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The Observer

Article in The Observer on Fred Perry

Fashion … or fascist? The long tussle over that Fred Perry logo

By Nosheen Iqbal

The polo shirt has been sported over decades by pop stars, football fans, ska-lovers and gay revellers, but now also by the far-right Proud Boys

Perry was the son of a textile factory worker born in Stockport. He first became a world table tennis champion at 19 before going on to win three consecutive Wimbledon titles. Despite his record-breaking success, he was treated with contempt by the elite who ran the sport in Britain. To Andrew Groves, professor of fashion design at Westminster University, it is this contrast between Perry’s underdog status and unquestionable personal glamour that has helped define the brand.

“The working-class authenticity of both Fred Perry the man and Fred Perry the brand allows it to resonate with each new generation,” he said. “Its no-nonsense design has enabled it to be reinterpreted by each emerging subculture in a way that gives it additional layered, and sometimes contradictory, meanings. Fred Perry was worn on the terraces at Chelsea but also in the gay bars on Old Compton Street; by skinheads at NF rallies but also by Jamaican rudeboys.”

Groves believes the brand has been able to transcend each decade because of the way it has been reinterpreted by new fashion tribes.

“It’s ironic therefore to see this particular shirt adopted by the Proud Boys,” he said, “given that within gay culture, a black polo shirt with yellow tipping on the collar usually signifies that the wearer is into watersports.”

What Fred Perry would think about all the symbolism at play on his bestselling shirts is another matter.


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