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Born out of necessity – How and why Dr. Martens became iconic

Before we dive into the rise of Dr. Martens, I wanted to ask, how do you style them? I love to pair my Martens with straight cut jeans and a flannel shirt, or with shorts in summer. Pop of yellow stitching matches well with yellow accents on your shirt, or hoodie. 

When were Doc Martens invented?

Tracing the history of Doc Martens we will land in England at the beginning of the 20’th century. The Griggs family paved the way for sturdy, durable, workwear boots creating very similar boots to what most of us know as Martens today. This family will be very important in the expansion of Doc Martens. 

Actual Martens boots were invented in 1945 in Germany by dr. Klaus Märtins. While recovering from an injury of his foot he realised that traditional army boots with leather hard leather soles are very uncomfortable and started experimenting how to improve them. As the post war economy was very poor he was using cobbler’s last and created a prototype of his signature boot. He then shared his idea with an old friend, Dr. Herbert Funk, who was a mechanical engineer. They recycled unused military materials and started producing their own shoes in 1947.

First iterations of Doc Martens;
First iterations of Doc Martens; Source:

Surprisingly 80% of their initial sales were to women over 40, who wore them as gardening boots. In 1952 the amount of orders demanded opening of a factory, they decided that Munich would be the perfect place for that, before they used to produce their boots in the workshop. In 1959 the Griggs family bought the patent rights for production of Martens in the UK. They also adjusted the design of the heel to make it more comfortable, trademarked yellow welt stitching and named the soles as AirWair, anglicising the brand name. Yellow heel loop featuring the brand name has also been added.

What is the most iconic Dr. Martens?

The most known model of Dr. Martens is unequivocally 1460. The name comes from the date of release, which falls on 1st April 1960. The iconic 8 eye boot features a smooth leather upper, originally released in cherry-red colour. It stays atop a characteristic AirWair sole, stitched with yellow thread. 

Speaking about AirWair sole, this is the biggest factor of their success. PVC sole unit consists of oil, water and acid resistant providing durability. Waffle construction of the sole traps air, when combined with the boot. In order to do that the sole is applied by welt stitching it onto the upper and later is bonded through extreme heat, forming one solid unit. This technique of heat-sealing the sole onto the upper was developed by Herbert Funck. Dr. Martens even offered a ‘Made for Life’ line of footwear, with a lifetime guarantee. 

Vintage Dr. Martens advertisement
Vintage ad of Dr. Martens; Source: Pinterest

Why are Dr. Martens so popular?

The reason why Martens are so popular today is the fact that they were associated with various subcultures throughout the years. As they retailed for only £2 the price made them attainable for lower class. In the 60’s skinheads used to call them “Docs” or “DMs” and associated with them, as they were perceived working class boots. The biggest breakthrough moment for Dr Martens was in 1967 when Pete Townshend, frontman of The Who, performed often wearing them. As he said, cushioned sole was a perfect choice for his wild moves on stage. Since then Martens became a symbol of self expression for youth rebelling from norms.

Doc Martens in the 70's
Dr. Martens endorsed by musicians; Source:

Bands like Sex Pistols, The Clash or Elton John wearing Martens popularised them even more. In the 80’s Doc’s became popular in the USA and more and more people started to customise them. Other underground groups continued to adopt the boots and make them their own. Punks and goths wore them, in the 90’s grunge aesthetic was often finished with Martens on feet, even Marc Jacobs introduced grunge to high fashion setting models on runway wearing DM’S. Interestingly, though youth had chosen Martens as a staple of their rejection of norms, they were formal shoes for british police. 

Surprisingly, despite its success throughout the previous decade, at the beginning of 2000’s the brand would come close to bankruptcy. They were forced to close all of their UK based manufacturers and move it overseas. To emphasise the scale of this change all of the 1460’s until 2003 were made in the UK, but nowadays roughly 1% of them is being made there. 

Doc Martens boots nowadays

As Doc’s were always made for mavericks it’s not surprising that the company encourages wearers to customise their boots and even offers an option to design your own pair on their site. In addition to that Martens were reinvented by high fashion designers in special collaborations, like Yohji Yamamoto, Vivienne Westwood or A Cold Wall. This helped to revive the iconic brand. 

Dr. Martens in collaboration with A Cold Wall
Dr. Martens in collaboration with A Cold Wall; Source: Hypebeast

Today most of Martens boots are mainly made in Thailand, or China. However they launched a special Made in UK line, manufactured in the original plant in Northamptonshire. Naturally the price of these pairs will be higher, but the same will go with quality. My next pair of Martens will definitely be Made in the UK so I can compare the quality, but after two years of wearing my 1460 i’m still satisfied with them. If you are looking for alternatives for Doc Martens another british company Solovair might catch your eye. 

I’m wondering what are your thoughts about this brand, do you own, or did own a pair? Share it in the comments.


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