What Is the Meaning of the Colors on a Barber Pole?

by Kim Kenney ; Updated September 26, 2017
Barber shop pole, (Low angle view)

Centuries ago, barbers did much more than just cut hair. They performed surgery, extracted teeth and engaged in bloodletting. A barber pole’s colors represent the barber’s role as a bloodletter.


Drawing blood

According to PBS.org, the ancient Greeks and Romans were the first to use bloodletting as a cure for many ailments, including fevers, pneumonia and back pain. By the Middle Ages, barbers had assumed the role of bloodletter in most communities.


Gauze bandage, (Close-up)

The white part of the barber pole represents the linen bandages used to wrap the arm during bloodletting.

Video of the Day

Brought to you by Techwalla
Brought to you by Techwalla

Blood and Veins

Healthcare worker holding hands with patient

Red symbolizes the blood released from the body. Blue stands for the veins tapped during the bloodletting process.



According to barberpole.com, barbers wrapped the actual clean and bloody bandages around a pole to serve as a sign. Eventually paint replaced the real bandages.

Another Theory

Northeastmarketplace.com claims the bandages were not wrapped around a pole. Instead, they were hung outside tied to the top of a pole where they twisted in the wind.


Barber with scissors and comb

Northeastmarketplace.com also explains tBlue stands for the veins tapped during the bloodletting process.The pole itself may represent the staff which patients were given to squeeze, which helped the vein become more visible.

About the Author

I have been a professional historian, museum curator, and author for more than a decade. I have served as the Museums Editor at BellaOnline since 2004. I am qualified to serve as an expert in a variety of historical topics. My expertise includes the Victorian Age and McKinley's presidency, the Roaring Twenties, the 1950s, the flu, museum studies, material culture, architecture, and more. I have a BA in history and an MA in history museum studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program. Please see my bio on my employer's website for more: http://www.mckinleymuseum.org/speakers_bureau/speaker/2

Photo Credits

  • Duncan Smith/Photodisc/Getty Images
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article