Dad Fashion, Dadcore Show How Millennials and Gen Z Feel About the Economy

  • Dad fashion is trending again.
  • It’s a humble throwback to the Kramercore of the 90s that followed a brief recession.
  • Once again, it’s arising in a more pragmatic economy as Americans worry about a downturn. 

You’ve heard of hot girl summer. Now, it’s going to be another dad winter.

Think sneakers, durable boots, flannels, big sweatshirts, baseball hats, cargo pants, Kramer, and, yes, jorts.

Dadstyle stalwart brands like New Balance and L.L. Bean have exploded in popularity; the hashtag “newbalance” has four billion views on TikTok, the Internet’s new town square and ground zero for the latest trends. GQ celebrated “Stylish Dad Week” over the summer for Father’s Day, and even compiled their own listicle of famous guys who “made dad style look glorious.”

It’s a stark contrast to the sexier trends that characterized the early post-vaccine era — like old money, night luxe, and indie sleaze.

So why did those evolve into dad fashion? One answer could be in the economy.

Unlike the hot vax summer of 2021, when people were eager to don going out clothes again and take caviar bumps, this winter is ushering in a far more tempered economic outlook. While inflation may have been on the rise back then, workers were exercising their power to quit their jobs for higher pay and better opportunities. They had excess savings from the pandemic, and some federal support like monthly checks for parents still flowed. As the extra cash and pay bumps dried up, Americans began facing a cooled off economyand choosing outfits to match.

The rise and return of Dadcore

Dad fashion is not a new trend, it’s just returning in a new way, according to Thomaï Serdari, a clinical associate professor of marketing and the director of the fashion and luxury MBA at New York University.

In the 1990’s, Seinfeld popularized a dad vibe. People loved Kramer’s outfits so much that it became difficult to source them. The look fit the times because consumers were facing an uncertain world, and a rocky economy. A style that projected both timelessness and chaos made sense with the vibes.

So why is it back now? The economic situation has tempered. Prices are high, the once-hot jobs market has cooled along with pay raises, and young people in particular are struggling with heavy debt loads that they can’t pay off.

Younger consumers in particular feel dreary about the economy, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll of 3,662 voters in Biden swing states. Just 11% of Americans ages 18 to 29 polled from October 22 to November 3 said that they feel excellent or good about the economy; 89% said it was poor or only fair. Consumer sentiment is low, albeit not as bad as it was during the drearier days of 2022, when inflation was even higher and layoffs were dominating headlines.

All of that might explain why dad fashion is once again dominant. Previous eras of dad fashion, which fell during the mid-90s and the 2010s, came a few years after a recession and major economic fluctuations.

Dad fashion seems to show up when consumers are feeling wary — not the worst they’ve felt, but certainly not the best. That might make sense: If anything, dads are known for being pragmatic, and maybe just a tad jaded — they’ve been here before. That sense of economic grumpiness might be inadvertently showing up in that dad fashion.

“You don’t make a decision to show up angry, but you get angry on the way,” Serdari said. “And so that’s also how the outfit is created.”

Dadcore’s revival came in parallel to a more “Roaring 20s” look due to the way the internet made us all obsessed with subcultures. Long gone are the days that you’d go to Bloomingdales or a department store to get dressed; instead, you’re following points of view and people you find interesting, and emulating that. It’s much more fragmented.

These so-called “core cultures” arose on platforms like Tumblr, Reddit, Instagram, and TikTok, in which young fashion consumers are eager to chop up fashion trends into subcultures and become devotees. Think cottagecore, Barbiecore, and even corecore.

“They’re more eager to distinguish themselves by belonging to community, which is another big difference that didn’t exist in the Seinfeld years — we see many more iterations of the same dad fashion,” Serdari said.

And Dadcore is one type of core that’s recently successfully made a crossover from niche Internet tribe to the wider streets.

“It is now a mainstream phenomenon, but while it is mainstream, it is also core. It is a subculture that has diffused into the mainstream culture,” Serdari said.

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