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How Fred Perry Became Synonymous With Skinheads

Fashion is meant to illustrate who a person is. Whether intentional or not, certain articles of clothing resonate a specific person and personality so people can quickly read you by your look. It’s all optics.

This also helps our fight or flight sense, particularly as they relate to understanding if someone is a threat or not. This can be a tricky subject since stereotyping clothing can do harm to innocent people given styles can enable profiling. But some clothing is inextricably tied to badness. Take the Fred Perry polo.

This polo has long been a symbol of skinhead culture. No, it is not made for skinheads but it has become a brutal co-opting of clothing via “hard mod” culture morphed into outward hate. The always fantastic The Outline did a great story on the subject, where they mapped very quickly how the shirt went from a cool sixties something to an ongoing hate symbol.

The origins of this relationship had to do with English cultural clashing and the mod scene which coalesced with impressionable football fans wearing these polos: the rest is history. Once the group got a platform, the look spread.

As the ’70s progressed, mainstream media became fascinated with this young, fashionable, seemingly new strain of the far right. The skinheads loved it; the more ostracized and feared they were, the stronger their identity became. Like today’s Pepe trolls, any attention was a godsend. Even when framed as reprehensible, racist ideology aired in public forums exposed more people to the skinheads’ views and legitimized them as being worthy of discussion.

Again: this is why you don’t do interviews with someone like Alex Jones or the like. To give them free publicity is to spread their cancer.

What’s most of note in this fascinating story is that the clothing item is so toxic that it is actually catalogued by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate item.

Since the SPLC began tracking racist skinheads in the late 1990s, Fred Perry has been a consistent enough presence that it’s one of only two clothing brands the SPLC includes in its skinhead glossary (the other is Dr. Martens). “What makes skinheads distinct is music and clothing, not necessarily their ideology,” Bierich said. “They’re very mobile and fluid. You’ll find them in white supremacist groups, in neo-Nazi groups, [and now] in ‘alt-right’ groups.”

It’s fascinating and, of course, we’re going to see this evolve in the present as these toxic white men co-opt more clothing as emblems of working class “Western” grievances to express themselves physically. It’s like Miranda Priestly said in The Devil Wears Prada: “You’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”

The entire story is fascinating and is the type of crossover between culture and politics that we need more of (and that I love and wish I wrote more of). You can read it here.

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