Fred Perry is undisputedly one of the biggest names around and has become synonymous with so many iconic British subcultures. From tennis to mods and punks, there are few brands that rival their transcending appeal. New to The Idle Man, we take a look at the history of the ubiquitous Fred Perry Polo.
Fred Perry was the tennis star of his day in the thirties – think Roger Federer or Andy Murray, but arguably more stylish. He won three consecutive Wimbledon Championships from 1934 to 1936 and at 26 he was the first tennis player to win a ‘career grand slam’, winning all four major titles. Impressive stuff. But it’s his namesake brand that has arguably become better known today.
It’s difficult to think of another British brand that has crossed over so many styles and subcultures more than Fred Perry. Tennis players, mods and punks have all donned the brand as an esoteric piece, and while Fred Perry creates a huge range of products, there is one that stands out as the most iconic: the polo shirt.
Origins Of The Polo
In the 1940s, football player Tibby Wegner (who also notably invented the first sweatband) approached Fred Perry, and together they launched a sweatband as the first product in the Fred Perry clothing line. This was also the first time that the iconic Laurel Wreath logo had been used, and is said to be based on the original Wimbledon symbol. Although, the story goes that being a keen smoker, Fred Perry originally wanted to use a pipe as the logo, but was put off after business-minded Wegner suggested it might not appeal to female fans.
After the initial sweatband was received well, the pair decided to branch out into the now classic polo shirts, sensing a gap in the market for a more stylish alternative to the usual tennis gear. Fred Perry was famed for his sartorial styling, saying, “I was generally regarded as the best dressed player of my time” – so it’s no surprise that the polo shirt caught on as a stylish staple rather than a piece of sporting gear.
The slim fitting, knitted cotton pique shirt was initially only made in one colour – Wimbledon white – in line with tennis’ traditional dress code. But after it had caught on and went into mass production in 1952, Fred Perry soon received requests for a variety of colours and introduced the iconic coloured twin tipping. And the rest as they say, is history.
What inspired Fred Perry not only went on to inspire a generation of tennis players, but also inspired a generation of rebels and musicians alike, becoming the uniform of the non-uniform. The Laurel Wreath became a signature of both individuality and belonging in niche subcultures, arguably beginning with the mods. In the late fifties, the mod movement saw sportswear crossing into fashion and streetwear. It was all about the cut of your suit, the length of your trousers and the sartorial peacocking that came alongside having the right logo on your chest – and Fred Perry was a huge part of it.
By the sixties, the working class youth had the freedom and funds to explore with their style, and while the Fred Perry shirt looked great in a casual look, a crisp white polo was at its sartorial peak when worn with a slim fitting, single breasted, 3 button suit – Fred Perry polo shirt buttoned right up to the top, of course. It’s still a strong look today - just wear with slim fitting suit trousers and a pair of brogues to channel original mod vibes. Vespa scooter not necessary.
Time’s change, and obviously, so do styles. The mods became the punks, bowl cuts became skinheads and sharp suits became ripped jeans, but the Fred Perry polo shirt remained. This transition confirmed its place in the style history books and as a staple in the wardrobe of the rebellious and non-conformist. Worn with braces and most likely a pair of Dr Martens, the Fred Perry polo shirt became the face of British working class-ness. Granted, the whole skinhead/National Front thing perhaps gave a couple of negative connotations to the Fred Perry polo, but there’s no denying the iconic nature of the look.
Fred Perry Today
Fred Perry’s polo shirt still creates a strong contemporary look, and saw a resurgence with football’s terrace casuals later picking up the Fred Perry polo. Today, the perennially cool label still has a huge die-hard following, largely because of their iconic polo.
And there’s so many ways to wear it for an updated, contemporary look. Pair your polo shirt with a simple pair of dark denim – this gives you room to experiment with statement colours and tonal tipping to add interest to your look. Fred Perry’s polo shirts also look great when worn in a smarter look. Simply wear with a pair of neutral chino trousers and fresh black trainers that will add a touch of sartorial flare for a smart casual occasion.
On That Note
Fred Perry has been at the forefront of both British design and subcultural innovation since the forties, with no signs of slowing down. Their polo shirts have become iconic of so many youth movements and have solidified Fred Perry's reputation as one of the most covetable brands around. Today it's not just the likes of the mods, rockers, punks and football hooligans who wear the polo shirt - it's become established as the most tried and tested wardrobe staple around. If you're after a simple, but effective way to add some heritage style to your wardrobe, a Fred Perry polo shirt is definitely the place to start.