Associated Barber College of San Diego

The HistoryThe Fascinating and Lesser-Known History of Barbering

The Fascinating and Lesser-Known History of Barbering

Barbering is an ancient profession with a rich and varied history that spans cultures and continents. While many are familiar with the barber’s role in hair cutting and shaving, there are aspects of this history that are less well-known, yet deeply fascinating.

Ancient Origins

The earliest records of barbering date back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. In these societies, barbers were highly respected figures. In Egypt, they often served the pharaohs and priests, cutting hair in ways that were dictated by religious and social customs.

Barbers as Surgeons

In the Middle Ages, barbers performed a wide range of medical procedures, earning them the title of ‘barber-surgeons’. They would pull teeth, set broken bones, and perform bloodletting, a common practice believed to cure or prevent illness. The iconic red and white barber pole is a nod to this era, symbolizing the blood and bandages associated with their work.

The Decline and Separation from Surgery

The 18th century marked a turning point as the professions of surgery and barbering began to separate. The formation of medical colleges and the professionalization of surgery led to the decline of the barber-surgeon. However, barbers continued to play a vital role in grooming and personal care.

Barbershops as Social Hubs

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, barbershops emerged as social hubs, particularly in the United States. They were places where men gathered not only for haircuts and shaves but for conversation and camaraderie. The barbershop’s role as a community gathering spot is a tradition that continues in many cultures today.

The Golden Age of Barbering

The early 20th century is often referred to as the Golden Age of Barbering. It was during this time that barbershops flourished, characterized by luxurious furnishings, marble counters, and opulent chandeliers. It was a time when going to the barber was an experience, not just a necessity.

Barbering During Wars

During World War I and II, barbers played a crucial role in the military, maintaining soldiers’ hair and beards. This practice was not only for hygiene but also for morale, providing a semblance of normalcy and routine in the midst of war.

The Rise of Female Barbers

While barbering has traditionally been a male-dominated profession, the 20th century saw a significant increase in female barbers. Women entered the field in greater numbers, challenging gender norms and bringing new perspectives to the art of barbering.

Innovation in Tools and Techniques

The history of barbering is also a history of innovation. The development of electric clippers in the early 20th century revolutionized haircutting. The advent of safety razors, aftershaves, and modern hair products also transformed the barbering experience.

Cultural Significance

Throughout history, barbering has held different cultural significances. In some cultures, a child’s first haircut is a rite of passage. In others, specific hairstyles symbolize social or marital status, religious affiliation, or profession.


The history of barbering is rich and complex, intertwining with the social, cultural, and medical histories of societies around the world. From its origins in ancient civilizations to its development into a modern-day staple of grooming and social interaction, barbering remains an integral and fascinating part of human culture. As we look to the future, the evolution of barbering continues, reflecting the changing times and needs of society.