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What is Dad Fashion and is it Here to Stay?

What is Dad Fashion?

It’s the most awkward fashion trend out there – and that’s totally intentional. “Dad” fashion emerged just a few years ago, with models sporting higher-waist, stonewashed jeans on the runway – a style seen at the time on then-President Barack Obama and, two decades ago, on plenty of middle-aged men enjoying their day away from the office.

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​Since the Recession in the late aughts, the division between casual and office wear gradually saw its line blurred. It’s nothing to wear a pair of jeans to the job these days, provided the jeans aren't ripped or overly distressed.

T-shirts, assuming you work in a creative or tech environment, aren’t even taboo. On the other hand, suits – once the standard, save for the nearly outdated casual Friday – are only truly reserved for specific, old-school professions. Think banking, finance, and law.

Dad Fashion
Balenciaga SS18

So, back when Balenciaga unveiled its Spring/Summer 2018 presentation – itself a visual ode to the dad of decades past – many were quick to lock onto its intentionally outdated silhouette – especially those clunky, chunky sneakers.

But, will dad fashion be a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trend, or something that stays around for a while, albeit with some retooling?

Dad Fashion

How to Wear Dad Fashion

You’re probably familiar with the icons. Jerry Seinfeld, for his tapered jeans and bulky ‘90s sneakers. Larry David, for the tossed-off, everyday-frumpy styles seen for years on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

And, then, there’s that Balenciaga collection, with its oversized clothes, boxy blazers, draped button-downs and anoraks, and jeans you haven’t seen anyone fashionably wear since 1995.

Dad fashion’s core is where nostalgia and irony intertwine. Streetwear’s been obsessed with the ‘90s for the past few years, borrowing and literally stitching together such diverse elements as rave culture, grunge music, skate styles, and hip-hop fashion. 

Dad Fashion
Dad Jeans - Tommy Hilfiger

The decade’s most unexceptional trends – seen, at the time, on any thirtysomething or older TV character – have fallen through the figurative cracks.

Yet, if you’re a Millennial or older member of Gen Z, the fashion seen in the decade’s music videos and magazines was purely aspirational. Usually, you opted for a T-shirt and jeans – tapered for the first half of the decade, and wide-legged toward the end. Plus a pair of sneakers that weren’t so far removed from the day’s running and basketball styles.

Adults, meanwhile, settled for wider-cut yet shapeless suits to dress up, and a relaxed button-down with ironed jeans for every other occasion.

Dad Fashion
By Balenciaga SS18

Dady Style as a Fashion Statement

But, that ironic realm of retro styles encompassing normcore and dad fashion doesn’t exist within its own plane. Instead, much of the winking and forcedness have been stripped away, resulting in just as mundane but far more practical styles.

Last year’s gorpcore – that based on the hiking phrase “good old raisins and peanuts” – infused these silhouettes with tech features. That baggy anorak you had your eye on? Beyond just being a fashion statement, it actually performs when there’s precipitation outdoors, and might even be packable enough to fit in your bag.

Come winter, puffer jackets combine that explorers-of-yesteryear look with enough insulation and water resistance to keep you warm and dry.

Dad Fashion

Dad Style Basics

The Hawaiian Shirt

Beyond the more obvious, current trends present a less on-the-nose version of dad fashion. Case in point – the Hawaiian shirt

While its cool factor runs the gamut from pop culture symbol to lame cruise staple, it’s a style that, regardless of decade, gets associated with older men going on vacation. Modern materials, cuts, and patterns adapt the look for a younger audience, but the undercurrent remains.

Dad Jeans

Wider-cut jeans, within certain boundaries, flesh out this pattern from ‘90s trend to “dad” staple to ironic-leaning revival.

Of course, while the latest London and New York Men’s Fashion Weeks saw plenty of these more spacious, yet structured silhouettes, extra room doesn’t automatically turn something into a “dad” piece – although the element of relaxation certainly gets close.

Rather, the updated dad jean, in this case, serves as a reaction to a decade of skinny silhouettes. It’s time to let your legs breathe, so out goes the skin-tight fit and cotton/spandex blends. Instead, denim, whether you want to call it stonewashed, raw, or selvedge, isn’t aiming to be anything special.

Think of Levi’s 501: Tapered but not dowdy, with space but not baggy, and classic without seeming overtly retro. It’s comfort without laziness. Throw in some mid-wash colors, and your pants go with practically anything.

Dad Sneakers

Footwear-wise, too, dad styles leave their mark. While the Balenciaga Triple S distorts the proportions of a ‘90s-era running shoe and adds in some clashing colors, its existence points to one overarching trend: Athletic shoes are simply more comfortable for everyday wear.

As such, we’re seeing almost everyone in Vans this season, Adidas’ Stan Smith has inspired everyone to pick up a pair of solid white kicks, and those chunky New Balance training shoes aren’t just part of your gym wardrobe.


Ivan Yaskey is a Philly-born menswear fashion blogger and copywriter. When not writing about men's style he's also an EDM and synthpop enthusiast.