Why Do Barber Shops Have Red and White Poles Outside?

Long, long ago, barbers did much more than cut people’s hair.

red and white barber shop pole

Barbers performed some minor operations on people, especially blood-letting, or bleeding. This was believed to be a cure for some illnesses in which the “bad blood” was supposed to leave the body.

To perform the operations, barbers had their patients hold onto a pole standing in the shop. Then the patient’s blood was “let.”

When the pole was not being used by a patient, it stood in the barber’s doorway with bandages wrapped around it. This was an advertisement that the barber was a good “bleeder.”

When people realized that it was unsanitary to use a pole that stood in a doorway, barbers painted red stripes around the poles as a continuing advertisement. The red stripes were to remind the customers of blood-soaked bandages.

Red and white striped barber poles became so identified with barbers that the custom of having a pole outside a barber shop continues today.

The world’s tallest barber pole, built in 1973 outside a barber shop in Alexander, New York, a small town near Buffalo, is 50′ 3″ high.