For years, executives at British retailer Fred Perry have tried to distance themselves from the Neo-fascists who love their clothes. Now, the brand has pulled one of the most recognizable Proud Boys uniforms from American stores.
The same week that hundreds of Proud Boys marched in Portland, Fred Perry released a statement on its website announcing that the black and yellow-tipped polo shirt appropriated by members of the far-right hate group will not be sold in the United States or Canada “until we’re satisfied that its association with the Proud Boys has ended.” (The shirt has not been sold in this country since September 2019.)
“It is incredibly frustrating that this group has appropriated our Black/Yellow/Yellow twin tipped shirt and subverted our Laurel Wreath to their own ends,” the statement read.
“To be absolutely clear, if you see any Proud Boys materials or products featuring our Laurel Wreath or any Black/Yellow/Yellow related items, they have absolutely nothing to do with us, and we are working with our lawyers to pursue any unlawful use of our brand.”
Representatives for Fred Perry were not immediately available to The Daily Beast for comment on why the brand chose to temporarily discontinue the polo now. Back in 2017, GQ asked the company chairman John Flynn about the Proud Boys’ affinity for their tops.
“It is a shame that we have to even answer the question,” Flynn said. “No, we don’t support the ideals or the group that you speak of. It is counter to our beliefs and the people we work with.”
“Fred was the son of a socialist MP [and] became a world tennis champion at the time when tennis was an elitist sport,” Flynn added. “He started a business with a Jewish businessman from eastern Europe. The brand was adopted by the mod movement and systematically has been associated with a diverse group of subcultures from reggae to punk to Brit pop.”
But there is another British subculture Flynn left out of that list: skinheads. Though original members of working class British youth movement were anti-fascist, others became members of the country’s racist National Front. There, the polo shirt became indelibly aligned with hate.
As Zoë Beery wrote for The Outline in 2017, this decidedly British “Fred Perry uniform” spread to Neo-Nazis in the United States by the 1980s. It was eagerly adopted by “angry white youth who were politically unwelcome amongst punk and hardcore’s overwhelming anti-Republicanism and found the perfect solution in skinhead.”
When Fred Perry featured Black models in its advertising last May, racist customers aired their grievances on Twitter. “Diversity bollox strikes again,” one wrote. Another threatened a boycott: “go woke, go broke.”
With the Portland protests and global racial reckoning bringing renewed media attention to the Proud Boys, it makes sense that Fred Perry would disavow the hate group now. But the brand’s connection to Neo-fascists, however unintentional, has existed for decades.