The History Of Dad Clothes, From Dad Jeans To Cargo Shorts

Show 'em who wears the pants.

by Steve Schiff
Originally Published: 
dad clothes

Dad wears the pants around here, but exactly what kind of pants depends on who you ask — and when you asked them. With so-called “Dad Fashion” and dad clothes having a moment lately (although it’s still unclear whether it’s an elaborate #DadJoke or just a joke on dads), it seemed fitting to put on some poorly fitting dad jeans and take a sartorial stroll through the seminal moments in the history of Dad Pants. For these purposes, that doesn’t mean any old trousers throughout time. This is about the pants you recall with jeers before flipping further back in the photo album to pictures of your grandfather and saying, “Now that guy knew how to dress!”


Wikimedia Commons

The granddaddy of dad pants was first donned by farmers, railroad workers, and other land-tilling folks back in the good old days when a man could force his 12-year-old to work a 12-hour day with him in the fields, before those pesky child labor laws sent this country to hell. Then, in the 60s and 70s, the unofficial uniform of the hardest-working fathers ever somehow became the official garment of bearded stoners who were too lazy to pick out a separate shirt and pair of pants.


A term first introduced by Haggar in 1938, “Slacks” aren’t so much a specific garment as a fashion philosophy. As in, “Why don’t you go get yourself a nice pair of slacks?” Slacks are simultaneously the most versatile and generic pants in any dad’s wardrobe. Big presentation at work? Slacks. Golfing? Slacks. Thanksgiving dinner? Slacks (with a flask in the pocket). Fist pumping with the other dads at a Bruce Springsteen show? Extra large slacks. Bonus dad points if they’re beige with a big, crispy pleat, cuffs, and a little extra room for where your nuts hang, just like LBJ liked.

Ridiculous Golf Pants

Hindsight being 20-20, it sure does seem like golf was invented by a bunch of drunk Scottish dads who needed an excuse to make the most spectacularly wretched fashion choices imaginable.


Raise your hand if there’s a photo in a shoebox somewhere of a younger, less bald, likely mustachioed version of your dad with a younger, less bald, likely full diaper-loaded version of you seated squarely on his lap, which is fully exposed by some impossibly short shorts.


“Sky’s out thighs out” is what the kids like to say now, but back in ’70s and ’80s, dads just said “Shorts.” Still, it’s probably a good thing that the tapered, above-the-knee look is coming back into fashion, as opposed to whatever the hell slacker dad extraordinaire Kevin Smith is doing.

That One Pair Of Sweatpants

“Putting on the dad pants” can refer to doling out some discipline or, in this case, coming home from a long day at work to the sweet relief of an elastic waistband. You might recall your dad wearing these every weekend while mowing the lawn, every January while resolving to exercise, every morning while fetching the paper … pretty much every day since Rocky became the first (and so far, only) dude to make sweatpants look cool back in 1976. They’re that pair. (See also: the Russell Athletic gym shorts he refuses to throw out despite having holes and stains older than you.)


Dad Jeans

The pants that launched “Dad Fashion” in the ’90s and early 2000s, these are any pair of light blue, high-waisted, tapered-leg jeans from any number of brands that haven’t been cool since you wore them to middle school, if they ever were at all. Generally paired with some bland white sneakers and a tucked-in t-shirt. For reference, think Jerry Seinfeld’s entire wardrobe from the show, Barack Obama keeping it casual, or Brett Favre playing backyard football (despite no one in history ever playing football in jeans).

Cargo Shorts

Flickr / TheeErin

At last, we arrive at the most divisive in a long, storied history of questionable dad fashion choices. Most likely popularized in ‘Nam, the most dad war of all wars, rocking a pair of these bad (looking) boys is the best way to show your kids — and society — you’ve run out of f—s to give. Women hate them so much, they’ve taken to stealing and destroying them while their husbands aren’t looking. So keep an eye on your favorite pair, or find another way to carry all that stuff.

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