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Sept. 26, 2020, 2:12 p.m. EDT

British counterculture brand Fred Perry to Proud Boys: Hands off our laurel wreath

The Black/Yellow/Yellow twin tipped shirt has been adopted by various subcultures without prejudice, the company says — no longer

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By Rachel Koning Beals


Getty Images
The Fred Perry fashion company is named after the British tennis star who won eight Grand Slams. The apparel can still be found on court and throughout British pop culture and subculture. The brand is trying to separate itself from extremist group Proud Boys in North America.

The Fred Perry tennis look has spanned Mod to Brit Pop and beyond, including a skinheads appropriation along the way.

A group of Manchester Punks called the “Perry Boys” were known for their wedge haircut and Fred Perry polo shirts. The late Amy Winehouse’s foundation receives contributions from sales of her cross-branded Fred Perry.

But timelessness and an embrace of the counterculture can mean giving up control of who wears the look, and why, prompting the 65-year-old company on Saturday to warn the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group with a mostly U.S. membership that’s been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, to drop its “uniform” of Fred Perry polo shirts with the ubiquitous laurel emblem.

“The Fred Perry shirt is a piece of British subcultural uniform, adopted by various groups of people who recognise their own values in what it stands for. We are proud of its lineage and what the Laurel Wreath has represented for over 65 years: inclusivity, diversity and independence,” the company said in a statement. “The Black/Yellow/Yellow twin tipped shirt has been an important part of that uniform since its introduction in the late 70s, and has been adopted generation after generation by various subcultures, without prejudice.”

“Despite its lineage, we have seen that the Black/Yellow/Yellow twin tipped shirt is taking on a new and very different meaning in North America as a result of its association with the Proud Boys. That association is something we must do our best to end,” the company said.


Getty Images
Singer Gwen Stefani of No Doubt wears Fred Perry in 2009.

The clothier has since September 2019 halted shipping of this particular shirt to the U.S. and will continue the ban in the U.S., and now Canada, until it is satisfied that the association with Proud Boys has ended, it said. A search of Amazon.com revealed select supply still in the U.S. pipeline.

The Proud Boys had scheduled for Portland, Ore., on Saturday what it called a free speech event to support President Trump and the police, restore law and order and condemn anti-fascists, “domestic terrorism” and “violent gangs of rioting felons” in the streets.

Related: Portland braces itself for large right-wing rally

The Fred Perry fashion company is named after the British tennis star who won eight Grand Slams, including three consecutive Wimbledon wins in the 1930s. Perry was the last British winner of the storied tournament before Andy Murray in 2013.

The Fred Perry brand emerged in the 1940s when the former world No. 1 agreed to help market a new sweatband with an ex-Australian football player Tibby Wegner. The trademark polo shirts and their laurel emblem were soon born, emerging in the Mod era but in time worn by British skinheads, perhaps a link to the Proud Boys use of the look today, some fashion historians noted .

Rachel Koning Beals is a MarketWatch news editor in Chicago.

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