Fashion often draws inspiration from the most unlikely of sources. None more so, perhaps, than the common dad. In recent years, men’s fashion has relentlessly appropriated your old man’s wardrobe, pilfering everything from his ill-fitting stonewashed 501s to his floppy, faded baseball caps. And, perhaps most notably of all, his clumsily chunky, unashamedly comfortable, ‘anti-fashion’ sneakers.
These are shoes built for stability, comfort and practicality above all else. The perfect footwear for mowing lawns, taxiing your kids to and from school and running errands. They were never meant to be ‘cool’, but somewhere along the line they found their way out of Midwestern suburbs and onto the feet of fashion’s tastemakers. Now they’re the default sneaker setting for many a style-conscious individual, and bulky suede shoes like New Balance’s 990 have all but usurped uber-minimalist leather options like Common Projects’ Achilles Low.
We think it’s fair to say the dad shoe is a modern shoe-rack essential. If you don’t already own a pair, now’s as good a time as any to invest. So, keep reading to find out more about one of the most comfortable trends in menswear and to meet some of the key models in the category.
What Are Dad Shoes?
The term ‘dad shoe’ entered the menswear lexicon in the mid 2010s. It describes a style of sneaker that’s been around for decades, but that only really caught the attention of the fashion world relatively recently. They’re the sort of sneakers that were popular with middle-aged men in the 1980s and 1990s: big, comfortable, lots of mesh panelling, chunky soles and a bulky silhouette.
The current wave of dad shoe madness can be traced back to the launch of Balenciaga’s Triple S. It was an oversized platform sneaker that kickstarted a shift away from low-profile, minimalist footwear styles and into maximalist territory. The ugly sneaker trend was born, but while not everyone could get on board with the bright colours and excessive detail, dad shoes offered a more subdued yet still decidedly chunky alternative.
Dad shoes are often bland in colour with retro, sporty looks and foam midsoles. They can come in leather, but many of the most notable examples, like New Balance’s 990, are typically made from suede.
Dad Shoe Styling Tips
If you’ve been living in boots, loafers or minimalist sneakers up to this point, stepping into something chunkier may feel daunting. Perhaps you’re not sure what looks good with a bigger sneaker, or maybe you’re unconvinced of their versatility in relation to the rest of your wardrobe. Either way, here are a few key tips that’ll help you to style your dad shoes the right way and give you a head start in working them into your rotation.
The way your shoes and pants interact is hugely important in determining the overall feel of an outfit. They need to be working together rather than against each other, and one way to ensure that is to think in terms of silhouette.
Dad shoes are bulky, so they call for a wider-cut trouser. Pairing them with slim – or worse still skinny – pants will look off balance and awkward. Instead, go for a classic straight-leg fit, a relaxed cut or something loose fitting with a tapered leg.
Get Sweat On
Classic jersey sweatpants work great with dad shoes. Use this to your advantage. It’s very much a weekend look, but you can dress it up slightly with upscale pieces like cashmere knitwear, a wool overcoat… or both.
It’s In The Jeans
Jeans and dad shoes were made for each other. They’re natural partners that always work together, so keep that in mind when pulling outfits together. A classic straight-leg jean in a light wash is the obvious choice, but raw denim looks great with dad shoes too.
Keep ‘Em Clean
Dad shoes are often made from suede, so they need some special treatment to stay looking their best. Make sure to invest in a good shoe protector to keep them safe from rain, stains and spills.
Key Dad Shoe Brands And The Models To Know
Sweden’s Alex Arigato has made a name for itself creating forward-thinking sneakers with premium materials. The brand has now evolved beyond just footwear, offering an entire range of upscale streetwear staples with a distinctly Scandi slant.
That said, bulky yet stylish dad shoes form a core part of the offering – the key example being the brand’s Marathon R-Trail sneaker, which features a sporty platform sole, mixed-fabric panelling and semi-transparent micro mesh.
Clae specialises predominantly in simple, stripped-back sneakers, with a focus on quality, environmentally-friendly production and versatility.
However, it does have one or two styles that fall firmly under the dad-shoe umbrella. The Joshua, for example, is a classic retro runner with a premium feel that’s made from recycled materials and cactus.
It’s more of a restrained take on the dad-shoe trend, with clean styling, minimal branding and subtle, versatile colours.
Swedish label Myrqvist is all about bringing the joy of handmade footwear to a wider audience. It does this by using a direct-to-consumer business model, which means you’re getting premium quality at a reduced price thanks to the lack of retail markups.
The brand makes everything from work boots to dress shoes, including some great upscale dad-shoe options. We’re particularly fond of the Stensund, which is a refined retro runner that’ll pair beautifully with anything from sweats to soft tailoring.
Zespa is a French footwear brand specialising in high-end materials, premium construction and quality. Styles range from basketball sneakers to dad shoes, with chunky styles like the ZSPTRAIL, the ZSP6 and the ZSP7 hitting the brief perfectly.
Expect Italian leather, handmade construction and simple, elegant designs that you’ll still be reaching for long into the future.
It’s impossible to overstate the significance of New Balance within the dad-shoe universe. The Bostonian brand’s Made in USA lifestyle sneakers epitomise the trend and are the absolute best in the game.
The 99X line in particular has been hugely influential, with models like the 990v5, the 993 and the 991 pretty much laying the foundation for the whole thing. Plus, NB now has Aime Leon Dore’s Teddy Santis at the helm, and he’s already churning out colourful spins on many of the brand’s bestselling styles. Add to that the launch of the new 990v6 and there’s no sign of the dad-shoe phenomena dying off anytime soon.
Another shoe that instantly springs to mind when we hear the words ‘dad shoe’ is Asics’ Gel-Kayano. This 1990s teched-out runner features all the hallmarks of the trend, with mesh panels aplenty, a beefy yet sporty sole unit, foam midsole and oversized silhouette.
The shoe has been through a number of iterations over the years and is now approaching its 30th anniversary. Today it’s still one of the key players and a solid option for anyone looking to add a classic dad shoe to their footwear lineup.
German sportswear giant Adidas was responsible for some of the most iconic sneaker designs of the 1990s and early 2000s. The brand’s Torsion line made bulky sneakers a big deal in the days of Acid House and rave culture, and models like the Response CL, Ozweego and Yung 1 are keeping the look alive to this day.
British brand Reebok was well known for its aerobic shoes in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of its classic models are still in production today, and while not all of them fit the strictest definition of the term ‘dad shoe’, there’s no denying their place in the pantheon of chunky sneaker greats.
Models like the Workout and even the Club C were firm favourites of UK dads in the decade leading up to the Millennium. Think of them as England’s answer to New Balance.
No matter the category, you can’t talk about sneakers without mentioning Nike. The Oregonian sportswear behemoth is behind some of the most important footwear designs of all time, be it basketball shoes, football boots, collabs or dad shoes.
Perhaps the most notable example is the Nike Air Monarch gym shoe. Introduced in 2003, the sneaker has been through three different iterations at the time of writing – each bigger, whiter and more dad-ish than the last. The current version, the Air Monarch IV, features a full leather upper, big Swoosh branding to the sides and a chunky foam midsole.