Razor blades made from sharp stones have been found dating all the way back to the Bronze ages. For as long as there have been razors, there have been barbers – but the profession hasn’t always been to simply cut, groom, style and shave. The title “barber” originated from the Latin word “barba” meaning, “beard”. It may seem simple, but the history of barbering is far from simple. Let’s start from the beginning.
The earliest records: In early tribes, the world’s first people believed that spirits entered the body through hair, and that the only way to rid of a bad spirit was to cut the hair off. As the tradition developed, tribes began getting creative and developing different hair cutting techniques and styles. The superior men were typically assigned the role of medicine men and priests, who were also the barbers.
Ancient art proves that barbering was significant to the Egyptians. There have been many illustrations found of men being shaved in monuments and papyrus. One in particular is the statue of barber Meryma’at, who was responsible for shaving the Amun Temple priests every three days. Barbers were highly respected people in this era because of their contribution to helping the priests shave their entire bodies, which was a sacred religious function.
Around the 5th century BC: The Ancient Greek men began wearing longer, wavy hair with beards that were kept trimmed, curled and combed. This is when grooming beards became an important task in the barbering profession. The Greek’s influenced the first barbershops and they quickly became a popular place for men to meet and socialize – like they are today!
The 3rd century BC: Alexander the Great lost several battles against the Persians because they would grab the beards of his soldiers and pull them off their horses to kill them. Alexander then ordered all of his soldiers to be clean shaved, resulting in the high demand of barbers to groom the soldiers every few days.
Barbering entered Rome in 296 BC when Ticinius Mena, a Roman Senator introduced the custom of barbershops after returning from Sicily.
Middle Ages: There were major changes in the barbering profession in the era of the Middle Ages. Barbers began pulling teeth, dressing wounds, setting bone fractures, bloodletting and performing other small operations – leading to the new title, “barber-surgeons.”
The 17th century: In 1745, King George II of Great Britain ordered surgeons and barbers to be separated professions and barbers were restricted to performing only hair care tasks. France then ordered the same decision. The restrictions caused a decline in the profession and barbershops became an unsanitary place that people of low social level visited. Barbers then lost immense respect and social rank.
The 18th century: The use of wig making, installation and maintenance recovered barbers social relevance in the 18th century. After the French Revolution, wigs were soon outdated and wearing natural hairstyles became popular again.
The 19th century: By the second half of the century, barbers had redeemed their social prestige and the profession was reborn. Chains of barbershops were established in most cities and towns.
The 20th century: In the beginning of the century barbershops were commonly opened for only men or only women. But in the 1970’s men began wearing long hair and sideburns. This motivated barbers to expand their services and unisex barbershops became more common in the 1980’s. By the 1990’s, most salons offered services to both genders.
Barbering is one of the most ancient professions and not to mention, has a surprisingly interesting history behind it. The future of barbering has continued to progress with new technology and techniques.
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