If you’re new to the far-right, men’s rights-y, West-is-best brigade on your block, the first thing you’ll need to do is get in uniform. Perhaps you’re a racist skinhead, or maybe you’re itching to join the Proud Boys, Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes’ group of militant alt-right frat bros. Either way, you’re going to have to buy a black and yellow Fred Perry polo.
The 100 percent cotton golf shirts have been around since the ‘50s, and they’ve been associated with white-supremacist groups for nearly as long. It started as an accident: Fred Perry launched around the height of mod fashion in England, and trendy youths latched onto the shirts as symbols of identification with the movement. Mods begat short-haired, working-class hard mods, which begat apolitical skinheads who chose Fred Perry shirts to match the colors of their favorite soccer teams. When a substantial segment of skinheads joined up with the far-right National Front party in the ‘70s, Fred Perry’s association with racist right-wing extremism was born.
These days, skinheads still love them some preppy golfwear emblazoned with the brand’s laurels logo. So do the Proud Boys, who love Donald Trump and identify themselves as “Western chauvinists.” McInnes insists that his small but faithful crew of men, who swear off masturbation to keep their potent man juices perpetually revved up, are not racists—he threatened to sue one Outline reporter if she made any connection between the group and “Nazi skinheads.” He also says that the group has members of color, and that while the organization’s values “center on” closed borders and a rejection of “racial guilt,” men are not required to agree with those values to become members.
Still, the group’s chosen uniform is so closely associated with violent white-supremacist movements that the Southern Poverty Law Center has “Fred Perry” listed in its glossary of terms for racist skinheads. Now that the Proud Boys have been showing up in the news for disrupting indigenous demonstrations and harassing Muslim Senate candidates, Fred Perry has been forced to explicitly denounce a group that celebrates the memory of a mass genocide of native people. “It is a shame that we have to even answer the question,” Fred Perry chairman John Flynn told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation when asked about Proud Boys’ adoption of the signature shirts. “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.” Flynn pointed to the company’s namesake, whose father was a socialist member of the British parliament, as evidence of the brand’s longstanding opposition to the far-right factions that have embraced the classic polo. His statement felt reminiscent of the way New Balance tweeted that it “does not tolerate bigotry or hate” when it was declared the official shoe of neo-Nazis.
But jerks love the shirt so much, the Amazon page for the polo has become a kind of dopey alt-right message board. “For all my Proud Boys out there,” Scooba5teve wrote in one review, the shirt “is a very nice piece of clothing for dressing up while still keeping a casual aspect.” A ringing five-star endorsement! Other users who hate immigrants and love a well-fitting blouse had fit recommendations: “Proud of your boy! (Order a size up),” wrote a guy who titled his Amazon review “UHURU!,” a popular Proud Boy phrase that mocks the work of a queer black YouTube star. “Fits great oi oi,” countered another in a reference to a skinhead punk subgenre. One rarely gets the chance to see veiled statements of racism—“mine is bright white,” reads a review titled “Oi! Oi! Oi!”—paired with earnest fashion assessments: “POYB! Classic and never goes out of style Oi!” one reviewer assures potential Proud Boys who may worry their purchase will look dated after just a few anti-Muslim rallies.
The rise of the alt-right has put clothing companies like Fred Perry and New Balance in a tough position. They can’t force white nationalists and xenophobes to stop buying their clothes, and they probably wouldn’t want to change their logos to a big red X over a swastika or something. They could theoretically take firmer stances against bigotry by donating a portion of the profits from the affiliated products to an organization that fights hate groups. What Proud Boy would sport a Fred Perry shirt if it signified money flowing to, say, the Council on American-Islamic Relations? At minimum, if only for P.R. reasons, they might want to choose a different model to sport the black and yellow polo on the Fred Perry site, one who doesn't look angry and pale enough to be a willing Proud Boy recruit. But if a bunch of dudes who would normally be lounging around in stained Guy Harvey T-shirts are dropping $85 a pop on golf tees, at least Fred Perry stands to do a brisk business in the Western chauvinist demographic.
Correction, July 13, 2017: This post originally stated that Proud Boys must reject immigration to the West and “racial guilt.” McInnes has since clarified that while the organization’s values “center on” those tenets, men do not have to agree with them to gain entry to the group.