Dr. Martens: First and Forever

by April Carpena in ,


If you like shoes with stories to tell, Dr. Marten’s might be for you. With welt-constructed soles that could outlast an apocalypse, Docs aren't aren’t exactly a passing fancy. Doc Martens have held their ground while all the other brands, fads and cultural shifts bit the dust. DM boots are heavy with the weight of music, cultural and fashion history in every collective step.  

Dr. Martens were born as the baby of the Griggs family footwear factory and the revolutionary air sole created by German physicians, Dr. Maertens and Dr. Funck. The first 1460 was produced on the 1st of April in 1960 (1460 = day/month/year). In their infancy the original DMs were sold as practical, comfortable footwear to the likes of postmen, factory workers and even police. Dr. Martens boots satisfied the needs of the working class as reliable, long-lasting footwear that could be worn on a daily basis. That’s right! The ultimate non-conformist shoe was produced as a piece of the uniform of convention.  Hardly the beginnings of a subculture icon but the 8-hole would soon be adopted by those on the fringes of society as the anti-fashion footwear of choice.

In their first steps towards iconic shoe status, DMs first found their way onto the feet of English mods. The term ‘mod’ stems from ‘modernist’- as in modern jazz (mod) as opposed to traditional jazz (trad). British youths were typically termed ‘mods’ if they were aficionados of modern jazz, coffee shops, Italian fashion and travelling by scooter. Mod culture arrived in the late 50’s, died down in the mid 60s and led the way for the evolution of British skinhead culture. English skinheads in the 60s, not to be confused with the sometimes violent, racist ideology of certain offshoots, were working class youths who kept their hair shorn for several reasons and identified with Jamaican ‘rude boy’ music and lifestyle. Most common reasons for skinheads’ short hair: 1) Long hair could be dangerous if it came in contact with factory machinery where working class youths often held jobs. 2) Long hair could be dangerous in a street fight. 3) Hippies (primarily educated, middle class youths) had long hair and skinheads were quite the contrast.  Doc Martens were the obvious choice for the meticulous skinhead style that usually paired DM’s with straight-leg jeans, a button-down shirt, suspenders and working class pride.

 

Modern take on British skinhead style.

Modern take on British skinhead style.

DMs first belonged to the masses but eventually found their way into the limelight in the 60s when The Who guitarist Pete Townshend wore his Docs on stage during his rowdy performances as a symbol of his working class pride. He wind-milled, jumped and shook the British music scene with the weightless sole of DMs in the 1960s. From there, the DM boot was never the same. They became an expression of rebellion and let’s face it, they looked good too.   

In following decades, other musicians followed suit and DMs suited the radical style of British punks in the 70s. Punk clashed wildly with everything the mainstream held dear and the notorious Sex Pistols found DM’s to be their shoe of choice. In 1982 The Clash wore Docs in their video for ‘Rock the Casbah’. Later in the same decade English lyricist and singer Morrissey adopted Docs as he rose to super stardom. The Dr. Martens poster children of the 90s followed the lead of grunge musician Kurt Cobain of Nirvana who accessorized apathy with flannel shirts and torn jeans. No Doubt carried Docs into the last wave of the decade with the unorthodox styles of lead singer Gwen Stefani.

 

As tempting as it is to try to peg them, Dr. Martens defy the term ‘genre’ and have been worn and loved during the past five decades by an eclectic collection of listeners and musicians of jazz, blues, soul, ska, R&B, rock, punk, goth, industrial, grunge, Britpop and all the sub-categories in between. Music and Doc Martens became inseparable ever since Pete Townshend told the world he went to sleep with a ‘A cognac bottle and a Dr. Martens boot'.

Whether you’re into piano riffs, bass lines or distorted electric guitars, Dr. Martens tend towards a special quality that allows them to strike a chord with anyone who chooses to adopt them. The DNA of every Doc Martens is the same: welted sole, yellow stitching and bouncing soles, but each pair can be customized to an endless expression of personality through choice of texture, material, finish and color. The pattern is the same on every sole, but the imprint you leave is all your own as you jump, strut, whirl, stomp and dance along in your Dr. Martens.