#Menswear’s Daddy Issues

We’re still three months shy of 2014, but I already feel pretty comfortable declaring 2013 as the Year of the Dad in menswear. Between the New York Times article on papa pants, countless books, magazines, and blog posts on the obsessive notion of "Dad Style," and the launch of at least one “fatherly” brand, there’s no denying that menswear’s all encompassing adoration of fathers (be it our own biological pops, or more metaphorical patriarchs) has finally come to a head this year.

As August came to a close, we witnessed what I would now consider to be the definitive dad moment. A new brand that not many people had heard of up until that point popped up in some of menswear’s most revered stores: UNIONMADE, Mohawk General, Odin, even Barney’s and United Arrows. The clothes were standard, but unassuming, adjectives that could also easily have been attributed to the company’s name: Alex Mill. And yet, those two words packed a wallop of industry clout. Alex is real, and short for Alexander, but Mill was a moniker, a substitution for Alexander’s actual last name: Drexler. And if that name looks familiar it’s because Alexander is the son of one of menswear most important and powerful figures, J. Crew’s CEO Mickey Drexler. That alone is a fact worth noting, but it's not unprecedented. Instances of “like father, like son” are a dime a dozen in fashion. Yet, what’s so intriguing about Alex Mill is that the line is based around creating clothes for both fathers and sons, offering a nearly identical line of clothes for men and for their kids. To break it down, we have the son of J. Crew’s CEO creating a line of matching clothes for dads and their sons. If it wasn’t already clear that menswear is a bit obsessed with fathers, I think it’s undeniable now.

Take a look at any Tumblr dashboard, Japanese magazine or contemporary book on men’s style, and you’ll be staring down a fair amount of grey haired gentlemen. This isn’t to say that we don’t all revel in seeing younger guys dressing well (just take a look at how many reblogs the street style photos from NYFW just received), but we are certainly far more fascinated by those further along in their years. Or, better yet, those that are long past. Think, Gianni Agnelli, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, James Dean, arguably the five most talked about men’s style icons of all time. All but one of them is long since passed. The photos that circulate of these men—from decades past, showcasing a more classic, more refined style—have become the oft-discussed blueprints for the #menswear generation.

#Menswear has begun to accept the worn in essentials look as the modus operandi.

Some say that the dad obsession stems back to the fact that, unlike our fathers, we didn’t have tenets of dressing well passed down to us. By the time many of us were born in the late eighties and early nineties, casual Friday had become casual everyday and the dominant ideology was that teaching your son about clothing was no longer worth it, as if that was preparing him for a bygone era. I’ve heard so many of my friends that are now interested in clothing discuss how poorly-dressed their dads are. Even though I don’t personally fall into this category, and at the risk of getting too Freudian here, I would venture to say that these older icons became somewhat like surrogate style fathers to a generation hungry for guidance. 

It's as if we view age like the final, essential piece in having good style. Modern “well-dressed” stars tend to look so fake, so overtly and overly polished. These looks are costumes more than anything and there’s nothing authentic about it. And that right there is the key, that search for authenticity. Whether it derives from the celluloid of old photos or the wrinkles on Agnelli’s face or the creases that come from actually wearing a suit for a decade or perhaps, most importantly, a passionate life dedicated to things other than clothing, it’s an elusive value that only comes from the passing of time, or from time passing away.

The effect that this has all had on modern menswear has been fascinating. I saw it just this past New York Fashion Week as attendees flocked toward the two older models featured in the Ovadia & Sons S/S 14 presentation, swiftly declaring them the two best dressed guys in the room. It can be seen in ads, like just launched Cole Haan campaign featuring elderly gents. It can be seen in street style photos from Pitti Uomo, where it seems like the older you get, the more respected you become. Most of all, it can be seen in the “new” icons of style: the Cuccinelli's and the Castillo’s, the O'Briens and the Wooster’s. And, of course, it can be seen when twenty-one-year-olds start proudly declaring that they’re wearing dad jeans, dressing more like men nearing retirement than those entering the workforce.

So, where does this leave us? Well, to return for a moment to the biological as oppose to the metaphorical, I would say that as the Year of the Dad comes to a close, we have all begun to dress closer to our real fathers. What I mean is, we have all arrived at the curled edged photos of our dad’s in the seventies and eighties, wearing more basic, toned down pieces. #Menswear has begun to accept the worn in essentials look as the modus operandi. We search for the “perfect” white tee, the “perfect” blue jean, the “perfect” field jacket, like it’s the most important thing in the world. We aren’t looking for the gloss or sheen that's reigned over magazine pages. We're striving for a look that's comfortable, a look that's familiar. It's a look that's kind of like our dads.

Above, see the men we've included in our pantheon of iconic menswear father figures.

Jake Gallagher is a writer living in New York. Read his blog, Wax Wane, here and follow him on Twitter here.

  • Nostradamus

    In what world are we 2 months shy of 2014?

    • Name

      four-pins kicks it 1 month in the future brah, thats how u become a trendsetter

    • Name

      four-pins kicks it 1 month in the future brah, thats how u become a trendsetter

  • WAVY

    Good read and interesting analysis. However, there is nothing Freudian about having surrogate style fathers. Competing with your dad over style would be Freudian. Swagger jacking him ain’t. Sorry for my anal comment (which IS Freudian), but sometimes simpler adjectives are more effective.

  • SNOWBEACH

    I’m not angry son, I’m just disappointed.

  • A$AC Schrader

    no men of colour?

  • Clueless

    I guess only old white men have good style