A brief history of Fred Perry polo and its complicated ties to hate groups
This week, clothing brand Fred Perry announced the withdrawal of one of its polo shirts from sale in North America. The decision was made after the particular style was associated with an American neo-fascist organization.
The black polo shirt, featuring yellow trim on the collar and sleeves and matching laurel wreath logo, was adopted by many members of the Proud Boys, an organization classified as an extremist group by the FBI in 2018.
The Proud Boys are a far-right group that only admits men as members. They have been known to promote and engage in political violence at rallies across North America.
In a statement on Fred Perry’s website, the brand expressed frustration with the style adoption hate group, insisting it “does not support or in any way affiliate with the Proud Boys”. .
They wrote, “It is incredibly frustrating that this group has appropriated our black/yellow/yellow double-tipped shirt and hijacked our laurel wreath for their own purposes,” the company said.
“The Fred Perry shirt is a piece of British subcultural uniform, embraced by diverse groups of people who recognize their own values in what it represents.”
It’s not the first time the brand’s polo shirts have been embraced by groups representing divisive values that run counter to the history the brand was founded on.
So who was Fred Perry
Fred Perry was a self-taught British championship-winning tennis player who won three consecutive Wimbledon championships from 1934 to 1936.
In 1935, at the age of 26, he shot to fame after winning a “career grand slam”, winning all four major singles titles. He remains the only player to achieve this.
Perry was the son of a cotton spinner and his background was considered unconventional for a tennis player, meaning he was often overlooked by tennis authorities. In 1984, a statue was made in his image at Wimbledon.
When was the first shirt made?
After launching the first sweatband with a former Austrian soccer player in the 1940s, the Fred Perry polo shirt was born in 1952 as the next addition to the eponymous line. It was launched at Wimbledon and was an instant hit after being seen on Perry.
The original was made in Leicester and consisted of a single color with no stripes. It featured the now iconic laurel leaf logo as a nod to the original Wimbledon symbol.
More colors were released later in the 1950s in response to the success of the initial white version.
Who wore the shirt?
The jersey has become synonymous not only with tennis players and other sportspeople, but also with musicians – in particular the late Amy Winehouse – and British subcultures over the years.
Hard mods and skinheads
In the mid-1960s, Fred Perry was exploited by young working-class men in London as the preferred brand for its smart aesthetics at affordable prices. Fans of ska, rocksteady and rude boy style music, introduced to them by first-generation Jamaican and Barbadian Britons, carved out a distinctive look that fused the items available with the style influence of their West Indian neighbors. .
Tight boots and jeans were paired with Fred Perry shirts as a subversive take on upper-class dress codes and mod culture. The boys called themselves hard mods, with the term skinhead later adopted in the 1960s, referring to boys’ often tightly cropped hair.
The movement and aesthetic migrated north and Fred Perry shirts became a style embraced by many football fans with color options allowing for additional expression in this uniform look.
As many boys identified as skinheads lived in predominantly white suburban towns, some were recruited by the rapidly growing white nationalist party, founded in 1967. This meant that the origins of the hard mod look and its roots in multiculturalism are often forgotten and wrongly attributed to this iteration of the group.
The presence of skinheads remained strong in the 1970s after the election of Margaret Thatcher and their activity became more publicly reported, with some congregating at neo-Nazi events across England.
Later in the 1980s, the uniform was also adopted by similar groups in the United States in response to the election of Ronald Reagen.
Polo shirts have remained a uniform for white supremacist groups and neo-Nazi collectives, and more recently for alt-right groups like the Proud Boys.
The band leader has asked several hundred band members to wear black and yellow Fred Perry shirts in blogs dating as far back as 2014, according to The Outline.
Fred Perry fans
Despite the brand’s unwelcome associations, their connection to music history and subversion in 1960s London also made them a staple with many famous musicians, especially in the 1990s by bands influenced by the ska music. Everyone from Amy Winehouse to Gwen Stefani and her band No Doubt to The Ordinary Boy’s Preston have been photographed wearing them on stage.
Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner still regularly wears the brand’s range and Last Shadow Puppets teammate Miles Kane was the brand’s ambassador last year.