Dr Martens where originally introduced to the working class of Britain in 1960. Celeste Carrigan looks back over a half-century of a piece of iconic fashion….
The iconic cult classic piece of fashion Dr Martens turned 50 years old this year in April. The boot has forever remained the shoe of choice for subcultures and looks to be with us for another 50 years. The tough looking, hardworking work boots are an emblem of British fashion. They have been on a journey of freedom, individuality and empowerment.
Dr Martens were born in Germany, when Dr Klause Maeterns designed an air cushioned sole, to ease the recovery of an ankle injury after skiing. The original company Dr Maeterns was formed in 1959, but many manufacturers rejected the concept of air- cushioned soles as a short lived gimmick, where they not wrong. It was not until an English company decided to go with the first work boot with the new sole. The 1st April 1960 saw the birth of the first cherry red 8 eyelet work boot name 1460 and from this point the new Dr Martens was born.
Back in the 1960’s they were first catapulted from a working class essential to counter- cultural icon. The world at this time as according to Martin Roach, author Doctor Martens: The Story of an Icon, was “pre-internet, pre- MTV, pre-cd, pre-mp3s, pre-mobile phones…… they’d only just invented the teenager”. Before Dr Martens where born kids looked and dressed like their parents and rebellion was more an idea than reality. They were starved of music, fashion, art and even the idea of choice.
When talking about the appeal and culture of Dr Martens over the 50 years, Daniel Freeland, PR Manager of Dr Martens, said “Over the years the 1460 has become associated with individuality, creativity and rebellion. …..The original boot is still simple, authentic, everything it needs to be and nothing it shouldn’t be”.Dr Martens don’t need to change; they are versatile, functional and stylish all in one and results in people coming back year after year. The brand has become recognizably British and has the same iconic status as the mini cooper, black cabs and the red telephone boxes.
They have stood the test of time and have become the fashion staple of British subcultures. The first few years after the introduction to Britain, Dr Martens where mostly worn by postmen, factory workers, they were the working man’s boot. They had bought the boot by the thousands and where soon joined by the rejects, outcasts and rebels of society. Since their birth they have been involved in music revolution, fashion and the journey of teenage rebellion and subcultures.
The first celebrity to don a pair of the boots was Pete Townshend guitarist of the band The Who. In the 1960’s he brought the iconic boot to the limelight. He bought the boots because he was fed up with wearing stuff that got in the way of his playing of Guitar. He has been noted to have said they remind him of the working-class surrounding of which he had grown up in.
Since 1960’s we have the classic boot being adopted by social groups, mods, skinheads , glam, punks, ska, psychobillies, Goths, industrialists, nu metal, hardcore, straight edge, grunge , Brit pop and to a more recent fashion revival. The boots act as a blank canvas for all different generations where they can inject their personality. They are not made for one single person and there is no right way to wear.
The Mods and Rockers were the original subculture of Britain. The mods emerged from the clubs of Soho, central London. They wore Italian suits and perfectly coiffed hair of which was the complete opposite to the greasy bike riding rockers. The attitude and style of the Mods has stood the test of time, with diehards never letting it leave. We saw a reassurance of the style in the 1980’s, where we saw them worship the infamous Cherry Reds, long green parkas and scooters.
Although for many who were not around during the mod and rockers era, would associate Dr Martens to sub cultures such as the skins, punks, Goths and Grunge.
The skins came from a working class pride; they were tough street kids with the street attitude of DM’S. They were proud of their working class roots and the originals where multi-cultural, politically open minded and fashion aware individuals. They listened too reggae, soul and ska. For them presentation was everything and Dr Marten boots was the ultimate anti-fashion statement, they wore them as a badge of power and pride.
It was not until the 70’s and 80’s the original skins look was hi-jacked and manipulated by right wing racists and became a fashion outcast. It was only a minority of skinheads that was racist violent that wore the boots. Although the great irony is the police officers that clashed with the Skinheads also wore Dr Martens. They were chosen footwear for many police forces in the UK during the 1970’s and 80’s.
The punks are one of the most iconic subcultures to come out of Britain in the 70’s; they existed to destroy everything that had preceded it. Punks were Anti-establishment, anti-mainstream, anti-everything. Punk broke in 1976 through a gig by the infamous anarchists the Sex Pistols. It marked the beginning of a phenomenon that would change popular culture forever. Punk brought a lot of firsts to the teenagers of Britain; we saw fashion change though DIY fashion, painted Dr Martens and colourful Mohawks. Through the sea of safety pins and abrasive music, we got the first independent record label and some of today’s best graphic and fashion designers. Punk is a subculture that has infected every aspect of modern culture and has been said as to be the ultimate of subcultures.
The 80’s and 90’s saw the birth of Goths and Grunge. Goths would wear anything as long as it was black and caked themselves with white and black make-up. They created a unique look of the pale faced, black clad and doom obsessed, which soon spread around the world. They were more a subgenre within the post punk era; gothic rock was their music of choice. Goth has remained a subculture as it has continued to stay out the mainstream. In the early 90’s we saw a rebirth of Goth, they kept many of the original elements, such as fishnets, the black and white make-up and the jet black hair that was worn by men and women. They had moved from music from the original post punk era and clubs like the London’s Batcave, to heavier, industrial death rock from America. But one thing remained the same, was that the continued to wear black and their corresponding Docs.
Grunge emerged from underground music scene in Seattle; it was all about the thrift store chic, long hair, big boots and hard rock. For many Kurt Cobain, the front man for the band Nirvana was the face of the grunge scene. We saw bands like Soundgarden, Alice in chains and Pearl Jam appear from the dirt and grime of the clubs with their long hair and wearing Dr Martens. It was the tragic suicide of Kurt Cobain in April 1994, which marked for many the end of Grunge. For some it had already become too commercial, with the many bands churning out music they labelled grunge and stylised fashion . Grunge is probably one of the most mass marketed of subcultures, with constant revivals of the fashion including Dr Martens still happening to date.
Dr Martens where the working men’s boots adopted by the men of British sub cultures, they are continually worn today. It wasn’t to the 1990’s Grunge era when women really started wearing the infamous 1460 boots. The boots had hit the mainstream and where widely more acceptable out with the subcultures that had claimed them. Soon all the cool girls started wearing them, it was no longer solely a guy thing. In the 90’s Dr Martens were everywhere, they were on the catwalks, on television shows such as Friends and 90210, they were on. Dr Martens is a brand that has strongly featured in most of the major UK fashion movements and as well as the evolution of music.
Today 50 years on they have had a more fashion revival and far more part of the mainstream with actresses such Jamie Winstone and musicians like Jared Leto wearing them as their everyday footwear. Dr Martens are no longer one style and only for the working class and subcultures. In channel 4 Hit “This is England 86”, the lead character Lol is seen wearing Dr Martens throughout. She even walks down the aisle in them. Showing how Dr Martens become people’s everyday shoe and how the come very part of what they are trying to say. It is an interesting cultural aspect in relation to how Dr Martens can make statements through wearing them.
They continue to sell the 1460’s but are constantly reinventing the brand with new takes on the originals, through creating shoes, sandals, vintage styles, bold colour, material and even by creating taller versions by adding more eyelets. Whatever style you have there’s sure to be a pair of Docs that represent you. There is an estimated 700,000 different styles of Dr Martens. It believe over 100million of the 1460’s boots have been sold since 1960.
One of the most iconic scenes and song relating to Dr Martens comes from the classic show the Young Ones when Alexei Sayle sings a whole song about the DM Boots and how. As the lyrics said
“There is one thing that we all have in common. What is that one thing that unites us? It is not class or ideology, colour, creed or roots. The only thing that unites us, is Dr Martens boots. Dr Martens gave us his boots so everyone could be classless…”
Dr Martens for the past 50 years have been a symbol of the every changing teenager, music revolution, rebellion, freedom, individuality. These boots were made for everyone. They are built to last and are not going anywhere fast they are true classic and fashion icon. For the 50th Anniversary, Dr Martens have released an album, where they asked 10 bands to record their version of Cult classic tracks that represent the Spirit of Dr Martens over the past five decades. Artists include The Noisettes and Black Rebel Motorcycle club and songs all mark the eras Dr Martens have walked through songs such as Lilac Wine and Cherry Bomb appear on the album. They have not only marked the anniversary through music but by selling the 1460 boots for £14.60 and the numerous parties up and down the country.
Dr Martens have been a staple for British fashion; they have seen a revival in fashion. The classic boot appears to be set to walk for another 50 years. They have not been affected by the dreaded recession and continue to be a strong piece of British Culture.
Freeland also said “During a recession Dr Martens historically perform well. We feel this is mainly attributed to consumers reverting to brands they know and trust and that offer honest value for money.”
The company is doing well and looks to continue, the first six months of this fiscal year saw Global sales up by 30%. They have opened many new stores this year including Soho, NYC, Leeds and Cardiff. There are not many brands that can say that during a recession. Their future looks bright and there is no way the will be going down without a fight.
Whether or not you were part of the Mods, Punks, Goths, or you are buying your first pair of Dr Martens, you are joined by the individuality, creativity, freedom, rebellion and empowerment that is associated with the iconic boot. Dr Martens is a brand with such a rich, authentic history which has been seen as an expression of personal individuality for so many youth cultures. It is this appeal to them that makes the people at Dr Martens have no doubt that the Brand will be around for the next 50 years.