Dr Martens: Boots, Shoes and Accessories

In the fickle fashion world of youth culture, there are few footwear manufacturers as iconic as the British brand, Dr Martens or Doc Martens as they are often called. Since the 1950s, Docs have been worn by such diverse groups and subcultures as skinheads, punks, yuppies, hippies, housewives and teens.

In Australia we had a young politician who regularly wore Dr Martens - a trivial fashion detail the media made a feature of, emphasizing the shoes as indicative of her youth and 'grooviness' level. The politician...Natasha Stott Despoja, claimed her chunky shoes "generated more comment than my political policies". How did this distinctive shoe style come about and why did it take off? Are they still hip or has popularity made them too mainstream and thus passe?

Natasha Stott Despoja, comfy in her Docs
Who was Doc Marten?
Legend has it Docs were invented to solve an Alpine skiers  footwear problems during WW2. Klaus Martaens, a German doctor, found that his army issue boots were too uncomfortable to wear while he was recovering from an injured ankle  he'd suffered while skiing in the Bavarian Alps. Since he had some time on his hands, he set about designing a new improved ankle boot with a rounded design that allowed for plenty of toe and foot room and featured softer leather and a cushioned, air padded rubber sole.

Inside an original Doc Martin shoe
Commercially the boots got off to a slow start but in 1947, Martaens teamed up with his hip-sounding university friend,  Dr. Herbet Funck and together they created a successful footwear business. Ironically for such a youth-oriented shoe, at first their best customers were middle-aged housewives, who appreciated the softness and comfort of the well-made boots. Sales were booming and by the end of the 50s, the company was looking to expand internationally. The British patent rights were sold to R Griggs Ltd., who made a few significant adjustments to the styling - better-fitting heel, trademark yellow stitching, Anglicized name, and the inclusion of a new trademark called AirWair.

The Youth Market
Fortuitously for the burgeoning Dr. Martens empire, the inventive shoe style coincided with the emergence  of teenagers, a brand new demographic who were looking for ways to set themselves apart from their conformist parents. From the 60s on, Dr Martens, which were distinctive and different, grew steadily more popular among youth subcultures, reaching a peak in the 80s and early 90s.  For the skinheads, Dr Martens were an essential part of the 'uniform' - as indispensable as shaven heads and braces. According to the company's own spiel, Griggs was an 'innovator' and immediately saw the potential of theGerman doctor's footwear, while flipping through a shoewear catalogue :
It's clear that the Griggs clan actually possessed certain characteristics that would in the future become essential identifiers of any self-respecting youth phenomenon: they were free thinkers and they were different.

Original Dr Martens from the vintage line. Available at Dr Martens. AirWair
In addition to shoes and boots the company also produces bags, belts and other miscellaneous accessories. Griggs prides itself on its 'social responsibility', atone stage bringing out a vegan line of non-leather products. Alas, following the vast flow of big companies who seek cheap labour offshore, the production of Dr. Martens moved to China in the early 2000's, citing a slump in sales as the cause.  However, not oblivious to  the historical cache of the classic boot, in 2007, the company introduced an at-home manufactured vintage line from the Cobbs Lane Factory (Wollaston), made in line with the original specifications.

Dr Martens retro satchel. From Dr Martens AirWair.
Though the popularity of Dr. Martens may ebb and flow with changing tides of fashion, they'll never really go out of out style because  by now they are firmly established as a cultural  classic...like glass coke bottles and Levi jeans.