Two Christmases ago, my father joined my sister and I for Christmas Day for the first time in a while. He wore black, unlabelled shell suit bottoms with two small stripes down the leg, thinly-soled white gym shoes with Velcro fastenings and an untucked back-to-school-style "work" shirt. My sister and I gently mocked him, but he couldn't have cared less: He was comfy and he's done his time, so let him be comfy, right?
Little did we know that day, men with similar style sensibilities to my father would soon spearhead a cultural movement that would alter the entire fashion landscape. Eighteen months after that merry day in 2016, a calculatedly gaunt male model could have worn exactly the same thing down a Parisian runway and the world's fashion press wouldn't bat an eye. Quite the opposite, in fact: They'd fall all over themselves to declare it a work of genius.
At its lightish-brown nucleus, dadcore is an uncomplicated phenomenon. It means to dress as one's dad would: Practically and comfortably, in styles that are oversized, un-modish, off-trend and outdated. It represents a new cycle for modern fashion. Where mainstream trends would usually take their cues from film, music or workwear, dadcore rose from the ashes of comedy one-liners, internet jokes and memes, then ended up on the catwalks of a renowned French fashion house in 2017.
A year after dadcore emerged from the "normcore" scene — which focused more readily on loose denim, tucked-in tees and ample blazers — the movement hasn't just grown apace, it's embedded itself in the everyman's wardrobe: A go-to aesthetic for both the style-charged and the fashion-apathetic.
As with just about everything in modern life, opinions on the movement are wildly varied. Does its brilliance lay in its convenience, or is it simple laziness? Are dadcore aficionados knowingly poking fun at dad style, subconsciously acknowledging modern fatherhood, or just dressing bad to feel good?
"Personally, I don't think it really matters," says Mark Haddon, style chief at Haddon PR. "The fact is, it's a style that's easily interpreted using the kind of staples every man has in his wardrobe and every man can wear and wear well. For me, the key to it is to take comfy, practical clothes and give them a unique, bespoke twist."
"Simply copying your father's look is gonna fall pretty flat in everyone save for your mother's eyes," he continues. "The same thing goes for the dadcore icons: Barack Obama might have done for dad jeans what The Ramones did for skinny jeans, but that doesn't mean you should copy him. His pretty hideous bootcut numbers represent the hardcore of 'dadcore' and, in my view at least, shouldn't be imitated."
Barack Obama's Dad Jeans
"To me, it's the idea of having a 'favorite': An item of clothing that's easy for you," says uber-stylist Amy Alice Neil. "Maybe people are getting more sentimental because the world is at unease — we are unsure of the future, so we hold on to things that are safe and comforting from the past."
Naturally, dadcore appears at its most hip when it's done not by dads, but by youthful, trendy types wearing the kind of clothes a dad might wear, interpreting the look and giving it their own spin. But that doesn't mean the grey-haired and the pot-bellied can't do it well, too.
"The designer gym shoe business has been heavily invested in, and is an easy way in to dadcore for the everyday man," says Neil. "Think Raf Simons, Acne Studios and Prada — and if you want a high street version, you can't go wrong with a thick-soled white pair from Reebok or Fila. Wear with a mid-wash denim and you're dadcored. Wear one size up with a belt and you've just turned things up to 11."
So where does dadcore belong, a year after it bumbled its way onto the catwalk? And just because we can do it, does it mean we should?
"Whether you're unknowingly dadcoring or playing up to the look, the phenomenon is very much here to stay," insists Haddon. "Just keep it loose and do it your way, and you'll find your dadcore niche. Once you own that niche, it'll stay with you forever."
"Everyone should do it sometimes," encourages Neil. "We need comfort wherever we can find it. So reach for the dad jumper your grandmother bought you 10 years ago, the one you only wear at home on laundry day. Bring that waterproof poncho you bought from a secondhand shop last spring out of the closet. Dadcore is an invitation to wear the lazy clothes you love with pride!"
And wear them we shall.
Stuart Messham is a contributing writer to MEL. He last wrote the poet's guide to not finding everything so terrible in this world.