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A brief history of Dr. Martens and why it’s still trending today

As we head into the colder months, many of us are once again reaching for our trusted Dr. Martens. Like an old friend, the classic Dr. Martens is dependable, with many of us counting on them season after season. By effortlessly blending comfort, style, and durability - the Dr. Marten shoe has earned its rightful place in the hearts and history books of Britain.


Dr. Martens boots valued more than 5bn USD in IPO, London, United Kingdom - 29 Jan 2021
Source: Photographer NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Each new reinvention of the classic, such as the latest Audrick Leather Platform Ankle Boot, retains the rebellious edge that has become the brand’s trademark, maintaining fresh appeal to generation after generation. It may be difficult for us to separate the classic silhouette of the 8 hole 1460 boot from the idea of teenage rebellion, but they did not start life with this association.


The Dr. Martens as we know them today were released in April 1960 by a midlands company, Griggs. Following a deal with the German inventor, Dr. Klaus Maertens, the Griggs family business introduced the air-cushioned sole that the brand is now famous for. Maertens had come up with the idea for his innovative sole following WW2, wherein he injured his foot. He developed the comfortable and supportive sole as an alternative to traditional shoes and boots.


Maertens and his business partner then used disused military supplies to build their company. Designed as a work boot and inspired by the war, the Dr. Marten in Britain was originally worn by the likes of postmen and factory workers - providing the sturdiness and comfort needed for a long day’s work. Dr. Martens therefore made its name as the boot of the working class, costing a total of £2.


Dr Klaus Martens And His Partner Dr Herbert Funk In Their Factory - Source: Neville Marriner/ANL/Shutterstock
Dr Klaus Martens And His Partner Dr Herbert Funk In Their Factory - Source: Neville Marriner/ANL/Shutterstock

In the years to follow the boots were adopted as the uniform of many subcultures, becoming a symbol of the anti-establishment. The 60s and 70s were transformative years for Britain, and it is in this environment that Dr. Martens would undergo its first transformation.


As the worlds of music and fashion collided in an explosion of glam rock and punk, Dr. Martens footwear became a favourite among the younger generations.


It was Skinheads who truly made the boots their own through styling them with red or white laces and Levi’s to create a distinct look. A look in which to this day conjures up images of racism.


Dr. Martens’ working-class roots were exploited in order to emphasise supposedly British attitudes in the face of an increasingly multicultural country. However, it is these working-class roots, which were misused by the Skinhead movement, that are responsible for the longevity of the brand and popularity with minority groups today.


As stated on the Dr Martens website:


"They appeal to people who have their own individual style but share a united spirit – authentic characters who stand for something. People who possess a proud sense of self- expression. People who are different.”

It was this that drew Pete Townshend of The Who to the boot. Through celebrating his own working-class upbringing by wearing Dr. Martens on stage, he aided in the process through which the boot became closely integrated into the music scene.


Pete Townshend wearing Dr Martens at The Who concert in London, 1981. Source: Fraser Gray/Shutterstock
Pete Townshend wearing Dr Martens at The Who concert in London, 1981. Source: Fraser Gray/Shutterstock

This link with music is still relevant today; and while the boot is no longer attached to specific genres as it once was, Dr. Martens shoes are a familiar sight at festivals world-wide.


Dr. Martens have since gone through many transformations during their five decades of existence. Now having transgressed all of their traditional associations, they have become something of a fashion staple. For many, as the company highlight themselves, the boot is a "badge of attitude and empowerment" forever synonymous with individuality and self-expression.