Designed as durable work boots, Doc Martens have seemingly been the fashion staple of every youth movement of every decade since the 1960s.
CELEBRITIES are making Dr. Martens cool again, but the iconic boots’ origins are humble. Dr Martens transitioned from a classic, tough boot made for comfort to being the ultimate footwear of punk fashion.
The boot was invented in war-torn Germany by Dr Klaus Martens and his university friend, Dr Herbert Funck, and developed via an unlikely allegiance between Britain and Germany to become a symbol of a generation. The air-cushioned sole was created after Dr Martens injured his foot on a skiing trip.
But he needed a fellow innovator to create the perfect boot, and so stepped in the Griggs family, who had been an integral part of British shoe-making since 1901. On April 1, 1960, a British icon was born.
The Dr Marten boot made its debut as a symbol of the British working-class establishment.
It was worn on factory floors due to its comfort and robust resistance to acid, alkaline, oil, fat and petrol. It transformed into the must-have staple of every punk’s wardrobe when the guitarist of the Who, Pete Townshend, stepped out onto the stage wearing a pair of black 1460s.
It was 1966 and he was tired of the long, flowing robes the band had worn and so he opted for a more utility look. Townshend later declared that while on tour he went to bed “with a cognac bottle and a Dr Marten boot”, firmly establishing the boots’ move to the forefront of fashion.
The murky world of teenage subculture was the ideal stomping ground for the Doc. It’s simple, yet tough, exterior allowed a generation to create its own personality. The Dr. Marten was able to hold its own in an array of cultures. The punks took the Doc as their weapon against the establishment, tearing the leather off the front of the boot to show the steel cap underneath.
The psychobilly’s also made the 14-holed boots part of their uniform. Ironically, those who were fighting the establishment embraced the Doc, as did those who stood for it — many British policemen wore Docs with their uniform.
Dr. Martens reigned supreme in the fashion of subcultures. As the ’70s turned to the ’80s, the Goths appropriated the Doc for their all-black attire.For the ’90s, grunge kids, such as Kurt Cobain, made the Doc as much a staple as the check shirt. Each generation has adopted the Dr. Marten boot into their fashion domain.But what the boot symbolised in the past has been lost in the youth culture of the 21st century. Now that everything is online and available to the public, and intermingled, subcultures are less obvious.
The boundaries between edgy and sweet have never been so undefined. We just have to look at the once Disney princess, Miley Cyrus, turned daring pop star, swinging from a wrecking ball almost naked, all but for a pair of unlaced ox-blood Dr. Martens and a bit of red lippy.
It’s a long way from being affiliated with working-class pride, but maybe the strength of the boots’ design is that they can find a place in all generations.
For this generation, The Dr. Marten has found a new home among the fashion elite. When North West or Harper Beckham don a Doc, a new fashion must-have is born. Keeping all things girly as the only Beckham daughter knows how, little Harper Seven has her own, pink pair of Doc boots.
Despite being around for more than 50 years the Doc Marten is still a firm favourite amongst us Irish. According to Holly Breen of Walk in Cork this has a lot to do with nostalgia.
“We have a lot of clients who are in their 30s, 40s and 50s who still wear docs. They grew up wearing the boots and so the doc has become their go-to choice for boots.”
As their fans have grown up so have docs with a Kensington boot introduced. This is a slimmer version in the Chelsea boot style which is very popular amongst those in their thirties who are looking for something on trend but with the quality of DMs. The Aimilita and Aimilie biker type boot with a ribbon for laces is also very popular.
“Recently we had a lady who was hitting her 70s buy one of the new biker type boots, so really we have clients from every generation,” explains Holly
Despite being a firmly established brand Dr. Martens are no strangers to the power of a celebrity endorsement. After Harper Beckham was spotted in her very own docs the phone didn’t stop ringing in Walk from customers enquiring if they stocked the kid’s version which of course they did.
“I was so surprised, we were inundated with calls,” said Holly.
With the little ones in toe, Dr. Martens are striding back to fashion’s front row.
DMs have become the staple of the cool London kids, like Agyness Deyn and Daisy Lowe, who have both fronted campaigns for the legendary brand, and their mates, Pixie Geldof and Alexa Chung, are also big fans.
For Daisy Lowe, it was inevitable that the Doc would play an important role in her fashion life. Daughter of nineties indie icon Pearl Lowe and brought up surrounded by the world of Britpop (her step-father is Danny Goffey from Supergrass) Lowe was introduced to DMs at a young age. Back in 2007 in a bid to bring the legendary boot to a whole new generation, Daisy became the face of the brand.“My earliest memory of DMs is that my mum use to dress me in little black ones, with black tights and little white, lace dresses and bring me to Camden market,” Daisy said at the time.
Caitlin Moran has transported the Doc Marten from the working-class streets of Wolverhampton to the column pages of the not-so-working-class newspaper, The Times.
The Doc Marten is to Moran as Manolo Blahnik is to Sarah-Jessica Parker. You don’t get one without the other. The front cover of Moran’s debut novel, How to Build a Girl, depicts the legs of a teenage girl with ripped tights and donned in a pair of beloved DMs, an emblem of the era in which the novel is set. Moran is such an avid fan of Docs that she recently tweeted that she was breaking in a new pair.
Rock chick Gwen Stefani has always been a Dr. Marten enthusiast. As the lead singer of reggae-ska fusion band, No Doubt, Stefani often rocked the stage wearing her signature, 1460, studded Dr. Martens.
For the 30-somethings out there, the Doc brings a sense of nostalgia to modern dressing. It’s a way of being on-trend, while still embracing the rebellious part of their youth. They were the kids of the 1990s. Today’s teenagers can now put their own take on DMs, as though they are the first to wear them, just as every generation did before them.
For a shoe that was made for the factory floors, it has certainly left its footprint on fashion.
WHAT’S UP DOC
Before DMs came to the UK they were made in Germany using discarded rubber from Luftwaffe airfields and 80% of their sales in the first year went to women over the age of 40.
Back in the eighties a song was sung about the iconic boots aptly called Dr Marten’s boots in theBritish cult comedy The Young Ones.
Pope John Paul II had a custom white pair of the boots made for him.
The Style name 1460 is after the European marking of the date: Day, Month, Year... 1st being the day the first pair came off the production line.
Pete Townshend of The Who was instrumental in helping create one of the defining images from 70s popular culture, with 1975 rock opera ‘Tommy’ featuring Elton John in an outsized pair of DM boots (below).. The boots stand four and a half feet high and Elton had to wear them attached by callipers that allowed him to move as if he were on stilts. Today the boots are on display in Northampton Museum.
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