heard this before and couldn’t image what bandages had to do with barbershops.

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

Original Barbershop Pole Color Meaning

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 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.

Another Barbershop Pole Color Meaning

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 barbershop pole color palette is that red and blue represent the two types of blood – red for arterial blood, blue for venous blood.

Image: Stockfresh
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  • Anthony says:

    Actually, the blue was used to separate 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 today’s world, it just means you can go get a hair cut lol

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thanks for that additional information, Anthony. Best for barbers to stick to cutting hair. 🙂

  • 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.

    • Kate Smith says:

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

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