A few weeks ago, I was horsing around on a beanbag with my toddler-sized daughter. She had an accident. I had to throw a Reigning Champ hoodie in the wash with little or not psychological preparation. This is dadcore.
I know that children are anathema to a style blog because, duh, they ruin clothes. Plenty of people throw on an entirely new uniform the second they get within fifty feet of their offspring. Kids also divert valuable time and resources. Also, they make you old and this is a young man's game.
When I first had my daughter, I rebelled against fatherhood by copping more than usual, upping the ante and worrying unrealistically about my appearance. That was dumb and probably rooted in either evolution or fear. As I've started to figure this thing out, though, I've come to believe that I can admit the realities of parenting without completely giving up on style. This is the crux of dadcore.
The impulse to get back to normal, in some sense, has been with us for a while now. It's part and parcel with all that felt-but-never-spoken-because-it-makes-us-all-cringe crap about authenticity. But if raw denim was about trying to recreate that perfectly worn pair of lived-in, labored-in jeans, and normcore is about trying to recapture some imagined state of just not giving a fuck anymore, then dadcore moves in the opposite direction. Having been pushed away from the action, we want to claw our way back in—albeit in a muted, moderate and practical fashion. It's about reclaiming some of that dignity while knowing you might get pissed on at any moment.
I am not attempting to write a manifesto or say that I've solved one of the great problems facing America's most self-obsessed men. I also fully acknowledge there's a gender issue here that turns dadcore into the parenting equivalent of #firstworldproblems. I think, though, that there's something to dadcore that's refreshingly democratic. Your life is not over just because it changes in important ways. If comfort and function are a virtue, and you learn to embrace washing clothes, stains and colors/textures that take punishment well, then there are ways to not feel like you need to be walking around in a potato sack, whether or not the kid is around.
The tyranny of fashion over life can actually be something more like a working partnership.
When I saw Kanye's new A.P.C. shit, my first thought was, "We are in the age of dadcore." It's not just because 'Ye is America's most famous father and simplest example of a mass influencer. Nope, these clothes are really just some shit for a person who might get thrown up on at any minute: basics, muted, economical, tailored well, but nothing outrageous, stuff that's clean, but doesn't advertise its own crispiness. I don't really care if you like my review of a capsule collection, just know that most of his stuff could be plugged into my life and make perfect sense. And survive the physical and psychological battles that come with trying to keep up some semblance of a look from deep in the trenches of parenting.
But I also think there's a larger lesson here that doesn't just belong to those of us with kids. Dadcore is about taking pride in practicality and not in some "these are the garbs one wears as part of the working class" way. Like I said, I'll still spend a decent amount of money on a hoodie knowing full well that it might be on a kamikaze mission. I will wear it around the house and on weekend outings because fuck it, these are clothes, not museum pieces. And I'll spend my money on quality, fit and durability not because these are what I cling to and not because they're the sign of quality, or an abstract nod to craftsmanship. Dadcore sits at the intersection of form and function, of what you need and what you want.
I probably don't deserve to grace these web pages anymore. When I said that no one cares what you wear, that was a somewhat trolly observation about how much attention people pay to the world around them (answer: not much). Dadcore is like if Jesus had written a suicide note. I'll freely admit that I've lost the game, but I refuse to say this is the end. I'll still find some way to worry about what I'm wearing, to feel like I'm accomplishing some measure of freshness, without setting up some absurd situation where I'm pushing away a child so she doesn't get popsicle goo on a button-up or grease on a white tee. I don't want to say there's a freedom there, but replacing the problem of look with the priority of clothes that work is, in some ways, a refreshing change of perspective.
I doubt I'm the first person to make this discovery and it shouldn't take a child to head down this path. Choosing sweatpants and shorts over year round denim is already a step in this direction. The tyranny of fashion over life can actually be something more like a working partnership. Of course, that wouldn't be worth discussing, or warrant a column, if it didn't in itself seem radical. Dadcore is the radical notion that clothes were made to be used in a non-precious way, that life happens to and in clothing, and that there's a difference between being on the defensive and trying to solve problems before they happen. That's not just about being a parent, it's about being an adult.
But I guess this just shows my age. I'll take my answer off the air.
Bethlehem Shoals is a writer living in Portland. You can follow him on Twitter here.