Music and Fashion…Dr. Martens will see you now!
It was in seventh grade when a much older hellraiser joined my class that I was introduced to Metallica’s “…and justice for all” album, which had just been released. Intrigued and inspired by the aggressive complexity of the album, I delved into their back catalogue to then delve deeper and immerse myself in the metal scene to find gems Slayer and eventually, via a couple of detours, found my way to punk and hardcore, which paved the way for a lifelong affiliation.
Especially at the age of thirteen, a rebellious uniform was a must to go with my mindset and from what I gathered from the older punks I encountered during my first field trip to London and the scarce information that was available via mainstream media, one could not possibly be remotely into punk rock without a proper leather jacket, jeans distressed by bleach and combat boots. My metal loving peers got German Army “Springerstiefel”, which aesthetically lacked appeal and never resonated with me, so when I laid eyes on the cover artwork of Agnostic Front’s live album “Live at CBGBs” and the iconic display of Dr. Martens boots that the deal was sealed: Following Christmas saw a pair of 16-eye steel capped boots high on my want list in my endeavours to shape my appearance to resemble the looks of Wattie from The Exploited I had caught a glimpse of in a fanzine.
Eventually my personal Dr. Martens’ history came full circle in terms of Dr. Martens paying tribute to punk birthplace CBGB with designed variants of its 1460 boot to celebrate its recent sixtieth anniversary, one of which was fabled about to have been inspired by graffiti adorned walls of CB’s toilets.
But let’s dial back a bit and look at the genesis of Dr. Martens to examine why it eventually became such an integral component of rebellious uniforms and subculture at large, along with an unwavering significance to this very day via a myriad of reimaginings that remain true to its DNA.
Doktor Klaus Martens was a medic in World War II and once it had subsided, used military left overs to sew a prototype for a comfortable leather boot, the major objective of which it was to assist people suffering from ailments in the foot region to recover faster. This feat was achieved by the creation of an air cushioned sole, which left its imprint via the label “Airwair”, which remains a trademark of Dr. Martens to this day. After piloting some models, wider exposure was eventually gained in the UK in the late nineteen fifties through a cooperation with the English shoe manufacturing company Griggs.
Entering the British mainstream as a workwear staple in the nineteen sixties, the advent of the skinhead movement championing working class and the punk movement being spawned by the identity crisis of the middle class, it became an integral part of a new movement at the end of the seventies – probably partly because of its radical military appeal, but definitely because of its durability.
One could claim that through the punk movement and icons like Pete Townsend publicly wearing them in a bid to protest against the mod movement or Elton John sporting an oversized pair in the The Who’s rock opera Tommy, Dr. Martens became synonymous with self-expression, counterculture, attitude authenticity and a sign of one’s roots and leanings: Without music at the core, Dr. Martens would have probably remained a workwear boot.
Needless to say, in 1994, i.e. the year some claim that punk officially died with the advent of the Grunge scene, Dr. Martens experienced a major revival, with the boots not only becoming ubiquitous at festivals, but eventually fashion luminaries like Marc Jacobs and Phoebe Philo being influenced by its style and paying homage with their own collections, which was later – after a bit of a decline - continued in the mid-two thousands by other designers’ reinterpretations and customisations of the classic 1460 boot as well as Dr. Martens’ myriad of collaborations with other brands, e.g. Stussy, Supreme, Off-White and BAPE, which saw some hits and misses eventuate.
Through entering the hardcore scene and an infatuation with Chuck Taylor and Nike, my relationship with Dr. Martens found an almost decade long hiatus, before the iconic shoes with the distinctive yellow stitch entered my wardrobe again – via both the formal and informal variants.
The aforementioned built-to-last classic 8-eye 1460 with its grooved side, heel-loop with its lightly textured leather is quintessentially the mother of Dr. Martens boots: It remains for me to this day a trusted, comfortable and versatile companion that I have relied on specifically through travels to the colder regions of the earthround.
However, over the years I have come to appreciate Dr. Martens’ more subtle and borderline subversive styles as well: The 5-eye Kelvin Kelvin II Smooth Brogue is a favourite for formal occasion with its firm, finished leather offering a smooth, semi bright appearance. Much more durable than other flimsy footwear constructions due to the upper and sole being heat-sealed and sewn together, I love how comfortable and easy to maintain they are due to their oil and fat-resistancy. The fact that they are made with Goodyear welt, which helps with abrasion and slip resistance, does not hurt either – specifically in winter.
Dr. Martens remains popular today and maintains relevance and currency by sticking to its DNA yet e.g. incorporating well-made vegan variants of their classic models.
However, upon closer inspection, there has been a slight shift due to its popularity and credibility, i.e. Dr Martens has infiltrated the mainstream as a fashion statement rather than a style identity and with models of the calibre of Gigi Hadid, Hailey Baldwin, and Kaia Gerber incorporating the classic boots into their wardrobe to give it an edge, there are countless ways to reinvent oneself by making Doc a seasonless wardrobe staple with an edge.
To the next sixty years!
Dr. Martens images from company website