As you’ve probably heard by now, your old man is trending hard this year. Ever since Balenciaga sent real dads with their real kids down the catwalk, there has been a new and unexpected fashion tribe, the DILF.
For those who thought the acronym had another meaning, allow us to correct you. DILF – as far as we’re concerned – stands for ‘Dads In Latest Fashions’. Okay, you might quibble on the term ‘latest’. The fashions we’re talking about are synonymous with styles now a quarter of a century old: relaxed, stonewash denim, sensible jackets, dad caps and more. Which raises a question:
How have fathers, once synonymous with lame fits and sadsack style, become fashionable?
Some commentators have suggested that the DILF look came about from cash-strapped millennials hankering after the stability embodied by the suburban dads of their childhood, with their big houses, sensible cars and retirement savings. What once was boring has become aspirational.
That may be true, but there are other, more prosaic reasons. “Fashion is cyclical,” says Jess Punter, a menswear stylist and writer. “The shapes and styles that the dad trend has resurrected are from the early nineties. It’s also comfortable and practical.” Dads dress for function, not form; the outdoorsy brands they favour, such as Patagonia and the North Face, tend to be eco-conscious, thereby bestowing wokeness on their wearers. (Patagonia sued the Trump administration for shrinking US national parks.)
Then there’s the simple fact that a DILF’s uncoolness is precisely what makes it cool. If everybody was rocking it then it wouldn’t be a swerve. “It’s pointing the finger at fashion, which has created this anti-fashion phenomenon,” says James Lawrence, head of menswear design at ASOS. “It’s fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.”
Finally, the DILF look is chaotically, eye-catchingly eclectic. “It’s created a great way of clashing different styles from different genres together and making them all work,” continues Lawrence. Because if there’s one thing dads don’t have time to think about, it’s putting together coherent outfits. Forget Steve McQueen: it’s dads who have truly effortless style.
Key Pieces From The DILF Trend
The origins of the dad trend can be traced back a couple of years to the sudden ubiquity of the kind of simple cotton-twill baseball caps that are sported on peewee game touchlines everywhere.
Cheap and logo-friendly, they’ve long been a streetwear mainstay, but became an unlikely fashion must-have when Balenciaga created its own version, embroidered with the house’s name, that retailed for $285. Peak dad style.
Loose, pleated trousers are a viable legwear option for giving off dad vibes, but high-waisted, straight-legged jeans are the definitive, combining the robustness of denim with the roominess of joggers (plus the ability to bend over and squat down – crucial with kids).
Look no further than original Levi’s 501s: regular jeans for a regular guy. And none of your raw indigo denim here: if they’re not stonewash then they won’t wash.
“The chunky trainer is definitely the footwear big deal of the season and epitomises ‘dad style’ for its ugliness, and how it’s worn with everything,” says ASOS’ Lawrence.
Again, the likes of Balenciaga have their coveted high-fashion takes, such as the Triple S (which presumably stands for “Sell like Shit off a Shovel”). But for a more authentically dad option that won’t set you back a cool $800, cop something like a New Balance 990.
“An oversized tech jacket is also key as it adds an element of ‘trainspotter’ to the anti-fashion look,” continues Lawrence. “Wear it over everything from tailoring to sportswear, just like your dad’s favourite jacket.”
The North Face, maker of the on-point Nuptse, is a frequent collaborator with Supreme. Meanwhile Helly Hansen is coming back, which will make anyone who can remember it from the first time around feel old.
It’s a toss-up between this and the mock turtleneck. But few pieces or fabrics are as DILF-friendly as a half-zip fleece. Because of that, it has languished unloved on the racks at hiking stores, which is a shame: it’s warm but not bulky, making it ideal for layering under your technical jacket and doubling as outerwear (albeit not waterproof) for those awkward in-between days. This is one time when getting fleeced is a good thing.
How To Dress Like A DILF
Look To Jerry And The Tastemakers
“Watch reruns of Seinfeld for style inspo,” suggests Punter. (It’s on Amazon Prime.) With his baggy blazers, blousy shirts tucked into stonewashed jeans and chunky Nikes, the eponymous stand-up in his nineties prime could have stepped off the Balenciaga runway – all he needs is a kid.
Don’t sleep on the surprisingly steezy George Costanza or indeed Cosmo Kramer, who has a nice line in floral Cuban collar shirts.
Weigh Up The Situation
If you’ve succumbed to middle-age spread or sympathy baby weight then trying to jump on the Balenciaga bandwagon will do you a fat lot of good. “Like all fashion trends, dad style looks best on lean male models,” says Punter. And svelte, selectively casted fathers in fashion shows.
“Sadly you won’t pull it off if you have a dadbod – man boobs and paunches are too real.” Maybe try and fit in a few pull-ups next time you go to the playground.
Don’t Kid Yourself
This brings us to the salient point: the DILF look as modelled on the catwalk is not actually for dads at all. “It’s about ‘elevated’ pieces from labels like Balenciaga that score fashion points, not something that can be picked up in a supermarket,” continues Punter. “If you are an actual dad, I also recommend not spending £700 on a pair of trainers – you have mouths to feed.” ASOS’ Lawrence echoes as much: “Don’t do it if you are a dad.”
What If You’re Not A DILF, Just A Dad?
So what do you do if you are not a fashion-conscious young scenester and just a dad trying to stay stylish? Some recommendations:
- A bit of extra room in the thigh is entirely welcome, but denim should taper down to your ankles and hug your hips, not your belly button. Leave the dad jeans to childless Gen Z-ers (who basically are children).
- A technical jacket is a watertight outerwear choice, but take a rain check on anything with big logos, bright or oversized. You’re too old to be ‘playing with silhouette’, or indeed anything except your kids.
- Sidestep ‘ironic’ chunky trainers in favour of sleeker classics (Stan Smiths, Converse, Vans) or modern, Flyknit-type styles: in short, the middle of the spectrum between ‘sneakerhead’ and ‘Obama’s Asics’.
- Excepting obvious fails, what divides good dad style from bad is often effort, or lack thereof. Stay in good shape, get a regular haircut, clean and press your clothes. You want to look crisp, not be covered in bits of one.