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One barber said to the other...
2002 / FEBRUARY

In old Turkish yülü meant shaving, yölgüç was a razor, yölügen a barber, yülemek to shave, and yülük a person who had shaved. But later, if the terminology is anything to go by, foreign influences came to dominate in the sphere of shaving and hair dressing. Two Turkish terms for barber, berber and perkârn, derived from the Italian barbierre and the French perruquier respectively, while kuaför for a ladies' hairdresser comes from the French coiffieur, and tıraş, meaning shave, from the Persian terâş, to scrape or make smooth. If all the information, documents and pictures relating to the barbers of Istanbul from the second century AD until the mid-20th century were to be gathered together it would make an extraordinary historical archive. Legend has it that the butcher Hesperos was Byzantium's first barber thanks to his dexterity with the kuika ergaleia (razor), which was why the city's barbers were known as the 'drudges of Hesperos'. Most Byzantine barbers set up their stalls in churchyards, as so much of their trade consisted of shaving the heads of monks

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One barber said to the other...
2002 / FEBRUARY

Their fee was set by law at 2 dinars a head. The first barbers shops were opened by the drudges of Hesperos and perfumers around the churches of Haghia Sophia and Haghia Eirene. Now we leap forward several hundred years into 16th century Ottoman times, when the advent of coffee took Istanbul by storm. Corners known as mostra in coffee houses where barbers plied their trade must have been a later development, however, because no barbers took part in the guild procession of 1582, of which a detailed account survives. By the 17th century, when barbers had become a fixture of coffee houses under the same licence, they found themselves out in the street whenever the authorities closed the coffee houses down, as happened during the reign of Murad IV (1623-1640). These unlicensed barbers either installed themselves in Turkish baths, or pursued an itinerant trade. In the 1630s Evliya Çelebi watched a guild parade in which barbers dressed in silk aprons passed by in shops constructed on decorated floats.

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One barber said to the other...
2002 / FEBRUARY
Equipped with basins, ewers and German razors, and joking with their assistants, the barbers demonstrated their skills to the crowds. Nearly a century later a barbr's shop in the guild procession of 1720 was depicted in a beautiful miniature painting by Levnî. Registers of municipal regulations at that time tell us that a shave and haircut cost 1 akçe, and provide details regarding standards of hygiene, training apprentices, and shaving methods.
When the Janissary Corps was abolished in 1826 the coffee houses, most of whose proprietors were janissaries, were closed down and the barbers who worked there, also janissaries, found themselves out of work again until licensed barbers were allowed to resume work the following year.
Traditional Istanbul barbers shops were known by a barbr'sn bowl hung on the door. The barbers wore clogs and wrap-around aprons, and worked with their sleeves rolled up. The customers sat on a bench, while the apprentices held up mirrors, fanned away flies and performed other similar tasks.
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One barber said to the other...
2002 / FEBRUARY

The barber began by lathering the custom'sgc beard in a bowl of soapy water, then sharpened his razor on his leather strop, and resting the custom'sdc head on his knees shaved him. Finally he rinsed off the soap by pouring water from a pan suspended from a hook. As well as shaving these old-fashioned barbers also extracted teeth, performed circumcisions, and let blood by cupping and leeching. In the second half of the 19th century rivals appeared in the form of European-style barbr'sr shops equipped with barbr'sp chairs and wall mirrors, pictures, canaries in cages and other paraphernalia. To distinguish their fashionable establishments, they adopted the French term perruquier. In districts like Beyoglu, Sirkeci, Cagaoglu and Beyazit signs sprang up for such perruquiers - perkârq in Turkish: New Perukâr, New Age Perukâr, Istanbul Perukâr and so on. But the couplets which these modern barbers hung on their walls to advertise their services revealed that traditions die hard, as these examples show:

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One barber said to the other...
2002 / FEBRUARY
'Opening every morning with a prayer is our wont/Selman Pâk is our patron saint', 'What makes this shop so popular / Is the skill of Recep of Zaðra or, 'Come and get shaved, O Muslims, to be blessed / The master barber of this shop is Hacý Himmet.' Various ballads in celebration of barbers were also hung on the walls alongside the diverse pictures.
An account of early 20th-century Istanbul barbers by Münir Süleyman Çapanoðlu describes Greek peruârsb such as Tanaþ, Aris and Motoþ of Salonica, whose elegant shops were frequented by fashionable gentlemen, and which sold a range of products such as lavender water, eau de Cologne, toilet water, soap, moustache pads, hair dye, combs, brushes, collars, ties, walking sticks, and umbrellas.
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One barber said to the other...
2002 / FEBRUARY

Visitors from the provinces would bathe in one of the Turkish baths near their hotels, and then visit the barber for an 'Istanbul style' shave and haircut, before dressing up smartly to go into town. The poorer classes went to the street barbers, whose rhyming cry was 'A head like a cabbage, ten para for a shave!', for what was known as a Persian shave. Scenes like these could be seen in Istanbul until the 1930s, before they faded into the pages of history.

* Necdet Sakaoglu is a researcher and author of books on historical subjects.
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