In 1945, Klaus Maertens, a German soldier with a broken foot decided to create a boot with an air-cushioned sole to assist with his recovery. Who knew that this one decision would change the shoe industry forever.
Doc Martens. We have all heard about them and most of us probably own a pair. After Nike sneakers and a pair of heels, they are a staple shoe that can be styled with almost any outfit. But the iconic leather shoe did not start as a stylish shoe to accompany an outfit. Doc Martens were originally worn by the working class, factory workers, and mail carriers for the shoes’ protective cover and longevity. However, there was a sudden shift in the main consumer that forever changed the brand.
The boots were starting to be worn by British societal rebels who proudly wore the shoes as representatives of the working class. Doc Martens resultantly became a representative of multiple subcultures through the decades. Their status started to build in 1970 during the British decade of punk and goth. The wearers used Doc Martens as an accessory of self-expression and rebellion against societal expectations.
Pete Townshend, the English guitarist, and vocalist of The Who played a part in the growth of Doc Martens leading into the ’70s. He was the first rock star to wear them on a public stage which gave the brand huge publicity. He was asked why he would choose to wear something different than the current Mod style at the time, and he responded saying he was tired of the style and needed change.
“I was sick of dressing up like a Christmas tree in flowing robes that got in the way of my guitar playing,” Townshend said. “So I thought I’d move on to utility wear.”
His decision made a huge impact on the Dr. Marten brand considering his style choice eventually led to the popularization of Doc Martens as a fashion trend. People across various countercultures wore them. Punk, glam, grunge, and even goth were different genres of the subculture, but one of the few things they had in common was the shoe choice of Doc Martens. Even artist Elton John hopped on the Doc Martens trend and wore a four and a half foot-high pair during a concert in 1975.
The fashionable boots prevailed through the ’80s and this time they caught attention across international waters in the United States. American punk and hardcore musicians saw Doc Martens while in Europe and would bring them back to the U.S. for their interpretation of self-expression. It seemed like the American consumers couldn’t get enough of these new shoes, typically styled with leather jackets, and took initiative to paint the boots for individualism.
By the time the ’90s rolled around, music festival-goers caught on the Doc Martens bandwagon. Punk may have brought the attention, but indie was taking the limelight. Worn with a flowy dress or a skirt and tights, the styling of Doc Martens became a unique mix of masculinity and femininity. They also entered the world of high fashion when they were showcased in the Marc Jacobs 1993 spring collection.
The popularity of Doc Martens eventually came to a decline in the early 2000s. Other streamlined shoes such as high tops and slip-on Vans took the spotlight and Doc Martens were put in the background. Fortunately for us, the decline of Doc Martens did not shut down the company for good. Recently, Doc Martens has had a huge comeback in fashion.
The shoe selection has certainly expanded from its beginnings, now offering selections such as multiple color options, a vegan collection for consumers who don’t wear leather, sandals, oxford shoes and Chelsea boots. However, the iconic plain black boot is still a big seller. It seems like the ’90s in general have had a comeback because Doc Martens are once again being styled with garments like flowy dresses, leggings, trousers and maxi skirts.
Like the ‘60s through the ‘90s, Doc Martens are currently very popular, however, they are now more of a fashion statement than a symbol of identity. Don’t get me wrong, music lovers still love their Doc Martens, but you may also see them repped by streetwear lovers or even the iconic VSCO girls and e-boys. Regardless of what decade we’re in or what music genre is mainstream, I think it is safe to say that Doc Martens have laid down its foundation and will forever have a permanent place in our hearts.
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Hi, I’m Maria McGinnis, a senior journalism student from Stow, Ohio. I’m also the editor in chief of A Magazine. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important and entertaining news from the realms of fashion, beauty, and culture. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate to A Magazine.