Origin Stories

October 2022
Words by Esta Rae
Photos courtesy of the Museum of Youth Culture

As we celebrate the 70th year of the Fred Perry Polo Shirt, we invite our community to share their stories on what it means to them. Everyone remembers their first…

The first Fred Perry Shirt was worn in 1952 – an all-white shirt with a Laurel Wreath on the left side. A simple shirt with a lot of meaning. In a matter of years, the shirt had become a uniform for British youth and a highly treasured piece of clothing. “A heritage British style. Smart, but functional. If someone is wearing one you know they've spent a bit of money on themselves.” (Peyvand Sadeghian).

For many, getting their first shirt was a moment to remember. Some had to wait and save weekend after weekend of pocket money for a shirt that would become a closet staple, “It wasn't until I was about 21 I think. I got bought one for my birthday and we made a thing of it by going to the Covent Garden shop to pick one out. To be honest it was the first and only one I had for a long time!” (Peyvand Sadeghian).

The pilgrimage to a central London shop or market with the freshest stock is as memorable for many as trying on the shirt for the first time. “I bought my first Fred Perry polo shirt in 1978, from a sports clothing store in Oxford street. At the time relatively exclusive and difficult to obtain, and a treasured item of clothing.” (Ed Silvester).

That first shirt would be worn over and over, an effortless cool ready to take on anything and look good while doing it. “I wore my Fred Perry’s until they were so worn that I pulled the entire collar off while taking it off the last time I wore it. It was only then that I really understood how much it had meant and what it had done for me. What adventures we had been on.” (Barrymore George)

Over a decade on from the original white shirt Fred Perry introduced ‘Twin Tipping’ around the collar along with new colourways. These additions allowed for more self-expression across scenes and ages. “During the mod revival years we religiously wore different coloured Fred Perry polo shirts and V-neck jumpers. I still love wearing Fred Perry polo shirts to this day, updating them every few years.” (Ed Silvester)

“Wearing my Fred Perry lifted me everytime I put them on. Like a cloth coat of armour they gave me security and a sense of belonging. They felt close and snug and warm and safe.” (Barrymore George)

Mods, Skinheads, Rude Boys and Ravers had their differences, but all were connected by being made up of working-class youths. Fashion has always been a presentation of our class place in society and the kids of the later 20th century were ready to rebel against classical ideas of clothing through subverting classic shirts like the smart polo to their own more rough and ready styles. “It’s a uniform that unites the working class and music scenes of these periods. It’s sharp and comfortable at the same time. It’s also the opposite of fast fashion and fads. It embodies strong and traditional values that are here to stay. It’s legendary.” (Catherine Laz)

Youth culture fashion has become synonymous with ripping clothes up, bleach splatters and patches, matching all of this with a crisp and clean shirt makes a statement about how deliberate your choices are, that you know you can be smart or scruffy and you know how to demand attention either way. “We used to wear them with Sta-press trousers and thin braces and DMs. Bleached jeans were fashionable at one point with skinheads, where you bleached patches on your jeans yourself. We would also wear them with pencil skirts and a jacket, with fishnet tights and brogues.” (Catherine Laz)

A Fred Perry Shirt is an iconic piece of British clothing and heritage. It has a cultural significance that young people have found fitting to represent their own journeys for status and respect, while finding unionship in those that wear it. “Fred Perry represents a long standing British and much-loved subculture clothing brand, being a constant thread winding its way through my sporting and cultural life.” (Ed Silvester).

Barrymore George

I got my first Fred Perry in 1980. In fact, I got two that day along with my first set of nice Sta Press trousers in navy blue and a red Harington jacket. One shirt was black with a yellow trim and the other was burgundy with blue trim - both had three buttons.

I got home and immediately changed into everything and the 12-year-old me set off and glided proudly up my estate road to see my mates all kicking ball in a dusty grassless field.

The game stopped for a tiny second while they gazed open mouthed and said ‘wow.’ It was just for a second but that was enough, it truly was, because my boys never ever interrupted a game of football but for me that day they did. I never looked or felt the same again.

Catherine Laz

It was the summer of 1982 on the balcony of our bedsit in Swiss Cottage. My sister is on the left and I am on the right, wearing a blue Fred Perry shirt with sky blue stripes. I had the classic bleached blond crop hair and feathers skinhead girls used to have.

We spent our days hanging around Carnaby Street and Leicester Square, the King’s Road on Saturdays, shopping at The Last Resort on Sundays (where the polo was from), and our nights going to punk/mod/skinhead gigs all over London.

We had a great time because we believed we were the centre of the world. And that is what wearing a Fred Perry shirt meant, people instantly knew you were an important part of youth culture.

Peyvand Sadeghian

This was taken in Archway, North London, at I think a Punk/Oi all dayer upstairs at the Boston Arms in the early 2000s. I can't remember what bands were playing that day.

The photo was snapped on a lil digital camera by Chris Low who I didn't actually know at the time although we crossed paths again years later and became mates. In trying to figure out if we'd met before he realised he had this photo!

Ed Silvester

This photo was taken in the summer of 1979, in my friend Alan Smith’s bedroom in Epping. We used to hang out there, to catch up, listen to music and talk about the next bands to see.