The History of Doc Martens

“Individual. Anti-establishment. British. Rebellious. Durable.”

These are just a few of the many powerful words that Dr. Marten’s creative director, Damien Wilson, uses when describing the brand of shoes that has been considered “iconic” in the eyes of society for the past 7 decades. I am excited to walk you through the three rich stages of Dr. Marten History: beginning with the establishment of the brand, the era of pop culture influence, and ending finally with the brand’s current role as a trendy statement piece in society. 

The history of Doc Martens began in 1901 and immediately established itself at the center of the British work boot market. At first, Dr. Martens was known under the company name Griggs.   Though Griggs made high quality work boots, the iconic style that would eventually dominate half a century of pop culture didn’t arise until the mid 1940s.  According to the Doc Martens official timeline on their website constructed by professional brand historians, the transition to the title and style of the Doc Marten boots began in 1945 with Dr. Klaus Maertens, a 25-year-old soldier and doctor  in the German army during WWII. While recovering from a broken foot he created a unique air-cushioned sole to aid his recovery using a salvaged cobbler’s last and a needle and showed it to an old university friend and mechanical engineer, Dr. Herbert Funk.

By 1947 the dynamic duo went into partnership and formal production of their unique shoe using disused military supplies to produce them.  After a decade of booming business, mostly selling to older women and soldiers, they decided it was time to start advertising their revolutionary footwear. Back in England in the early 1960’s, the Griggs family was impressed by the innovative air cushioned sole created by Marten and Frank. Quickly after meeting, a few key changes were made to the boot including, and I quote, “an altered heel, a simple and distinctive yellow  stitch, and a two tone grooved sole edge and a unique sole pattern.”  The boots were branded as “Airwair” and came complete with a black and yellow heel loop featuring the brand name and the slogan “With Bouncing Soles.” These shoes dominated the work boot market and continue to do so today. 

After serving solely as a work boot up until the 1960s, the 1970s-1990s marked a turning point period for the brand as its purpose and reputation shifted from a durable work boot to a symbol of self expression and love for music.  In the 1970s, the boot was championed by underground and rebellious bands and teen members of pop culture. According to the novel, Dr. Martens: The Story of an Icon, written by Martin Roach an accredited culture and music journalist, “For decades now, Dr. Martens and youth subculture have been inextricably linked, just as music and youth culture have been close partners in crime since the advent of rock 'n' roll.”  So naturally, as grunge and rock and roll had a rise in the 1970s, so did Dr. Marten boots.

For example, Pete Townsend a lead instrumentalist and singer from  ‘The Who,’ a popular rock and roll band of the 1970s/80s is reckoned to have popularized the boots after wearing them on stage for many of his performances. 

As music and time progressed, so did the consumer market for Doc Martens. According to an article in Bustle, a credible English fashion, beauty, and lifestyle magazine, they noted that in the 80s as music began to progress artists such as Madness and Morrissey became popular and were known for rocking their cherry and black docs on stage. Since this music demographic was popular among pop fans including both women and men of all ages, Doc Martens noted an increase of sales of smaller sizes, as more women and children were joining the Doc Martens movement. 

Speaking as a fashion lover and follower, I can say with 100% confidence that in today’s day and age Doc Martens most definitely have a presence in on trend fashion.  After attending MAGIC, a Global fashion trade show, during the summer of 2019, and wearing my docs talking to numerous unique designers and sales reps from across the globe, I found they all had one thing in common and that is the love for my docs.

Take it not just from me but also from a recent article published in Teen Vogue describing Doc Martens to be a fashion trend that will be continuously recycled. The article written by Alyssa Hardy, a writer and student of fashion for Teen Vogue states that Docs are “the boots have become a must have for fashion people and celebrities in their street style. They even hit the runways during fashion week at shows like Snow Xue Gao and Vetements…”  

I hope you now have a better understanding of the three stages of Doc Marten history: the era of establishment, the era of pop culture influence, and the brand’s current era as an on trend staple. 

I also hope that the next time you shop for your clothing or footwear that you realize that while fashion is fun and trendy it often serves as a timeless and living artifact of the culture and history that came before you. I am proud to be wearing my docs today as a symbol of my love for music and pop culture as well as a symbol of my respect and appreciation for both the creativity Marten had in creating his boots and the sacrifice he made when serving in the war.

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