The Fred Perry brand is an icon of classic British understatement, one that has, almost without even trying, been at the forefront of street fashion for decades. Ironically, it was born out of a simple need, for something to keep sweat from loosening a tennis player’s grip on the racquet. The sweatband that Tibby Wegner and former Wimbledon champion Fred Perry produced launched a brand that would have worldwide reach.
Fred Perry first made his mark on the tennis court. A working-class boy with an abundance of talent and a flair for showmanship, he dominated the circuit and ruffled more than a few feathers in the elitist tennis establishment. By the time he turned to sportswear, he was a fixture in Hollywood and had launched a successful career as a commentator. But he really made his mark with a simple shirt, adorned with a laurel wreath logo that invoked the honor bestowed on Wimbledon champions. It was a cotton knit pique polo that not only fit well but offered cool comfort on the court; it was an instant smash success. Between 1952, when the company was founded, and the end of the decade, the name Fred Perry was synonymous with stylish, comfortable sportswear. In 1961, he and Tibby sold the company and retired to enjoy the fruits of their labor. But the journey of the brand was just beginning.
Fred Perry polos were among the first sportswear to become an integral part of street fashion when they were adopted by the sartorially savvy Mods in England in the early ‘60s. The “Fred,” as the slim-cut shirt was known, was wildy popular for its durability, versatility, and comfort on the sweaty dance floors of nightclubs. Later in the decade, it was adopted by Skinheads who sought out the new ‘tipped’ polos with contrast piping on the sleeves and collars that matched the colors of the football (soccer) clubs that they fervently supported. In the coming decades, Fred Perry clothing was again and again to be found at the center of the club music subculture, a favorite of fashion trendsetters. By the start of the 1990s, it faced stiff competition from trendy European imports; yet at the same time, the Fred Perry shirt was a recognized British institution. The laurel logo on every shirt had become a symbol identifying the wearer as a devotee of style, not a follower of fashion. As fads came and went, celebrities and working-class men and women alike would return to this basic look, identifying with its tradition, history, and, of course, its quality and comfort.
And today, more than 60 years after its introduction, the Fred Perry shirt is still going strong. It’s available on Backcountry along with Fred Perry USA’s Bradley Wiggins collection of men’s apparel. It melds Wiggo’s fascination with Mod fashion with classic cycling designs from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Slim-cut and stylish, but made for movement, this collection is contributing to the Fred Perry lexicon of effortless, timeless class.