In case you haven’t heard, dads are currently fashion’s favorite muse. The recent Balenciaga runway show at Paris Men’s Week featured actual dads carrying actual kids down the catwalk. Certainly, Balenciaga designer and normcore provocateur, Demna Gvasalia, knows a good thing when he sees it.
Just this past January, the brand’s low-profile dad caps dominated conversations and street style at global fashion weeks, so it only makes sense that he’d continue to explore this (lucrative) source of inspiration.
While dad style may be a fresh look on runways, it’s nothing new to streetwear kids, rappers, art school students, and skaters, who have all been enamored with the low-maintenance look for a couple of years now. This website, which published a “cool dad” style how-to just a couple weeks ago, has been on the #dadcore beat since at least 2015, when it rightfully declared “dad hats” (those unstructured, cotton caps dads wear on weekends to grill, play golf, and mow the lawn, if you don’t know) one of that year’s biggest trends.
Beyond that, a quick search of Instagram hashtag reveals that “#dadhat” has appeared on more than 140,000 posts, followed by the plural “#dadhats” at over 130,000 posts, with “#dadcore” bringing up the rear at just over 6,000 posts. Even Kanye West famously wore a YEEZUS dad cap at his Madison Square Garden fashion show in 2016.
Clearly something is going on. And as with most trends that stick around for awhile (In 2016, Highsnobiety declared dad caps a trend with staying power, while also recently flagging #dadcore offshoots like ugly sneakers and #officecore as key trends for 2017) that something goes beyond clothes.
But figuring out just what it is that’s driving the #dadcore phenomenon is tricky and requires a bit of historical research.
“Dad jeans,” those crucial components #dadcore style second in popularity only to dad hats, first hit mainstream consciousness in 2009 when Barack Obama controversially wore loose, stonewashed jeans and white ASICS runners to throw out the first pitch at the Major League All-Star Game. At that time, when raw selvedge denim and skinny jeans dominated men’s fashion, most critics came down harshly against Obama’s #dadcore look.
But even then, tastemakers and trendsetters were already beginning to embrace dad-inspired looks. That same year, Japanese men’s style bible Free & Easy published its first issue dedicated to “Super Dad’s Style,” a theme the magazine has revisited as recently as 2016, when the magazine folded.
Of course, 2009 was a unique, trying year in American history. While most celebrated the beginning of Barack Obama’s tenure as the first African-American president in the country’s history, much of the nation was still reeling from the devastating financial crisis of 2008. To young millennials, it was now clear that the United States no longer offered the same social and economic stability it had afforded earlier generations.
As those millennials exited college and high school a few years later, the traditional markers of stable adulthood were clearly out of reach. In 2014, The Atlantic cited “indisputable evidence” that millennials were worse off than any generation in the past 50 years, with record numbers living at home with their parents. Harsh economic realities made the idea of buying a home, or even a car, seem like a pipe dream from another era.
Suddenly, the stability enjoyed by a suburban dad with a house, a car, a 401K, and, hey, even a really cool Weber Grill looked a lot like freedom—a freedom young millennials might never enjoy. Where earlier generations sought to escape being tied down by these hallmarks of boring, restrictive drudgery, youth now viewed them as an unattainable fantasies, which they could only emulate, and critique, by re-appropriating the most basic and visible elements of the suburban dad lifestyle: dad caps, dad jeans, and ugly running shoes.
And inherent in any youthful re-appropriation is a touch of rebellious critique. Just as Harlem fashion designer Dapper Dan added exclusive Gucci and Louis Vuitton prints to his custom creations, young millennials took the hallmarks of dorky dad style and made them their own, declaring that if the material trappings of fatherly wealth would be denied to them, then they would take at least the stylistic markings of suburban dad stability and make them cool.
The zeitgeist responded. In 2012, longtime tastemaker and barometer of cool Supreme included stone-washed dad jeans in its Spring/Summer collection, an item it has continued to stock every season since. On social media, kids were suddenly calling artistic, philosophical fashion designer Raf Simons “dad” in adoration.
Since then, dad culture has only grown in popularity. In 2015, we saw a media frenzy surrounding the once-disdained “dad bod,” a physique science has recently confirmed as actually both attractive and healthy. Coloring Book, the Grammy-winning mixtape from dad hat purveyor and actual recent father, Chance the Rapper, included numerous musings about what being a new dad was actually like, a sea change for hip hop, where previously MCs more commonly lamented their absent fathers or problems with their baby mamas.
This is all pretty new. Sure, teenage street culture has long fetishized items that make the wearer look (slightly) older. Nobody would choose to dress like some dinky 8th grader when a mere $400 BAPE hoodie could make them look like Pusha T, but never before has embracing getting old been more important to youth culture.
In an online world of instant-connectivity, the Internet has largely destroyed true street culture. When everyone has access to everything, nothing has time to grow organically, and all people are able to do, really, is buy more specific stuff to rock. When a messed up global economy means most young people won’t ever buy houses or save enough money to retire comfortably, drawing inspiration from those old dads who actually have done those things, suddenly becomes subversive and cool. Honestly, old, suburban dads have it made. Houses, money. No one bothers them. Cops never shoot white suburban dads. That’s incredibly attractive, and at the same time, poignantly exclusive, making that lifestyle ripe for appropriation and critique.
Clearly, as Balenciaga is banking on, #dadcore isn’t going anywhere any time soon, but its strange position in the history of youth culture and subversion makes one wonder what the next source of inspiration for youthful rebellion might be. Heck, Heron Preston’s already got the fashion forward dressing like New York City Sanitation workers. Maybe the days of the cool undercover DT or assistant principal aren’t far behind.