Editor’s note: For this special Father’s Day parenting column, Aaron Britt is subbing in for his wife, J. parenting columnist Drew Himmelstein.
Since I came to some kind of style consciousness, let’s call it 15 years ago, I’ve basically hewn to a polished, preppy, somewhat fashion-forward style. “Mad Men” was a revelation that pushed me deeper into trim suits and masculine, American aesthetics. Since then I’ve relaxed into a slightly retro Ivy League style of blazers, button-downs, loafers and a raft of other considered staples of mainstream menswear.
But since having two boys and moving from San Francisco to Brooklyn (you need shorts here!), I’ve found myself drifting into one of the hottest and normiest trends shaping menswear today. I’m here to confess that I’m into dad style.
Yup, the fashion set has embraced chunky sneakers, bucket hats, nylon shorts, tucked-in T-shirts, maybe a Patagonia fleece, and a studied swath of other decidedly suburban, lawn-mowing, backyard-grilling dad styles. The fit is loose, the vibe is comfy, and it’s all pulled off with the studied nonchalance of dad style icons like Kanye West and Shia LaBeouf.
According to GQ, “clunky sneakers, slouchy caps and Larry David jeans are just a small sampling of the dorky-cool normcore goods that are sweeping the streets right now.”
The tagline of a Pinterest board called Trend: Dad Style reads, “Comfy cords, washed-out denim and faded caps — we’re lookin’ to the Papas for our latest style obsession.” It has more than 51,000 followers.
I see hip young men all over New York in rafting sandals, loose stonewashed jeans and faded ball caps. Camp shirts, hiking shorts, fanny packs, pleated pants and socks-and-sandals are everywhere. Once maligned as hopelessly square, the look of suburban white dads on a Sunday morning trip to Lowe’s is having a moment.
On a recent Saturday, I found myself running errands in Park Slope fairly deep in dad style. Birkenstocks, mid-thigh shorts, a fraying chambray button-down from Brooks Brothers, a bucket hat. Later, attending a Shavuot service, I rocked pleated chinos, a corduroy ballcap (my version of a kippah, and pair of Clarks Wallabees — kicks beloved by both the Wu-Tang Clan and “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White.
Your goal isn’t to look like any old Joe. It’s to look like Walter Matthau.
Now, before you pronounce yourself king of downtown cool for having kids and wearing clothes, there’s a trick to the trend. A T-shirt, jeans and a pair of Allbirds sneakers (a uniform for plenty of Bay Area dads) misses the mark completely. Your goal isn’t to look like any old Joe. It’s to look like Walter Matthau.
To sort out how we got to dad style and how to do it, I talked with my friend and fellow dad, Jeremy Kirkland, who is 33, also lives in Brooklyn and hosts the menswear podcast Blamo! He sees dad style as the result of several converging menswear streams.
“Dad style is an aspect of streetwear,” he told me. Streetwear has dominated men’s fashion for most of recent memory. Add an of-the-moment ’90s revivalism, and you get Kirkland’s fashion touchstones: the normcore jeans-and-sneakers style of Jerry Seinfeld, the work of trendy-ugly high-fashion designers like Demna Gvasalia of Vetements, Balenciaga’s famously gauche Triple S sneakers by Gvasalia, LaBoeuf’s tossed-off anti-fashion, Leonardo DiCaprio’s dad bod, even Barack Obama’s dad jeans.
“A lot of people got into dad style who weren’t into clothes because it’s easy and it can be cheap,” Kirkland said. “You can get this stuff at Costco. It might cost as little as $30 to get into dad style, when, for lots of other trends, it can cost thousands.”
Easy to pull off and inexpensive are rare and thrilling qualities in a trend.
But what’s at the heart of the dad style? Is it parody or pastiche?
Are all these fashionable fellas dressing like suburban dads trying to channel their actual fathers? Or is it some hip paternal composite of comfort, familiarity and nostalgia?
My dad was a golden, Southern California surfer as a young man, and when I think of him and remember what he wore in the ’90s I recall sporty corduroy shorts, a battered Celtics hat with white script, polo shirts, sale sneakers from Big 5 Sporting Goods, workwear (he’s a carpenter) from Carhartt and the like.
Though I’m not anxious to fully emulate the look, I do have a fondness for it — strengthened, most likely, because of how much I love my dad.
I put the question to Kirkland: Are you trying to look like your dad?
“I don’t want to look like my dad now,” he told me. “But I love how he looked when I see photos of him when he was younger. I think it’s that romance that’s appealing. I want to be that dad to my daughter.”