- For other uses of the word, see the Barber disambiguation page.
A barber (from the Latin barba, 'beard') is someone whose occupation is to cut hair, give shaves and cut beards. A barber differs from a hairdresser whose business is limited to cutting hair. In previous times, barbers also performed surgery.
The place where a barber works is a barbershop (or "barber shop").
For thousands of years men used to go to the barber to be shaved and to socialize. Before the Macedonian conquest brought the custom of clean shaving, the κουρευς in the Greek agora would trim and style his patrons' beards, hair, and fingernails, as gossip and debate flowed freely. The Romans imported their first Greek barber from Sicily c. 454 AUC (300 BCE), and the custom of shaving lasted until the Hellenophile Hadrian brought full beards back into fashion. 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 an essential part of his coming of age ceremony. A few Roman tonsores became wealthy and influential, running shops that were favorite loci publici of high society; most were simple tradesmen, owning small storefronts or setting up their stool in the street and offering shaves for a mere quadrans. Some had reputations as clumsy butchers who left their patrons scarred about the cheeks and chin; their dull bronze or copper (never steel) razors must share some of the blame. The better barbers offered depilatories for those customers who refused the razor.
Nowadays, with the invention of the safety razor, men usually shave by themselves and barbers only cut hair. However, in order to get their license, barbers in the United States still need to know how to give shaves. But they do not practice much since there is almost no demand anymore. And since it takes time to prepare the steamer (to prepare the steamed towels necessary for the shave), the price to be shaved is very high now. Moreover, people are more afraid to get a shave at a barbershop due to the fear of getting AIDS through a dirty blade (although disposable blades are used in many parts of the world).
In some countries, barbers hang out a red-and white striped pole as their symbol.
Last updated: 05-21-2005 04:50:25