Dr. Martens: The Styles and Models that Made History

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Doc Martens Styles Leather Yellow Boots

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Last Updated on July 17, 2021

You might know the silhouette, the instantly recognizable chunky sole, and the yellow stitching, but… Do you know the brand?

You might remember it as the 90s staple footwear, the go-to combat boots we all lusted after… Cue the drum rolls…

It’s Doc Martens!

Read ahead to find out how this icon came to be and how the legend was born.

What inspired the invention of Doc Martens?

Originally, Dr. Martens was a modest work-wear boot made with postmen and factory workers in mind. Their very first years of existence were defined by being “a £2 work-wear boot” and selling quite an important number of boots to Britain’s working classes.

Doc Martens or Dr. Martens can actually be found in the Oxford English Dictionary, which you can check here. Talk about being a British icon!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It all started back in 1901 with the Griggs family. They were bootmakers from the town of Wollaston, Northamptonshire in England, who earned a solid reputation among the shoe industry for making durable work boots. For six decades, the Griggs’ hard labor situated them right at the heart of the English shoe industry. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Klaus Maertens, who was a 25-year-old soldier in post-war Munich, created a unique air-cushioned sole. He was convalescing from a broken foot and the traditional hard leather sole was not up to the task. So he came up with the idea to create a new design. Taking matters into his own hands and using a cobbler’s last and needle, he made a prototype shoe. He shared his creation with an old university friend, Dr. Herbert Funk, who was a mechanical engineer.

Together, they recycled unused military supplies and started producing their own shoes. By 1947 they were producing formally and by the end of the next decade, their business was going great. They were mostly selling to an older clientele, so around 1959 they invested in advertising in magazines overseas. 

It happens that this was how Bill Griggs found their ad. He was now part of the third generation running the company, together with brothers Ray, Colin, and son Max. Clearly, he had a great eye! He got really interested in the innovative air-cushioned sole design and managed to acquire an exclusive license. After making a few distinct changes, the ‘Airwair’ boots were born. Their new slogan “With Bouncing Soles” was based directly on Bill’s handwriting. 

Evolution after the Griggs’ acquisition

This model came out in 1960, and it became known as 1460. They had an altered heel, a simple upper, distinctive yellow welt stitch, a unique sole pattern and a two-tone grooved sole edge. It was also during that same year that a revolutionary wave of change swept over the United Kingdom. 

New ideas fought for acceptance, the cultural revolution was in the air and it all led down to massive change. As it usually happens, fashion was the way in which these groups of people identified themselves to one another (and to opposing factions), and through fashion, they showcased what they stood for.

Cue in, Dr. Martens. This odd backdrop of social tribes, radicalism, outlandish fashions, and workmen’s footwear might seem like a bizarre array of circumstances, but they all worked together to take Doc Martens to the top. The popularity of the boots soared, particularly among punks and skinheads, due to a shared love for rebellion. 

But it wouldn’t stop there. By the 70s, glam, punk, and early goth had all given birth to countless other distinct tribes. These emerging, anti-establishment, and underground groups continued to adopt the boots and make them their own, transforming the previous wearers’ style. 

Read: 11 Best Clothing Brands that are Quintessentially PUNK

The 80s and 90s: a memorable time in the history of Doc. Martens

The originally humble British-made boots managed to completely immerse themselves in the rebellious psyche of an era that was plagued by anti-government riots and social resentment. Soon enough, they became an iconic item that represented self-expression and ultimately would represent the whole British youth culture during the 80s and beyond.

This happened thanks to two deciding factors. The first one was the popularization of personalized Doc boots among girls, with hand-made floral and romantic designs. 

Fun Fact: The company found out due to the men’s small-size boot sales skyrocketing! At the same time, US hardcore musicians that toured the UK brought back their own pair of boots to their country and inadvertently started the Doc. Martens craze overseas. 

The appearance of grunge came right after those two key events. And it turned the 90s fashion game on its head. The funny thing is, on distant shores, the Britpop fans rebelled against the sad, disgruntled, and apathetic style of Kurt Cobain, but did so wearing the same boots! 

The boots appeared in movies like Empire Records, further cementing the relationship between Docs, teenage rebels, and music among the younger audience. Nu-metal and early emo styles also adopted the 1460 boot, making it a staple of music festivals all around the globe which they continue to be to this day! 

Read:

Grunge Style Guide: Outfits for Every Season and Look (Women’s Edition)

Getting the ’90s Fashion Grunge Look for Men

What happened next? The 2000s…

It seems far-fetched that during 2000 the brand would come close to bankruptcy, but it did. It had to close all but one of the British factories and had to do a complete rebrand to come up for air. They did so by hiring high-end designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Nepenthes, Supreme, and A Bathing Ape to collaborate and reinvent their classics. 

By 2010, things were looking much better for the brand. A renovated Dr. Martens celebrated its fiftieth birthday that year, with a completely new outlook.

Nowadays, the brand continues to be adopted by youth everywhere on the globe, no matter the subculture. Dr. Martens is still championed as an authentic alternative brand that continues to appeal in a world that tends to forget about true individuality. 

Each person that twists and subverts the boots and shoes to fit their own aesthetic and identity is as much a rebel at heart, as the 80s punks were

Some fun Doc Marten stats for you:

  • More than 3.2 million pairs of Dr. Martens are made every year with 42 000km of yellow thread used for Dr. Martens’ iconic stitching. That is a huge amount of shoes being produced! 
  • They also go through 10 million pairs of laces. 
  • There have been more than 70.000 styles produced by Dr. Martens which now include fashionable shoes, sandals, and boots. This includes collaborations with musicians, illustrators, and celebrities.

What are the core principles behind the brand?

They define themselves as being made for people who have their own individual style, who are unapologetically true to themselves, and that stands for something. Authentic characters that are different, proud to be so, and unafraid to show themselves to the world. 

When it comes to their aesthetic, they aim for silhouettes that allow wearers to integrate them into their own looks and styles. They are famous for their durability and the comfort they provide. This particular characteristic makes them a favorite of the music and fashion industry, both renowned for their unforgiving paces and demanding standing hours. 

Due to the historic trajectory of Doc. Martens, they also provide a badge of empowerment on an emotional level. Whoever is walking on them, is part of the bigger Docs tribe.

What are Doc Martens made of?

The most important part of Doc Martens is their air-cushioned sole. But, how does it really work? 

It is all thanks to their PVC sole unit, which is also oil and acid-resistant. This material is the main reason Docs are so durable. It softens with wear, which reduces the risk of splitting or cracking, and it has a grid-like construction that, when combined with the boot, traps air. This in turn provides the air cushioning that gave birth to their name: Airwair.  

In order to apply the sole, a PVC welt is stitched onto the upper and bonded through extreme heat to form one solid unit. Any excess produced during the meltdown is buffed down producing the typical grooved finish of Dr. Martens’ sides. 

Docs come in a range of different leathers. Their smooth leather comes from corrected grain from Argentina. This material is the most durable and is famously stiff to start. However, it moulds to your foot and gets more comfortable as you wear it. It can also be polished or scuffed up, according to the wearer’s likes. 

Their Nappa and Virginia leather, also from Argentina, are soft, fine-grain leathers that feel light and supple in comparison. They have a natural stretch and are very comfortable from the start. The patent lamper leather is in fact PU coated split from China. This patent leather is hard, has a glossy surface finish and is virtually waterproof. Last, but not least, their vegan leather is in fact microfiber and a polymer-synthetic material. 

Docs are known for their high-quality production. They have managed to maintain their standards to produce a sturdy product that gives customers what they paid for. Until recently, they had a ‘Made for Life’ line that came with a lifetime guarantee. 

One of the reasons this no longer exists might be due to the fact that nowadays 99% of their production is done overseas. To be fair, they still have a Vintage Collection and a Made in England Collection that are both still made the old way at Cobbs Lane, Wollaston. Actually, it is in this fabric where the very first Docs were made. Collaboration boots are also made there, at the 115 years old factory. 

Read: Doc Martens: Off-Duty-Model Look Style Guide for Women

What are the main styles?

According to their webpage, their styles can be divided into The Originals, 1461, Made in England, Vegan and Work. These are some of the main styles.

Original 1460 Smooth Boot

One of the most easily recognizable Doc Martens designs is the Original 1460 Smooth Boot. It has remained almost unchanged since the 60s. Quite the feat! Each pair has branded Airwar logo pull tabs and gold foiled Dr Martens on the insole. Also available in a myriad of prints, colors, and combinations.

I am a huge fan of this style. I think that it is the easiest to combine and besides, it’s the very classic that started it all. That alone makes me love it because of what it represents as a fashion icon!

1461 Smooth Shoe in Oxblood

Although it might seem like it’s just a lower version of the 1460, this shoe is constructed very differently. It has less stitching on the vamp, and no stitching on the heel counter. It does feature the same PVC sole unit that guarantees bouncing soles and yellow stitching. 

This style also comes in black, of course, but I can’t help but admire the oxblood version. It is an elegant shoe that feels elegant, streamlined, and above all like it can take whatever you through at it, rain or shine!

2976 Chelsea boot

This particular style is an easy-on slick boot that is both uncompromisingly fashion-forward and has a signature elastic ankle gusset. The crazy horse leather is perfect country wear too! I would totally wear it with a preppy attire, perhaps combining a midi plaid skirt and a tan trench coat.

Blaire

The newest take on the gladiator sandal, with a slight wedge that adds height and a padded collar for comfort. (Yay! No rough edges over the ankle!) What really makes it stand out? It’s sturdy, durable Goodyear welt.

8065 Mary Janes

The perfect school girl shoes reinvented. Some of the most stylish characteristics include decorative broguing and double straps with horseshoe buckles. These Mary Janes are very similar to the typical boot. They share their main qualities like grooved edges, yellow stitching, and air-cushioned sole.

There are also a ton of collaborations that have happened over the years with artists and brands alike.

Most recently, the anniversary collaboration with Hello Kitty hit the markets to celebrate 60 years of partnership. The toughest styles of Docs were brought to life with Sanrio motifs.

An instantly recognizable fusion of the main features of both brands played with fun additions like straps with bows, heart-shaped eyelets, sturdy laces, and towering soles. They all maintained the traditional yellow stitching, grooved edges and scripted heel-loop.

Who wears Doc Martens? 

During the 80s/90s

There are very few artists that haven’t worn Docs at one point in their life. Pete Townsend was huge during the 60s, Eddie Vedder was another big hit during the 80s and let’s not forget Ellie Goulding during the 90s.

Fast forward to Now

Miley Cyrus and Gwen Stefani are often photographed using their Docs. In the case of Gwen, she has been loyally doing so since the 90s! She appears to be a true fan!

Chiara Ferragni and Gigi Hadid are two celebrities that are also quite often wearing Docs. Looks like Docs are also trending with influencers apart from being a great off-duty model favorite.

Winter looks

Doc Martens are one of the most photographed footwear brands when it comes to cosmopolitan outfits. Their evolution as a brand over different styles has proven that they can be styled any way you like and will always look good. Think net tights, opaque black tight, jeans, printed pants, and short leather skirts.

Due to their very classic aesthetic, they also allow many combinations on top. You will be free to wear a long coat, a leather jacket, a bomber, a cardigan or whatever you fancy at the moment.  

Summer looks 

Maybe you can’t picture your Doc Martens during summer. But trust me, they are a golden option for the warmer months. Go for denim shorts, gauzy dresses, the 90s printed mini skirts, and pair them up with vintage t-shirts, flowy tops, and loose-fitting jackets. 

Sources

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Lorena Lombardo is a fashion designer specialized in trend forecasting and fashion journalism. She studied at the UAL (University of London), ORT (Universidad ORT Uruguay), and taken various courses about traditional craftsmanship while living in Tokyo. Some of her favorite memories during the 90s include wearing bucket hats and trying to copy Rachel’s hairstyle. Her absolute favorite show was Buffy: the Vampire Slayer but she was also a huge fan of Clueless because of its amazing fashion choices. Her top track of the decade is currently disputed between How soon is Now? by the Smiths and Here with me by Dido. Both also happen to be the opening songs for two great 90s shows: Charmed and Roswell. Coincidence? I think not!