Non-Dad Test Drives Dad Sneakers, Fashion's Latest Craze
It's a deliberately chunky sneaker that’s one part Jerry Seinfeld, one part athletic shoe. (Remember Reebok's Pump?)
I was trying to explain to my friend George, who’s a private equity investment guy, about the “dad sneaker.”
“Is that like ‘dad jeans?’” he asked, referring to the high-waist style made infamous by Barack Obama. Well, sort of, I answered.
Dad sneakers, for the uninitiated, are the latest — and massively hot — trend in the always overheated sneaker biz. The slim Lanvin sneaker with the patent-leather cap toe that fueled numerous imitators and originally ignited the men’s luxe designer sneaker trend has waned, and dad sneakers are it.
With a '90s revival in full swing in music and television, apparently the time is right now for a deliberately chunky sneaker that’s one part Jerry Seinfeld, one part athletic shoe (remember Reebok’s Pump?) and one part the fashion world’s love of anything that’s deliberately ironic but hard for civilians (read: non-fashion people) to understand.
A lot of the credit, or blame, for this latest kick in kicks lies with Demna Gvasalia, the same designer who appropriated Bernie Sanders' campaign logo as high fashion. Gvasalia introduced the dad sneaker in his spring ’17 Balenciaga men’s show. Fast-forward to spring 2018, and there are versions of the “ugly shoe” from all the top designer names — Raf Simons with Adidas, Gucci, McQueen and even Christian Louboutin with a “haute daddy” version.
And they're not just for the guys either. “Bella Hadid Pumps Gas in $850 Balenciaga 'Dad' Shoes,” trumpeted TMZ recently. Everyone from Kendall Jenner to Tracee Ellis Ross has been seen on social media feeds sporting the clunky styles by Stella McCartney and others.
So when Pret-a-Reporter asked if I would “road test” a pair, in the interest of fashion, how could I refuse?
I reached out to Gucci and they kitted me out with a pair of their hot “Rhyton” sneakers, which retail for a cool $740. (A jazzed up version with the red and green Gucci stripe is also offered, at $820.) In cream leather, they are pre-distressed so they sort of look like old shoes that have been sitting at the bottom of the closet for a few years — or since the '90s. Although many of the dad styles are blindingly white trainers (which is part of the charm, I suppose) these were a shade or two subtler. And they had the requisite padding, built-up heel and athletic silhouette of the genre, like a regular sneaker on steroids.
I’m not really a dad myself, but when I was looking at the picture on the Gucci website of the preternaturally young and skinny model in his Rhytons, the bulbous shoes looked a little more nerdy on him than they did on me. (I do a lot of spinning but I’m never going to have a 30-inch waist again.) I’m a pretty normal size 11 shoe, and they didn’t make my feet look huge, but the extended heel profile takes a little getting used to. And because the sole is built up at the back, I always felt like I was pitched a little forward when I walked. It was definitely different from my usual closer-to-the-ground Chelsea boots and Stan Smiths.
Friday night, I met my millennial-age niece who was visiting Manhattan for the weekend and staying with a friend from college who’s a videographer for Thrillist. They weren’t that impressed at first but eventually allowed that the shoes looked cool. My niece then added they reminded her of Shape-Ups, the late, lamented walking shoes for women that made any teenager in the vicinity of Mom roll her eyes. Not exactly the response I was looking for.
The next day I wanted to see how some real dads might react to my borrowed footwear, so I headed up to the Museum of Natural History. First, it’s a kid magnet, and second, it’s on the Upper West Side, which is about as close to suburbia as Manhattan gets.
Well there were dads everywhere. And they were all wearing sneakers. Nikes. Vans. Adidas. There was such a fantastical variety that, try as I might, nobody paid my feet much notice. I did wonder though if, someday, leather shoes would become extinct like some of the animal species on display.
Sunday it rained, but Monday morning I made a last-ditch effort, wearing my dads to a fashion show for NYFW-Men’s. Unfortunately the photographers weren’t out in force and the ones that were barely gave me a glance.
By then, Gucci was calling for the shoes back. No doubt someone on a photo shoot was panting for them. On the subway, I noticed a lanky guy wearing a lot of black and a nose ring cast his gaze at my feet. His eyes widened for a second and he shot me a guarded glance with just a hint of approval. I made do.