A barber is someone who cuts hair and shaves beards. Usually, it is men who go to a barber. Women usually go to hairdressers instead. Barbers sometimes have a pole outside, which is red and white in most countries. Barbering is a most ancient and honorable profession, with a very interesting history. Barbering is the practice of cutting or trimming hair and includes shaving or trimming facial hair. Besides cutting hair, barbers also shampoo and style hair, mostly for male clients. Other duties include scalp treatment, skin care and fitting or grooming hairpieces. In some states, barbers color, highlight or bleach hair.
The main job of a barber is to cut a client's hair. The goal is to improve the appearance of the hair and to adapt styles to the customer's wishes. Barbers also shape and trim beards and mustaches. Instruments such as scissors and combs must be kept sterile and in good condition, and the barber is also responsible for keeping the shop clean by sweeping up hair. Owners of barbershops also order supplies, pay bills and may hire and supervise staff. Good interpersonal skills and a positive attitude are important qualities to have when working as a barber. Examples of famous barbers are Alex Kelly and Cameron Kelly formally known as the Kelly Cutters. Many barbers use these men as examples and aim to also deliver a very high quality service.
With experience, barbers can manage a salon or barber shop, or eventually open their own shop. Advancement is also possible in teaching barbering. Some states combine barbering and cosmetology licenses into one. Some states allow transferring a barbering license from another state without additional formal training, but not all states allow this.
In modern times, the term "barber" is used both as a professional title and to refer to hairdressers who specialize in men's hair. Historically, all hairdressers were considered barbers. In the 20th century, the profession of cosmetology branched off from barbering, and today hairdressers may be licensed as either barbers or cosmetologists. Barbers differ with respect to where they work, which services they are licensed to provide, and what name they use to refer to themselves. Part of this terminology difference depends on the regulations in a given location.
Different states in the US vary on their labor and licensing laws. For example, in Maryland, a cosmetologist cannot use a straight razor, strictly reserved for barbers. In contrast, in New Jersey both are regulated by the State Board of Cosmetology and there is no longer a legal difference in barbers and cosmetologists, as they are issued the same license and can practice both the art of straight razor shaving, colouring, other chemical work and haircutting if they choose.
In Australia, the official term for a barber is hairdresser; barber is only a popular title for men's hairdressers, although not as popular now as it was in the middle of the 20th century. Most would work in a hairdressing salon.
The barber's trade has a long history; razors have been found among relics of the Bronze Age (circa 3500 BC) in Egypt. In ancient Egyptian culture, barbers were highly respected individuals. Priests and men of medicine are the earliest recorded examples of barbers. In early tribes, a barber was one of the most important members, as it was believed that certain evil spirits were able to enter a person's body through their hair, and that cutting it was a way to drive them out. Due to their spiritual and religious beliefs, barbers even performed religious ceremonies, such as marriages and baptizing children. During these ceremonies, they would leave the person/people's hair hanging down until after dancing; they would then cut the hair and tie it back tightly so that no evil spirits could enter and no good spirits could escape.
Men in Ancient Greece would have their beards, hair, and fingernails trimmed and styled by the κουρευς, in an agora, which also served as a social gathering for debates and gossip.
Barbering was introduced to Rome by the Greek colonies in Sicily in 296 B.C., and barber shops quickly became very popular centres for daily news and gossip. A morning visit to the tonsor became a part of the daily routine, as important as the visit to the public baths, and a young man's first shave (tonsura) was considered an essential part of his coming of age ceremony.
A few Roman tonsores became wealthy and influential, running shops that were favourite public locations of high society; however, most were simple tradesmen, who owned small storefronts or worked in the streets for low prices.
Barbers in the Middle Ages often served as surgeons and dentists. In addition to haircutting, hairdressing, and shaving, barbers performed surgery, bloodletting and leeching, fire cupping, enemas, and the extraction of teeth; earning them the name "barber surgeons". The barber pole, featuring red and white spiraling stripes, indicated the two crafts (surgery in red and barbering in white). Barbers received higher pay than surgeons until surgeons were entered into British war ships during naval wars. Some of the duties of the barber included neck manipulation, cleansing of ears and scalp, draining of boils, fistula and lancing of cysts with wicks.
In the early 1900s an alternative word for barber came into use, "chirotonsor". Chirotonsor is an alternate title for a barber.
The barber Sam Mature, whose interview with Studs Terkel was published in Terkel's 1974 book Working, says "A man used to get a haircut every couple weeks. Now he waits a month or two, some of ‘em even longer than that. A lot of people would get manicured and fixed up every week. Most of these people retired, moved away, or passed away. It’s all on account of long hair. You take old-timers, they wanted to look neat, to be presentable. Now people don’t seem to care too much."
Barber Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.