Spotlight on: Towelling

April 2022
Words by Ben Perdue

From the clean courts of Wimbledon, to the backstreets of New York, we trace the legacy of towelling and how its relevance stretches on today.

Unlike scenes, fabrics have no codes or loyalties. That’s why a unique textile like towelling can define iconic looks that live in different cultural dimensions.

Back in the 40s, when Fred Perry co-created the first sweatbands with tennis in mind, no-one could have foretold their influence on 80s workout videos and heavy metal. But, in keeping with its evolution from the courts to the streets, it’s a more radical youth movement’s adoption of towelling that reflects the brand’s true subversive status. Rising up from New York’s subways in the late 70s before jumping the Atlantic, the London B-Boy and B-Girl scene found its spiritual home on the cobblestones of Covent Garden, just a stone’s throw from where the Seven Dials store sits today.

Equal parts art, music, and dance, sportswear was central to the look of graffiti pioneers, hip hop musicians and breakdancers - with towelling wrists and headbands becoming associated with breakers in particular. The same absorbent functionality behind its popularity amongst tennis players appealing to the crews working up a sweat in competitive dance battles.

A style immortalised by Malcolm McLaren’s video for Buffalo Gals, propelling towelling into a subculture dynasty that spans from punk and disco to Buffalo and ball room. All the while mirroring its rise as fabric du jour for the new generation of 80s holidaymakers, flying and flopping by pools in their luxurious loop-textured leisurewear. A fantasy that working-class kids popping and locking on Covent Garden’s cold cobbles lived out through fashion.