The History of the Barber and the Barbershop


In modern times, the term "barber" and "hairdressers" is used both as professional titles and to refer to someone who specialize in men's hair. 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.

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.

Barbershops were influential at the turn of the 18th century in helping to develop African American culture and economy. According to Trudier Harris, "In addition, to its status as a gathering place, the black barbershop also functioned as a complicated and often contradictory microcosm of the larger world. It is an environment that can bolster egos and be supportive as well as a place where phony men can be destroyed, or at least highly shamed, from participation in verbal contests and other contests of skill. It is a retreat, a haven, an escape from nagging wives and the cares of the world. It is a place where men can be men. It is a place, in contrast to Gordone's bar, to be somebody." (1)

1) Harris, Trudier (Autumn 1979). "The Barbershop in Black Literature". Black American Literature Forum (St. Louis University) 13: 112-118. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3041528.