The Fred Perry polo shirt has been a staple garment throughout the whole journey of subculture and has played a huge part in shaping British fashion into what it is today.
We take a look into how it all began and the subcultures who adopted the iconic Laurel Wreath logo as their own along the way.
1930 – 40
Stockport-born Frederick John Perry was one of the greatest tennis champions during the 1930s, winning a string of major Wimbledon titles. Austrian footballer Tibby Wegner approached Perry in 1940 when he had invented an antiperspirant product designed to be worn around the wrist, Perry made a few changes to this and the first ever sweatband was created.
Wegner also wanted to produce a white, knitted, cotton sports shirt with short sleeves and a buttons. He launched this at Wimbledon in 1952 and the Fred Perry tennis shirt we’re all familiar with today was born.
Frederick John Perry and ‘The M3’ original one colour tennis shirt.
The brand’s transition from sports into casual-wear started in the 1950s when Britain welcomed the arrival of immigrants from the West Indies into the country. With them came new and exciting music, style and attitudes. Parties were held up and down the country fueled by the new sounds of Reggae and a dress code of short trousers, white socks, shiny brogues and the classic white Fred Perry polo shirt buttoned right up to the neck.
The brand was soon adopted by the teenagers of the 1960s mod generation who were starting to rebel against the restrictions and establishment of the current times. It was an affordable and classic style, the simple white polo shirt teamed perfectly with a pair of tailored trousers for a casual look or dressed up worn with sharp Italian suit.
1950s Jamaican Ska was revived in Britain in 1970s. Now referred to as 2-Tone bringing another new and exciting strain of music that mixed Jamaican rhythms with faster tempo melodies and a hard edge of punk. Rude Boy and Skinhead subcultures emerged led by bands such as The Specials and Madness who accessorized their Fred Perry’s with pork pie hats, Dr Martens, drainpipe trousers, Harrington jackets and Wayfarers.
Dave Wakeling of the 2-Tone band ‘The English Beat’ once said Fred Perry made him feel “tough, adaptive elegant and focused” when he wore it to perform on stage.
Dave Wakeling of the 2-Tone band
The Skinhead subculture (a name given to them by the media) reached its peak in the 80s with a harder and more anarchist attitude. Their original clean cut look transitioned into a punk influenced style. Fred Perry shirts were worn with shaved heads, bleached jeans and short-sleeved smart shirts. Unfortunately, this subculture was adopted by racist and violent football thugs leaving the authentic Skinheads fighting against being tarred with the same media brush and distancing themselves from the right-winged followers.
Today Fred Perry is one of the biggest international British heritage fashion brands who have collaborated with some of the most famous faces in music, sport and fashion.
In 2009 Fred Perry celebrated The Special’s 30th Anniversary by created a limited edition polo shirt and in 2010 worked closely with Amy Winehouse to launch a unique and successful womenswear collection.
Current collaborations include Olympic Cycling Champion and dedicated mod Bradley Wiggins’s vintage inspired collection and Belgian Fashion designer and ex Creative Director of Christian Dior Raf Simmons who they have worked with since 2008, both can be bought online today.
Fred Perry is set to continue to be one of the world’s leading British heritage brands.