The rise and fall and rise of the Dr. Marten boot

Just what the Doctor Ordered

When you read the words Dr Martens, what do you think of? Skinheads? Clowns? Workmen? Or high fashion?

Because in spite of being associated with all the groups above, Dr Martens have remained one of the most consistently cool items of clothing in the past 50 years.

They really were invented by a doctor too, Dr. Klaus Maertens, a German army doctor. He injured his foot while skiing and found standard issue WWll army boots very uncomfortable and not at all conducive to recovery. So, he designed his own shoe, which replaced the leather soul with one which had air-cushioning. Originally the boots were sold as orthopaedic devices and bizarrely the majority of its customers for the first fifteen years were housewives, mainly over forty years old.

But then an advert for the boots with the air-cushioned sole caught the eye of the Griggs family, who ran a shoe company in Britain, specialising in sturdy work boots, and they bought the patent. 

They made a few tweaks to the design, including reshaping the heel, and they also anglicised the name. The classic yellow-stitched Dr. Martens AirWair boot was launched on April 1st, 1960. The date gave rise to the name 1460. This footwear was no April Fool joke though. The boots quickly became popular with factory workers, postmen and police officers. 

But these were not the kind of people known for inspiring fashion choices so how did Dr. Martens become so cool?

It started with youth sub-cultures, like Mods and Skinheads, who adopted the boots as symbols of working-class pride. There was some irony in the fact that when these groups clashed with police BOTH sides were wearing Dr. Martens!

Pete Townsend of The Who is generally credited with giving Dr. Martens international exposure, when he chose to wear them on stage at concerts. From about 1966 they began to gain fashion status, generally by groups who associated themselves with ant-establishment values. Punks, Goths, New Wave and Grunge groups all embraced the Dr. Marten, and they gradually became more mainstream with Britpop.

But by the new Millennium sales were dropping. The Dr. Marten 1460 was seen as old. Eventually the company moved production to China.

In 2004 a new line of footwear was introduced, deliberately designed to appeal to younger buyers. They were softer, easier to break in and had a translucent heel. This paid off and sales began to climb again. In 2012 Dr. Martens had its best year for sales ever. Shortly after they were sold to the investment firm Permira, and have continued to rise in popularity ever since, becoming a mainstream wardrobe staple.

What are your memories of wearing Doc Martins? Which era do they remind of you and do you still wear them?

By Sarah Davey

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