Dr. Martens: From the underground to the mainstream
Willoughby Thom | Tuesday, February 25, 2020
In light of all the fashion weeks which have and will continue to occur over the coming months, I thought it would be appropriate to analyze the peculiar resurgence of the Dr. Martens shoe brand. The rich history behind the shoe and its historic, cultural and social significance make it worthy of observation.
Humanity’s natural desire is to be accepted. Trends are ordered in a way through which this acceptance becomes relatable. What is interesting about them, however, is their cyclical nature. Yes, there are some styles that should never see the light of day again, but we are constantly reliving the past, whether we know it or not.
Dr. Martens was founded in 1901 in Northamptonshire, England and immediately hurtled to the forefront of the British work-boot market. Until 1945, the shoes were not known as Dr. Martens but as Griggs. A soldier named Dr. Klaus Maertens created an air-cushioned sole for his boots replacing the traditional hard leather. Thanks to a collaboration between Dr. Maerten and Griggs, the modern Dr. Marten Air Wave boot was born.
As the Dr. Martens brand grew, the boots slowly evolved into the iconic black boot with yellow stitching, branded heel-loop and two-tone grooved sole edge on the market today. The boots, however, unintentionally got swept up in the middle of dramatic social change and became a staple in the counterculture (or punk) movement of middle-20th century.
Punk rock began in 1954, not 1976. The post-war years leading up to 1960 were defined by war expenses and the structural rebuilding of the United Kingdom. Parliament continued rationing after the commencement of World War II, causing unrest among the British people. In the wake of this adversity, English, Welsh and Scottish young adults began to turn away from the traditions of their parents and create their own, unique culture — fostering the creation of a new community with one same goal: liberty.
One of the earliest punk subcultures found its niche in the Teddy Boys. The group supported ideas of anarchism and an androgynous fashion style across both genders. The Teddy Boys and Girls became examples of early punk rebellion, a community unified through fashion and counterculturism. This stimulated the need for an outward communal rebellion against an unjust world.
20 years after the primarily androgynous fashion movement of the Teddy Boys, Dr. Martens dominated the British culture. Punks chose the boot because of its powerful tie to the working class and its symbol of rebellion and resistance. In other words, the boot donned the feet of social soldiers. They marched in their laced-up boots with a dream of initiating change and escaping the government’s suffocating grip on society.
Dr. Martens have been a staple in every non-conformist’s closet since the 1970s. But as a result of the music industries’ mass corporatization of punk rock through grunge in the 1990s, their place in society has changed. Instead, they have become a necessity in every normal girl’s closet. Why is that? Why has a boot, originally for working men and a dark, chaotic subculture, become a mainstream commodity?
Interestingly Dr. Martens, now a high-end work boot company, continues to brand themselves as the shoe that fuels rebellion and individuality. When in actuality, they have become something that has inspired everyone to be the same. Society is stuck in a paradox of identity. Today the idea of being normal is viewed as being abnormal whereas abnormality is seen as normal.
As an owner of Dr. Martens, one has to ask for which are they wearing a pair of Docs? Does the trend offset purpose or does the statement clarify stance? Whatever the motive, one should be aware of their history and of the origins of such iconic boot. The boot should be at the forefront of the underground no matter how mainstream they may be perceived to be.