Closet Constructor: Projecting Paternity

Are we embarrassed by our dads, or do we want to dress like them?

June 14, 2024 12:43 pm
closet constructor
Dad style is all the rage.

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Welcome to Closet Constructor, a weekly series where I (a style editor) help you (a well-meaning person who likes clothes) discover new, interesting and affordable ways to really start dressin’.

The imminence of Father’s Day — and there’s still time to grab him a much-deserved gift, even if pops is decidedly hard to shop for or particularly posh — has me thinking about how dads dress. Admittedly, this is nothing new; while I have no familial spawn of my own (#dinkstatus), it’s a style I’ve long been intrigued by, and not just because of my affinity for the music of Bruce Springsteen and New Balance’s Made in USA sneakers. Rarely is an aesthetic so wide-ranging and so instantly recognizable. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pair of cut-offs or a Loro Piana half-zip — you know dad style when you see it.

The Father’s Day Luxury Edit
All the splurgy, splashy gift to bless him with this Father’s Day

I’m not alone in my fascination. We live in an era of dad caps and dad shoes and dad shorts, where dressing like you have one to three children is considered a flex, not a surefire way to look schlubby. Fatherhood is suddenly swaggy. Pleats are in. A Wide River-era Steve Miller Band tee means something. Soccer practice is aspirational. Dads are hot.

Dad style
Cool dadcore has long been a thing.
Getty Images

It’s easy to forget that, for a large chunk of the twentieth century, dressing like a dad was an insult to younger men, a boring, uninspired, khaki-colored trap that men fell into as they hit middle age. For style-conscious guys, paternal projection was something to steer clear of, a nuclear family geiger counter for which radioactive cargo shorts not to wear at the next cookout.

It’s only in the last decade or two, when a generation of ’80s and ’90s kids raised on vintage Eddie Bauer and Nike Air Max began to have kids of their own just as the internet was discovering photos of Bruce Willis on Pinterest, that men have come to realize the beauty in dressing like a dad.

So what changed? Had the modern man, now a parent, just evolved to be better dressed? Is this just a classic case of men finally being beaten down by the world enough to understand the sins of their fathers? Have declining birthrates made dressing like a dad a fun little chance to cosplay like you own a minivan, rather than an inevitability?

It could be any of these factors or none of them. I have Gen-Z blinders on here, after all. But in my personal opinion, dadcore as we know it has become so captivating because, like so many other seminal styles genres — your preppy and sporty, the big pants-small tee uniform or even the cursed quiet luxury look — it so efficiently telegraphs a vibe.

There’s certainly a functional aspect to dadcore, a sartorial consideration of which chinos might be the most forgiving on the post-9-to-5 slog or which Bass Pro Shop tee might sufficiently embarrass at school drop-off. But there’s also a dad “aura” — a nonchalance, a rugged carefree quality that makes it okay to wear Nike Air Monarchs in public, to proudly order a Sam Seasonal regardless of your proximity to a screaming toddler or surly teen. And in this climate of not-trying-but-actually-trying-extremely-hard, isn’t that the move?

With this vibe in mind, it’s fairly easy to reverse engineer a dadcore outfit. It starts with the footwear — any chunky, comfy, wide-load sneakers will do. The less expensive (or less expensive looking, at least) the better. New Balance and Nike are the typical suspects, but don’t sleep on imports from ASICS or Saucony. Compliment with a pair of forgiving pleated pants and you’re golden. Remember the emphasis here is as much on being unbothered as it is on the clothes themselves. When in doubt, just dress as Hank Hill might.

There you have it. How to dress like a dad, coming from someone who is very much not. Feels good. Feels right. Enjoy the weekend, and a very happy Father’s Day to all those dads out there. We’re grateful to have you.

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