Redefining “Dad Shoes”

Some would have you believe that dad shoes are comfortable sneakers that are also chunky and ugly. They’re wrong.

Two pairs of New Balances.
BDG; New Balance

In September of 2021, the Australian pop culture and style website, Man of Many published an article entitled, “15 Dad Shoes That Will Make You King of the Cookout.” Dad shoes, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, are typically thought of as white, thick-soled, chunky, absurdly comfortable sneakers that can be purchased at Kohls or Modell’s for well under $100. They are the preferred shoes of undercover cops, power walkers, and middle aged dads who don’t really care about how they look. The Nike Monarch and New Balance 624 are the exemplars of the genre. They both look like sweet potatoes strapped to your feet. Jerry Seinfeld popularized the look on his show in the 1990s.

“When it comes to function over form, dad shoes are in a league of their own,” Man of Many boasted. “You know the ones. Crispy white on the outside, criss-cross apple-sauce on the laces with a solid heel and enough support for 230lbs of barbeque-grilling, stubbie-cooling, disappointed dad energy.” This is not providing advice to dads; it’s mocking us.

Man of Many’s intended audience, of course, is the well-funded millennial/Gen-Z fashionista’s who wear these shoes with a heaping helping of knowing irony. The Dad Shoe fad is rooted in the normcore trend of the mid-2000s. A largely New York-based trend forecasting group called K-Hole is widely credited with first identifying and naming the aesthetic that they described as “away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity coolness that opts in to sameness […] instead of appropriating an aestheticized version of the mainstream, it just cops to the situation at hand.” In 2017 luxury brands like Balenciaga, Yeezy, and Louis Vuitton released their own dressed-up versions of the Dad Shoe. For a moment, this style became and remains all the rage. “Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the fashion trend is how utterly oblivious its main constituents are,” Man of Many offers. “Suburban dads who purchased 13 pairs of their favorite shoe in the ’90s are now finding out the mint-condition fits they planned on doing the gardening in are worth a fortune. Shocker.”

And while the Balenciaga, Yeezy, and Louis Vuitton’s interpretation of the Dad sneaker were all really sleek and cool the shoes that inspired them are not. The fifteen predominantly tragic shoes on M of M’s list — ranging from the Nike Monarch to a pair Moccasins manufactured by the underpants giant, Hanes; from Teva water shoes (don’t you dare) to Howie Long’s Sketchers — paint dads as an entire population of infantilized eunichs.

We are here today, with Fatherly’s first ever sneaker column, with aims of inspiring you not to dress like, well, a baby. I’m not suggesting you spend a fortune on your kicks. You don’t need to become a sneaker head. What I want you to do, though, is try harder; to look like you give a damn. To move through the world with some confidence.

Still, questions remain: Where can I actually get cool shoes? And: If you’re a dad, what kind of shoes are you looking for? The answers are simple: It’s never been easier to score cool kicks. Apps from the big brands like Nike and Adidas as well as secondary market services like StockX and GOAT make it simple to browse thousands of styles. GOAT and StockX even have a ‘below retail’ function that allows you to shop for shoes that are selling for below their original MSRP. Everybody loves a deal.

There’s an opportunity here to reclaim and redefine the dad shoe, and it starts with you. Man of Many can have the Nike Monarch; we want nothing to do with it. Our shopping philosophy runs counter to the ethos of modern sneaker culture. We’re not interested in owning the same popular thing that everybody else is trying to own. Instead, we’re on the prowl for overlooked and underappreciated gems.

We do not want endlessly. We are interested in fewer better things.

Great sneakers all have a few things in common. They are durable, comfortable, and accessible. Whenever possible they are sustainable. They should look cool as hell.

They look something like these five kicks, from a range of price points. With the spring and summer months approaching, the focus here is on minimal, warm weather styles. If you like what you see, go for it. If not, move on.

Alex French is a contributing editor for Fatherly and has been a journalist and editor for decades with work in Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Grantland, Wired, and many others. He’s also the co-author of Sneakers, which will tell you pretty much everything you need to know on the subject. A few years back he blew $300 on a pair of black on black Adidas Y3 Qasa high tops that he’s now afraid to admit he doesn’t really like.