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mom and dad fashion CAT
Kaitlyn Collins

Over the past few years, moms and dads have emerged as some of our most beloved, if surprising, sources for fashion inspiration. Mom jeans, dad sandals, dad sneakers and pleated trousers have all experienced somewhat unexpected rises in popularity. But what is it about stereotypical parent fashion that we suddenly find so enviable? It was just a few years ago that we were all still laughing along with that viral SNL mom jeans sketch, but cut to 2021 and Gen Z has declared the end of the skinny jean in favor of looser, dowdier cuts. And sales of podiatrist-approved, clunky sneakers haven’t slowed down, even as the huge Balenciaga silhouettes from 2017 transition toward slightly less aggressive kicks, like the New Balance 990s. So what gives?

Well, for starters mom and dad fashion is comfortable—not just physically but often mentally too. Chunky dad sneakers are much better for walking around all day without having to think about your feet, but they also might remind you of your own pop or another father figure, lending them a sense of security and familiarity not often found in most hot new trends. “These pieces are an extension of the comfort dressing trend, which was born out of our increased time spent indoors at home [during the pandemic],” says Shakaila Forbes-Bell, a fashion psychologist at Afterpay. “Nostalgic thinking has been proven to have a soothing effect. It is, therefore, no surprise that these retro styles are being embraced during this tumultuous time.” Amy Morin, LCSW and editor in chief of Verywell Mind adds, “The clothing we wear affects how we feel. Some people may opt for 'Mom jeans' or 'Dad shoes' during stressful times because thinking about being a parental figure helps them feel more secure.”

mom and dad fashion mom jeans
Christian Vierig/Getty Image

It’s true that every time I put on an oversize button down shirt, I can’t help but feel like I’m cosplaying as Elizabeth James or Chessy from The Parent Trap. Those high-waisted pleated trousers make me think of Robin Williams, an idol of mine growing up. There is something lovely about honoring people who make me feel good—whether it’s folks with whom I have an IRL relationship with or those I admire from afar—with my outfit. It connects me to them, something that became increasingly important during quarantine, when isolation was a necessary difficulty we all had to endure.

But outside of the comfort we sought during a pandemic—because these trends really started taking off long before the first reported case of COVID-19—there are other reasons for our newfound love of mom and dad fashion that are perhaps even more interesting than nostalgic influence. There is a more widespread change in the way people are thinking about dressing themselves overall. Millennials and Gen Z are challenging the idea of what is “flattering” and that influence will continue to thrive as this demographic enters the work force and has more and more buying power.

While older generations may wonder why anyone would ever choose to wear items that actively defy traditional standards of what is flattering or sexy, younger generations are quick to mention that that’s not the point. “Flattering” has typically referred to anything that made women appear thinner, but millennials and Gen Z are more interested in abolishing those outdated standards of beauty and promoting fashion that expresses something else instead.

mom and dad fashion dad sneakers
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

As Morin puts it, “Sometimes people opt for trends that say something about their personalities or how they want to be perceived.” In the case of mom and dad fashion, maybe they want to be perceived as put together, on top of things, mature or some other quality they attribute to parental figures. “For many people, the last year has been a time of reflection and figuring out who they are and even who they want to be when more normal life resumes,” adds Dr. Beth Pausic, clinicial psychologist and director of behavioral health at Hims and Hers. “One positive thing coming out of the pandemic, I think, is that people have become more at ease with who they are. It seems like people will feel less restricted by what they ‘should’ be wearing versus what they want to wear.”

Caroline Maguire, fashion director at Shopbop, told us, “I think ‘sexy’ is not what everyone is wanting to feel at this moment in time. Being a woman, I want to feel empowered by wearing things that I feel most comfortable in. I wear the clothes, they don’t wear me.” This emphasis on individual style and empowerment is shaping up to be the biggest fashion movement since the rise in leggings helped blur the lines between casual wear, office attire and occasion wear in the early 2000s. “The message [of mom and dad fashion] is ‘I am at ease with myself no matter what,’” says Geraldine Wharry, Afterpay’s fashion futurist, “which self manufactures a sense of comfort at great times of uncertainty.” She, and all our fashion and mental health experts, are confident that neither parent-inspired clothing, nor dressing for your mood rather than for your body type or age, will be dying down any time soon.

“I think our fashion communities have embraced these trends for quite some time and they’re ready for primetime,” says Maguire. “The key is mixing up the casual aspects with something bolder. For example, I would pair a dad running sneaker with a midi voluminous dress for a casual and comfortable look,” she advises. Or you can dive headfirst into recreating the best of Danny Tanner, Clair Huxtable or Amy Matthews. As long as the clothes you’re wearing make you feel good, then you can confidently say you’re pulling off the trend.

Shop the best of mom and dad fashion:

Nordstrom

BDG Mom Jeans

Buy it ($69)

Available in sizes 25 to 32

ASOS

ASOS DESIGN extreme dad pants

Buy it ($50)

Available in sizes 0 to 14

GAP

Gap Big Shirt

Buy it ($60)

Available in sizes XS to XXL, also Tall and Petite

New Balance

New Balance 990v5 sneakers

Buy it ($185)

Nordstrom

River Island High Waist Stretch Mom Jeans

Buy it ($78)

Available in sizes 14 to 22

Nordstrom

Vagabond Erin Slingback Sandal

Buy it ($120)

Nordstrom

Aware by Vero Moda Emery Oversize Denim Shirt

Buy it ($89)

Available in sizes XS to XL

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