Fred Perry is one of Britain’s greatest tennis players, winning Wimbledon three times consecutively and
being the first player to win a career grand slam. His unorthodox playstyle was transferred from his previous experience in table tennis, within which he was the 1929 world champion.
Despite his successes, his rebellious nature and working-class background contrasted the privileged tennis authorities. This class-driven conflict actualised when after his 1934 Wimbledon win, his club tie was left on a chair for him to pick up instead of having the traditional formal presentation.
Arguably, it could be this struggle against the status quo that was admired by the subcultures that adopted the brand that followed, or it could have been completely unintentional (as was in the story of Dr. Martens). Whatever the cause, Fred Perry became the uniform of the non-uniform.
"I was generally regarded as the best-dressed player of my time." - Fred Perry
Fred Perry, as a brand, began when footballer Tibby Wegner collaborated with Fred to invent the first-ever sweatband. Their fashion offering diversified as they released the M3, the original Fred Perry polo that came in either white or black. In 1952, when the first Fred Perry fashion line was released, Fred himself donned the polo on and off the court in 1952 to demonstrate its practicality and wearability. The Fred Perry polo was an ace with consumers.
The M12 was the next Fred Perry polo that was released, available in a range of colours with the newly introduced signature twin-tipping on the collars and sleeves. It is rumoured this expansion either arose because of a request from Lillywhites, a major retailer, to produce designs in football team colours. Although other sources state that more colourful options were introduced so players could wear Fred Perry polos during table tennis tournaments that didn’t allow white shirts. The M12 was the polo that became the uniform of many British subcultures.
The first movement to adopt the Fred Perry attire were the mods, termed modernists, of the late 1950s. The mods were centred on image, with an almost narcissistic obsession with neat appearance. This subculture was closely associated with fashion and music. Quadrophenia paints a vivid picture of the mod movement.
Fred Perry’s M12 polo offered individuality of the range of colours and a smart fit that appealed to the mods. The modern twist on fashion that the polo offered landed it in the wardrobe of many mods, making Fred Perry the first company to crossover from sportswear to streetwear.
Fred Perry polos then became the uniform of skinheads in the 1960s that held their working-class status as a point of pride. Along with the Fred Perry polo, their attire included Harrington jackets, braces and Dr. Martens – a working-class aesthetic which in itself was a rebellion against the hippies of the middle class.
Skinheads are known to have come in two waves. First-wave skinheads emerged as the mods started to listen to music influenced by the Jamaican rude boy subculture: ska, reggae and funk amongst other genres. This cultural exchange transpired from changing immigration patterns and provided a rare piece of multicultural unity in a time where Britain was fragmented.
Murmurs of racism manifested into second-wave skinheads in the early 1980s as the working class felt their identities were being destroyed as unemployment in manual labour roles were increasing along with immigration. Shane Meadows’ This is England captures this tipping point in a cracking bit of film. However, Fred Perry was frustrated that their brand had been subverted in such an extreme direction.
This was not the first time that Fred Perry would be associated with right-wing organisations, either. More recently, the Proud Boys movement in North America assumed the black and yellow twin-tip as their uniform which Fred Perry had to denounce their association to as well as stopping all sales of that particular polo in North America.
The 1990s saw Britpop, a movement that brought a new era for Fred Perry. The indie music scene was made up of a range of subcultures, umbrellaed by Britpop with one goal: reject the introspection of grunge and other Americanisms. It was a battle cry of Britishness, and once again, an acceptation of working-class roots. Many of the song’s lyrics focused on these themes. Examples include Pulp’s Common People “Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job, smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school", Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve "'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, that's life tryna make ends meet, you're a slave to money then you die” and of course, Oasis’ Cigarettes and Alcohol “Is it my imagination or have I finally found something worth living for? I was looking for some action but all I found was cigarettes and alcohol.”
Britpop expressed that a working-class hero was something to be.
NME sparked the ‘Battle of Britpop’, which sparked a famous rivalry between two bands: Blur and Oasis. Yet, Fred Perry was donned by fans of these both bands. Oasis surfaced from the ‘Madchester’ scene that saw the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses combining dance and guitar music.
The Oasis look was a combination of the preened style of the mods with a dash of football casual attire, popularising the Fred Perry track jacket along with parkas and bucket hats. In the Blur corner, their frontman, Damon Albarn regularly sported Fred Perry polos in a style that took elements from the skinhead’s wardrobe, with Dr. Martens and Harringtons seeing a revival.
"A piece of British subcultural uniform since the 1950s, adopted by each generation as their own."
The uniform of the non-uniform
Fred Perry has been a piece of British subcultural uniform since the 1950s, adopted by each generation as their own. It has a heritage established in tennis, initially to the displeasure of the upper classes, but with true British grit, it established itself in British culture. which the outsiders of subcultures can relate to. Self-described as the “uniform of the non-uniform”, with the laurel wreath as its logo, it has become an emblem of the outsider.