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Keep'n It Simple - Japanese American Dad Fashion

Japanese American dad fashion: you know it when you see it and you definitely love to poke fun at it, but you also wouldn’t change a thing.

Low-maintenance, practical, simple. 

Three words I would use to describe Japanese American dad fashion. From the seemingly endless assortment of T-shirts and khaki shorts to the bulky tennis shoes and slippers, I don’t know if I would necessarily refer to my dad as a “fashionista.”

My dad (the tall, mustached man on the left) rocking a iconic graphic T-shirt while coaching my brother (front row, left) and his basketball team, apparently to victory - must be the shirt (or the mustache).

This “uniform” of sorts isn’t limited to my own dad’s closet. I’ve grown up seeing different iterations worn by my friends’ dads, my uncles and my “uncles,” JA men volunteering in the community, dads at basketball tournaments or church - the list goes on. The look clearly has a certain je ne sais quoi if it’s this popular!

Full JA dad uniform in action with the logo T-shirt, khaki shorts, and go-to pair of slippers (thick strapped, prioritizes function over fashion, most often worn when going to the beach or taking out the trash).

The more I’ve thought about it, though, the more I’m starting to understand that it’s a bit more than just the practicality or comfort of the clothes. This style is actually representative of my dad’s generation of JA men - it highlights things like their priorities, their values, and how they spend their time and money.

Our dads grew up in a generation where hard work wasn’t just the norm, but the expectation; where their parents spent time in incarceration camps and had to opt for simplicity and minimalism, and where providing for your family was the priority, with most else (including fashion and wardrobe) seen as a matter of utility. It’s also evolved to include a unique blend of Hawaiian influence and reflect cultural staples like JA basketball leagues, churches, and community centers.

From left to right: my uncle, my grandpa, and my dad all wearing their own version of a printed button up/aloha shirt. These are great for almost any occasion; can’t wear a T-shirt to this event? Ok, aloha shirt it is.

Before I let this turn into investigative journalism for JA dad wear, I still think it’s fascinating that even my dad’s collection of T-shirts and aloha shirts have been affected by our community’s values and culture. 

I see thriftiness when I think about the rotating collection of basketball tournament T-shirts, school fundraiser T-shirts, or vacation omiyage from that one resort or tourist attraction some family member brought back. I see resourcefulness when I think about all those pockets in those khaki cargo shorts that have held gum, mints, candy, and money (all of which I’ve asked for and he’s generously given - thanks, dad!) I see hard work when I think about the 15+ year old shirt that has a weird bleach stain (also some rips and holes?) that is used when cleaning out the garage, putting up Christmas lights, or fixing the sprinklers. I see selflessness when I think of that aloha shirt or suit he puts on while getting ready for yet another event that his wife or kids have asked him to attend for their school or team event.

Talk about a dynamic duo! Here is me and my sweet, sweet dad on our way to the Britney Spears concert with the tickets my parents gave me for my 4th birthday. Bonus dad points fun fact: he attended this concert that full of screaming girls, without earplugs, on his own birthday. Bless him, honestly.

This was my homage to JA dad fashion essentials, as modeled by my own incredible dad. What’s fun about these photos is that although most of them are from the 90s and early 2000s, I’m happy to report that these pieces are still staples in his rotation in 2020. Equally so, he is still one of the best people I know. I guess some things never change.

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Article featured in this issue:
Happy Father's Day
June 20, 2020

Another year, another cringe-worthy dad joke. This mini issue celebrates the graphic tees, khaki shorts, and words of wisdom from our dads that we carry with us every day.

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Keep'n It Simple - Japanese American Dad Fashion

Japanese American dad fashion: you know it when you see it and you definitely love to poke fun at it, but you also wouldn’t change a thing.

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