The Story Behind The Shoe: Dr. Martens
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The Story Behind The Shoe: Dr. Martens


June 18, 2020

Dr. Martens, amongst several other shoe brands, have been on the rise in recent years. With the upsurge of fashion trends and competition, the brand has persevered its trendy status, even during some of its toughest times. Although the shoe is perceived as a relatively new product, that is not the case.

Nowadays, Dr. Martens are seen as an edgy, chic accessory that helps to tie an outfit together. On the company's website, they claim that the shoe is for "people who possess a proud sense of self-expression. People who are different." Ironically, contrary to that statement, those who initially bought the product were not described in that manner.

The History of the Shoe

The birth of the shoe dates back to the Griggs family in the early 1900s, who, at the time, were the foundation and heart of the English shoe industry. For decades, they had a commendable reputation for producing sturdy, durable work boots. After a few years, in 1945, post-war Munich, Germany, Dr.

Klaus Maertens, a 25-year-old soldier, had broken a foot and decided to create a one-of-a-kind air-cushioned sole to help his recovery. Maertens' innovation was rousing as all shoes during this period had traditional hard leather soles.

After partnering with his university friend, Dr. Herbert Funk, Maertens began formal production in 1947, using disused military supplies. A decade later, business flourished and the two had made history with their revolutionary soles. In 1959, the duo decided to advertise their invention in overseas magazines.

Back in England, in 1960, the Griggs brothers saw the Maertens-Funk pair's advertisements and were amazed. After obtaining an exclusive license and slightly modifying the design, the shoe was reborn with an altered heel, a distinctive yellow stitching, and a unique sole pattern.

According to the Dr. Marten's website, "The boots were branded as ‘Airwair’ and came complete with a black and yellow heel loop featuring the brand name and the slogan “With Bouncing Soles” (based on Bill Grigg’s own handwriting). Taking its name from the date of its inception, April 1st, 1960, the eight-holed 1460 Dr. Martens boot had arrived." From then on, the shoe was transformed and recognized as the most comfortable shoe that ever existed — but its reputation would drastically change as the 1960s rolled in.

The Symbol of Self-Expression

Dr. Martens were primarily and originally invented to aid the workers' aching pains from their hard, laborious jobs; however, once skinheads were introduced to the boot, the shoe's purpose was revamped and never the same.

Being a multi-cultural group that was proud of flaunting their working-class pride, the skinheads adopted the shoe as their symbol to reflect their honor and confidence as a laborer. After Pete Townshend of The Who became the first high profile individual to wear these boots — for the purpose of boasting his working-class pride and defiant behavior — the shoe was never the same. Now, instead of being a "functional work-wear boot", the shoe is revolutionized as a "subcultural essential".

The Trend of Customization

During the 1980s, Britain was struck with several anti-government riots and social resentment which were mostly caused by the youth. Along with the youth came their culture of "highly visual and individual [groups] such as psychobilly, grebo, and scooter boys." At the same time, many girls noticed that there were multiple sales of small men's size boots in the stores. Promptly after, the girls created a street trend, which contributed to the aforementioned cultural trends, in which they bought the shoes and customized the 8-hole boots (typically with florals) to make a statement.

Simultaneously, with tours around the UK occurring, several US musicians brought the iconic Dr. Martens boots back with them to the West Coast. This resulted in the "American subculture's adoption of the brand", meaning that the popularity of the shoe in the States was beginning to grow — and would continue to do so from then on.

The Heart of the Shoe

Throughout the shoe's existence, there was only one concept that helped Dr. Martens become the brand that it is today: Music. The artistic culture of both the musicians and their fans has supplied the iconic trademark with practical, artful ideas since the beginning of its time.

Without the music festivals and the rock bands that helped advertise the shoe, there would be no Dr. Martens today. Even in this day and age, without musical apps like TikTok that combine fashion concepts with certain customizable items, i.e. E-Girls/Boys concept, there would be no continuous publicity for the brand at all.

The importance of music is so great that the brand even has a page on its website that is dedicated to publicizing "underground" and "unknown" musical groups. Along with a brief introduction, they post video links, or "free concerts", that showcase each specific group's music and their distinctive personalities. They claim that the artists on this page reflect and embody the "Docs spirit", which refers to the style of the musicians that helped shape and advertise the company's shoe since the very beginning.

Dr. Martens' Everlasting Influence

Although the company seemingly disappeared along with its hardships in the early 2000s, its popularity quickly bounced back in the 2010s with the rise of social media. Celebrities, like Gigi Hadid and Irina Shayk, were frequently seen casually sporting the original 1460s, which thus inspired the youth to also partake in the styling of the shoe.

Additionally, with the return of punk and grunge looks, many individuals have found Dr. Martens boots to be the best addition to their outfits. With a myriad of colors, styles, and patterns, there is a lot of room for customization, which helps to further emphasize the wearer's "self-expression" and individualism.

Many people have experimented with the shoe by juxtaposing it with more-feminine clothing items, like flowy dresses or miniskirts. As seen on sites like Pinterest, users usually style the 1460s to create an "edgier" look, the oxfords for a "classier" look, and the sandals for a "summery" look.

The shoe, especially in more recent times, has gained recognition, not only for its unique look but also for its reasonably affordable price. In comparison to designer brand shoes, like Fendi or Bottega Veneta, which are typically priced at around $1,500, the average price of Dr. Martens is around $130 — about 9% of the luxury brand's price. Many Doc Martens are also seen in department stores, such as TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and DSW, for a much lower price than the website's listings.

Inspirations and Collaborations

Separated from their main site, Dr. Martens has a blog that is devoted to informing their customers about special, limited collaborations. Currently, amongst many, there are articles regarding the brand's partnership with Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto and the infamous rock band, the Sex Pistols. Also posted on the page are inspirational features that spotlight US artists who custom design their Docs.

In addition to displaying collabs, musical archives, and style inspirations, the blog also includes informational snippets about the manufacturing of the shoe, design competitions to earn concert tickets, and the appearance of the shoe at numerous fashion shows.

No matter what the style, occasion, or mood, Dr. Martens are always there to provide a sharp contrast to any everyday outfit, and it's all thanks to Dr. Maertens — for breaking his foot.

Gwun Yi Wong
20k+ pageviews

Writer since Mar, 2020 · 10 published articles

Gwun Yi Wong is a college freshman. She loves dancing, immersing herself in music, and obsessing about fashion. She has a strong passion to spread the thoughts and voices of teenagers. When she's not at school studying economics and Japanese, she is often seen catching up with her friends, playing instruments, and pondering about life.