It’s time to stop shaming men for ‘dad dressing’

Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May - the epitome of 'dad dressing' - Dave J Hogan/Getty Images Europe

Dads are perennially the butt of the joke. From eye-rolling adverts on TV (thankfully on the demise) about hapless old “im indoors” and his inability to perform basic household tasks, to Father’s Day cards splattered with beer and football imagery (one-dimensional and boorish, no?), dads get it in the neck. Particularly when it comes to their style. Yours truly - who is neither 50-plus nor a dad - has been as guilty as anyone of writing about how to avoid the “dad on holiday” look, for example. Sorry about that.

British entrepreneur Julian Dunkerton is here to put the likes of millennial me in my place; in navigating the choppy waters of delisting his Superdry brand in a bid to save it from administration, he agreed, in an interview with The Telegraph, that the British label was something of a “dad brand”. “I’m not ashamed of having a 50-year-old consumer as long as I’ve got a 16-year-old coming through as well”, he told The Telegraph. The connotation being that it offers something that’s desirable amongst a certain cache of men who don’t want to dress like their fathers did, but nevertheless aren’t exactly cool; we’re talking leather or outdoorsy jacket, sweep of grey in the stubble, jeans more likely to be boot cut than straight. Richard Hammond and the cast of Top Gear, basically, or every other British man like them.

Julian Dunkerton
Superdry co-founder Julian Dunkerton, who admits he is not ashamed that his label is seen as a 'dad brand' - Superdry/PA

Men - particularly British men - over the age of 50 have a particular resonance with Superdry, which boomed from the early days of a Cheltenham market stall in 2003 to become a £1.7 billion business by 2018. It became a uniform of sorts for the early 00s guy who would happily attend Coldplay and Keane gigs in its boldly-branded outerwear and jeans. But that loyalty means that those stylish young things are now 50-something Cotswolds dads with Land Rovers and school fees. And that shouldn’t necessarily be the kiss of fashion death for a brand.

“‘Dad dressing’ is being used in a pejorative way here – as in, you’re middle-aged, you’ve let yourself go, and you’ve given up,” says Johnny Davis, style director at Esquire and a dad himself. “Machine Gun Kelly became a dad at 18, but as far as I’m aware, his sense of style has never been referred to as ‘dad dressing’. You’d hope we’d have moved beyond these terms – I find it offensive.”

But what defines “dad dressing” exactly? It evolved as a fashion term in reaction to the deliberately “awkward” high fashion trends that seemed to riff on what a stereotypical dad might wear. Terms that have been associated with dad dressing have included “normcore” (your average Joe rendered in a luxe way), “Gorpcore” (dressing like a geography teacher on a field trip) and the preppy trend where your look might reference a dad off for a round of golf or setting off on a sailing trip. The result was that cagoules, blouson jackets, rugby sweaters, straight-leg jeans in a light wash, sandals and “uncool” trainers were swept under the umbrella of dad dressing, and show no sign of being rehabilitated any time soon.

Idris Elba launches his Superdry collection
Idris Elba launches his collection with 'dad brand Superdry - Neil Mockford/Alex Huckle/GC Images

But given the fact that older men are the ones with the spending power, perhaps it’s time to reframe the dad dressing modus operandi. After all, fashion’s evolved in recent years to make sure that the high-spending women over 50 are well looked after (do we hear the phrase ‘mum dressing’ used in derogatory terms? Sometimes, but not so much). Perhaps it’s time that the older man gets the same amount of attention for his wardrobe.

“Superdry has been lumped in with Next as ‘naff’, ‘not aspirational’ and ‘not as cool as it used to be’,” Davis continues. “That may well be true, but I’d suggest it’s perfectly possible to shop at Superdry and Next and still dress well – maybe not head-to-toe in either brand – but I wouldn’t recommend doing that in Cactus Jack or Dolce & Gabbana either. All this boils down to the consumer, not the shops – of course, you can dress however you want, whatever age you are.”

Superdry goods
Superdry has come to be associated with midlife men - Andrew Kelly/REUTERS

To be fair, there has been a shift in this regard in recent years; see the catwalks of Zegna, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana employing characterful, older male models and personalities, instead of the fresh-out-of-the-box, babyfaced varieties. Then there’s the change in style winds towards something more mature and sophisticated after a decade of streetwear-centric clothing. The suit’s returning, for example, with rising sales, and the humble old tie is finally making its presence felt once more. Likewise the quiet luxury trend that dominated in the wake of Succession; Logan Roy’s soft power cardigans, padded jackets and trainers.

Perhaps we’re in an era of dad dressing 2.0; gone are the unshapely jeans and orthopaedic trainers, and in their place a focus on clothing that works that extra mile for the man over 50. Keep the solid, outdoorsy cagoule jackets by all means - Superdry’s mainstay, after all - but with a sleek cashmere sweater underneath.

David Beckham
David Beckham in a soft knit - Marc Piasecki/GC Images

Jeans are a case in point; older men tend to stick to what they knew in their 30s, which were boot-cut shapes that seem rather outdated today. Better to stick to straight leg in a dark wash. Likewise trainers; grown-up, luxe versions in leather and suede will serve you better than overly sporty varieties that belong on Gen Z. As for the outdoorsy jackets, or ones in leather. The latter’s great if you’re stepping off your midlife-crisis motorbike, but less so in other environs. A supple suede bomber or light Harrington jacket is just as dynamic, but not so overtly trying to convey your outdoorsman virility.

Some of the most stylish 50-plus men I know understand how to combine ease with panache. See the stealthily stylish Gildo Zegna - CEO of the Italian behemoth - who at 68 wears a sleek uniform of chore jackets with polo shirts, and relaxed suit trousers with trainers. See also Idris Elba and David Beckham, who, at 51 and 48 respectively, have found their style groove; Elba opts for casual shirts and trousers in loose, flowing cuts, and sporty trainers. Beckham has always known his way around a suit, but now dons them with soft-structure Loro Piana slip-ons and knitwear.

Idris Elba
Elba in a casual shirt - Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images Europe

Davis raises Paul Weller as an example of how wrong our assumptions can be. “Weller was recently asked in an interview if he kept a pair of Crocs by the front door, for putting the rubbish out. The question was clearly intended to tease – as if The Modfather would ever stoop so low. Even in the privacy of his own home, on bin day. ‘No way,’ he replied, firmly. ‘No slippers either. I wear trainers in the house. But only Adidas, old school Adidas. One has to keep up some sort of standards.’ If there was a single piece of advice I’d give any ‘dad’, it is that,” says Davis. “One has to keep up some sort of standards.”

Dad dressing shouldn’t be a dirty phrase, so give the old boys a break. And good luck to Dunkerton too; enough British-born brands who employ local communities have fallen by the wayside in recent years.

Stylish Dads

Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig - Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images Europe
Pierce Brosnan
Pierce Brosnan - NBC/NBCUniversal
Jude Law
Jude Law - Daniele Venturelli/WireImage

Get the look


Cashmere sweater, £89.90, Uniqlo; Suede bomber, £249, Massimo Dutti


Straight-leg jeans, £139, Ralph Lauren; Leather trainers, £435, Vyn