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SUBCULTURE

Match
Fit

Words by Ben Perdue
JUNE 2020

We pay our respects to the tennis bomber

The tennis bomber deserves respect. Bar the twin tipped M12 shirt, no other piece of original Fred Perry has put in a shift to match. And just like the M12, the tennis bomber is as pure an expression of the brand as you could find. Designed for the court in the 1950s, but worn to and from, it was a piece of sportswear made for the street before that crossover was even a thing. A keystone of the brand that never had to try too hard, virtually unchanged in all this time and more important than ever. Fred Perry through and through.

Technical for the era, this was cutting edge training kit. A functional warm-up jacket delivered with crisp simplicity that could hold its own on Centre Court. Indicative of a more sartorial time in sportswear history that explains why its appeal away from the clubhouse has endured, while traditional tennis whites have evolved along more scientific lines to be anything but. That original popularity with players, and more recent adoption by British youth movements, underlining exactly what makes the tennis bomber such an authentic example of Fred Perry’s cross-cultural relevance.

For confirmation that the brand served up an icon in the broader context of contemporary fashion, it’s no accident that the tennis bomber has been singled out for reworking by the likes of Comme des Garçons and Margaret Howell. Across both collaborations their updates were applied with the lightest touch, staying true to the original but subtly adding initials to the Laurel, or stripping everything back to monochrome respectively. A fitting tribute to its timeless status, sealed with an appearance on the Margaret Howell catwalk.

“It speaks to the simplicity of the design and how something well made and clearly defined can transcend changes in trends and style,” explains Eliot Haworth, Deputy Editor of Fantastic Man, a magazine known for its alternative, intelligent menswear reporting. “Sports clothes don’t need to blend in and look like casual clothes, I like the juxtaposition of training gear and regular clothing as you travel across a city. What’s important is that the sports clothes are aesthetically strong enough to function in the wider world and not just on the playing field.”

Walking back through the archive decade by decade, the signature details that connect each jacket to its successor are clear to see. The rounded silhouette, tipped collar and cuffs, ball pockets (plus hidden pocket for your locker key) and Laurel remain ever present, even when a new material, colour or lining was introduced. Wild variations are short lived as sooner or later the design defaults to the original. Even in more recent years the journey feels closer to a natural continuation than series of reissues. Why? Because the tennis bomber is an archetype, and proof that you can’t improve on perfection. A design with a story that touches sport and subculture, and tells you everything you need to know about Fred Perry in one jacket. Born on the courts, made in England.