Your Hairdresser's Hidden Past

I think that the most important thing a woman can have next to talent, of course, is her hairdresser!
— Joan Crawford, 1957

Hairdressers share a little known and seldom talked about place in of history.  By the way, I use the word hairdresser to include all, regardless of the cheeky and sometimes tacky labels that modern day marketing has coined for us - such as, haircutter, barber, stylist, operator, Mr. or Miss First Name and the most dreaded of all, yes … the beautician.  Reminds me of mortician!  Call us what you will, we’re all hairdressers since the time of the pharaohs. 

Hairdressers are mentioned in Egyptian papyri.  Queen Nefertiti had several to attend to her demanding needs, and the journals of ancient Japan, Greece and Rome mention hairdressers.  They shared an important part of the medical profession, too, as well as the beautification of others - this all dating back centuries to antiquity.  Take for instance the Vatican’s Papal Decree in 1163, which forbade the clergy to shed blood.  The nasty procedure at the time to do periodic bloodletting using leeches and scalpel cuts was to free the body of so called  “Bad Spirits.“  This insane practice was given over to barbers to perform.  It became the roots of their involvement and the development of the medical and dental practices as we know them today.

Early physicians were gentlemen, you see, and they disdained surgery, dressing wounds and extracting teeth so they were more than happy to let barber surgeons attend to these tasks.  The father of modern surgery, Ambroise Paré was himself a barber surgeon.

Meanwhile in Merry Old England, while constructing hairpieces six feet high festooned with ribbons and live birds for ladies of the court, King Edward the IV chartered barbers and hairdressers together with surgeons in 1462.

Yet, the final separation from medical practice occurred much later with the founding of the “Royal College of Surgeons” in 1800.  They still performed medical practice well through the American Civil War until the founding of the AMA.  Barber surgeons treated many thousands of wounded Union and Confederate soldiers, especially amputation of limbs to include the cutting and dressing hair of men as well as women.  Not surprisingly hairdressers today are licensed with physicians by the same state agency, “The Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs.”

By the way, there are only five remaining Geisha hairdressers in Kyoto, and all are male.  One hairdresser charges $400 to do a makeover that takes several hours to complete.  A bonus, however, is the opportunity to visit his private hair museum upstairs, which displays more than 200 hair ornaments used by Maiko aka "apprentice geisha."
One last historical / hysterical tidbit: Catherine the Great, Queen of all Russia had a nasty temper.  She put to death lovers who disappointed her by the dozen.  Along with them, she put to death her substandard hairdressers.  Good God, mustn’t disappoint the Queen!