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A barber (from the Latin barba, "beard") is a person whose occupation is mainly to cut, dress, groom, style and shave men's and boys' hair. A barber's place of work is known as a "barber shop" or a "barber's". Barber shops are also places of social interaction and public discourse. In some instances, barbershops are also public forums. They are the locations of open debates, voicing public concerns, and engaging citizens in discussions about contemporary issues. They were also influential in helping shape male identity.
In previous times, barbers (known as barber surgeons) also performed surgery and dentistry. With the development of safety razors and the decreasing prevalence of beards, in English-speaking cultures, most barbers now specialize in cutting men's scalp hair as opposed to facial hair.
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 labour 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 (around 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 some early tribes, a barber was one of the most important members, as it was believed that certain evil spirits could 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 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 cureus, in an agora (market place) which also served as a social gathering for debates and gossip.
Barbering was introduced to Rome by the Greek colonies in Sicily in 296 BC, 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.
Starting from the Middle Ages, barbers 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 spiralling stripes, symbolized different aspects of the craft. Barbers received higher pay than surgeons until surgeons were entered into British warships 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.
19th century and later
Late in the 19th century there were several noteworthy events in the barber profession that gave it an upward trend, and the effects are still carrying onward and upward. In 1893, A. B. Moler of Chicago, established a school for barbers. This was the first institution of its kind in the world, and its success was apparent from its very start. It stood for higher education in the ranks, and the parent school was rapidly followed by branches in nearly every principal city of the United States. In the beginning of barber schools, only the practical work of shaving, hair-cutting, facial treatments, etc., was taught as neither the public nor the profession were ready to accept scientific treatments of hair, skin and scalp. Not until about 1920 was much effort made to professionalize the work.
In the early 1900s an alternative word for barber, "chirotonsor", came into use in the USA.
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."
Despite the economic recession in 2008, the barber shop industry has seen continued positive growth.
Training to be a barber is achieved through various means around the world. In the USA, barber training is carried out at "Barber Schools".
Cost - Many states require a barber license in order to practice barbering professionally. The cost of barber school varies from state to state, and also from metro area to metro area. Schools in larger metropolitan areas tend to cost more than those located in more rural towns. Brand names can also affect the cost of barber school. Most barber schools cost between $6,500 and $10,000 to complete. Because each state has different minimums for training hours, the length and cost of the program can vary accordingly. Some schools tuition includes supplies and textbooks, whereas others do not. Barber license exam fees typically range from $50 to $150.
Length - Most states require the same amount of training hours for barbers as they do for cosmetologists. The number of hours required ranges from 800 to 2,000 training hours, depending on the state's licensing requirements. Most programs can be completed in 15 months or fewer.
Curriculum - The barber school curriculum consists of hair cutting, colouring and styling for men's hair and women's short hair. Chemical processes such as bleaching, dyeing, lightening and relaxing hair may also be taught. All cosmetology disciplines learn safety and sanitation best practices. Barber students can expect to learn some elements of anatomy, physiology, bacteriology and some small elements of pharmacology. It also teaches facial hair techniques, including traditional and modern shaves. Generally barber programs touch on scalp massage and treatments. Advanced barber training may include custom shave designs. It is more common in barbering schools than other cosmetology disciplines to get some business and ethics education, since entrepreneurship is especially common in the barbering trade with many professionals choosing to open their own barbershops. All the skills learned in barber school will be tested at the board exams, which typically feature a written and practical exam.
The term "barbering" when applied to laboratory mice is a behaviour where a dominant mouse will use her teeth to pluck out hairs from the face of a passive mouse when they groom each other (barbering is practised mostly by female mice). If moved to a cage with other mice, the "barber" will continue to practise her job and pull out hairs from her new cage-mates.
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