By Sara Urdiales Bartolomé
Who of us has yet not seen a hoard of girls roaming around campus wearing the massive, grunge-looking platform shoes that have taken over 2018’s fashion trends? Their otherwise soft and elegant outfits seem to be impaired by their shoe choice: a pair of Dr. Martens. Everyone either has them or longs for them, or so it seems. Either real, or (very well) falsified, the rocky British boots have indubitably landed hard on everyone’s lives this year, but have they come to stay for the long-term?
Dr. Martens are iconic, we sure know that, but does anybody actually wonder why? The ultimate fashionista item has a background unknown to most of its recent buyers, which seems to be the only flaw in this heated wave. 2018 won’t leave the brand and its history unscathed; in fact, we may actually be part of a shift in such an iconic history without even realizing. This is the question I wish I could give an answer to: merely another fashion trend or rather a new episode in the 21st century’s pop culture?
Dr. Martens used to be deeply intertwined and linked to class, specifically to the British working class. Back in 1901, the brand made its first appearance into the boots’ world, but it wasn’t until 1945 that they crushed into pop culture: Dr. Klaus Martens and Dr. Herbert Funk gave the boots their famous air-cushioned sole and a decade later, the famous shoe-brand Griggs acquired the license to produce them. The former discreet and rude boots got their fashion twist: the iconic yellow stitching, the two-toned sole and the loop on the heel that still characterize them today.
The entire 20th century was an era of flourishing social changes and various conflicts, and the skinheads (the countercultural youth movement, motivated by their solidarity towards the working class and their rage against social alienation), made Dr. Martens a symbol of such empathy towards the working class. However, the skinheads’ subculture got its natural reaction, as other countercultures started publicly wearing, and therefore identifying, with the boots. The Mods, rock stars like Elton John, punk bands: The Clash, The Sex Pistols and so on, joined the wave. Even though all movements stood for different things, the base-identity was the same in some way: from the 60’s to the 80’s, it all narrowed down to Dr. Martens being worn as a symbol of a group’s identity.
However, the 90’s gave the brand its first significant twist, as Dr. Martens became popular among women and it girls, appearing for the first time in magazine covers all over the globe. Word got beyond the UK, and countries like the US and Japan fell in love with them too. Rock and punk cultures had everyone hyped up and the boots were so tightly linked to both styles that a boost in sales was just a matter of time. Almost 30 years later, rock culture has fallen out only to be replaced by hip-hop and commercial pop culture among the youth, and so has the style identity attached to Dr. Martens, becoming another one among the many fashion statements handy in any big shopping street.
Nonetheless, the rapid speed of changes in fashion will put Dr. Martens back into its original place. As soon as people who wouldn’t have originally identified with them stop wearing them, those who have always felt a special bond with the shoes will continue to do so, as it tends to happen within fashion culture and any iconic piece within it. They are thinkers’ boots and they carry such a strong cultural baggage that owning a pair is a synonym of one’s identity. After all, ‘Working class or upper crust, there’s no denying the grit, influence and impact of a sturdy pair of Dr. Martens’ as Brenden Gallagher states in his article An abridged history of Dr. Martens (published online on the 7th of March, 2018, and available in the Grailed website).