How did a humble polo shirt with a laurel wreath change the fashion world forever?
These days athleisure brands all over the world are enjoying revivals decades after their first hayday. But for Fred Perry, a revival isn’t necessary because they’ve been a staple since the begining. The Fred Perry polo shirt has been the average guy’s go-to mainstay since it launched in 1952.
Today, Fred Perry’s range goes far beyond the original polo with clothing, footwear, and accessories making up a solid wardrobe.
But do you know how it all began?
BABY GOT BACK(HAND)
Fred Perry isn’t just a good name for a fashion behemoth. Fred Perry is a real person and widely regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
Perry’s career began in 1936 when he went pro after three years as the world’s number 1 amateur tennis player. During his professional debut, he beat the current world tennis champion Ellsworth Vines by 4 sets.
Due to his rapidly rising sports fame, Perry became one of the leading bachelors of the 1930s, and dated a number of high-profile stars of the era, including Marlene Dietrich, Mary Lawson and Helen Vinson.
Perry would go on to win the US Pro title in 1938 and 1941, and be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1975. He retired from his beloved sport in 1956.
A PERRY GOOD IDEA
Austrian footballer Tibby Wegner collaborated with Perry on an anti-perspirant device, leading to the first sweatband.
Wegner’s next idea would cement Fred Perry in the history books.
Wegner wanted to produce a white knitted cotton pique shirt with short sleeves and a button feature at the neckline.
The Fred Perry polo shirt was an instant success when launched at Wimbledon in 1952, and a legacy was born.
From the 1930s through to the 1950s sportswear was long-sleeved, made of heavy material and constrictive to movement. Perry and Wegner’s design offered a lighter weight and more breathable solution.
The 1960s and the free love movement meant covering up was not in Vogue. The shorter sleeve design became popular amonst women who were now showing more skin with what they wore.
The slim fit was another revolution, who designed and wore it himself both on and off the court. The simple, streamlined silhouette combined with lightweight functionality became known as the “Fred Perry fit”.
Never forgetting his tennis roots, the now-iconic logo was based on the original Wimbledon symbol. The laurel wreath still remains an important feature on all of Fred Perry’s designs. The logo has not only grown to become a beloved pop culture icon throughout the decades, but remains synonymous with the tennis world to this day.
TENNIS TAKES TO THE STREETS
A major part of Fred Perry’s popularity was the increased public interest in athleisurewear.
Gone were the constrictive corsets and trousers of the previous decades. The youth of the ‘50s and ‘60s wanted to party all night, and relax during the day (And we haven’t changed much in the decades since!).
Sportswear as leisurewear provided clothes that were not only comfortable, but had better movement and lighter fabrics.
The next time you slide into your favourite trackies and polo, you can thank Fred Perry in part that the leisurewear trend has only increased in popularity over time. Fast forward to today, and athlesire clothing is more popular than ever!
THE MOD SQUAD
In keeping with the sports origins, the Fred Perry polo shirt was only produced in one colour: white. But by the late 1950s, the Fred Perry polo shirt was produced in a rainbow of colourways due to white shirts not being allowed in table tennis leagues.
Fred Perry polo shirts were picked up as the fashion of choice amongst the “Mod” youth subculture of the 1960s. Short for ‘Modernists’, stylish London-based young men and women would set new trends in fashion and culture. These folk would listen to “modern jazz”, wear new fashions such as two-tone suits, and generally take a much more contemporary attitude to the new decade.
Once Perry’s colour options became available on the market, Fred Perry’s polo shirts became the Mod’s uniform of choice, launching the brand into the global fashion market.
New Wave Mods carry the Fred Perry legacy today, with the shirts still a popular sight at ska and jazz nights globally. Popular movie and series ‘This Is England’ has helped the Fred Perry brand stay in the public eye and enjoy continued longevity.
FRED PERRY TODAY
By the end of the 60’s when Fred Perry polo shirts were at their peak popularity, the Mod culture started to wane.
Rather than slip into obscurity like so many brands that rode the success of a trend bubble, the style was picked up by Soul and Ska fans, and met yet another revival in the late 1970s when the shirts gained popularity in the Scooter community. The continued popularity was helped along with the release of the movie ‘Quadrophenia’ (1979) and the re-emergence of Mod-inspired bands during the 1980s.
With its sleek style and ease of wear, it’s no surprise that the Fred Perry polo shirt has managed to transcend decades of fashion trends. When a design is perfect from the start, there’s no need to make major changes.
These days, the Fred Perry label is favoured by celebrities such as Zack Efron, Ashton Kutcher and the Biebs; establishing itself as a modern day luxury brand.
Sports players and fans have continued to wear the shirts since their inception, regardless of their popularity as chic leisurewear.
Perry passed away at age 85 in Melbourne, Australia in 1995. The Perry family has stayed very involved with the company after Perry’s death to ensure his legacy remained alive.
Get the full Fred Perry experience by visiting our exclusive installation at Super Glue Emporium.