Though Dr. Martens Air Wair is the brand name of many different styles of shoes, many people only mean one thing when they speak of Doc Martens: thick soled, black leather work boots that have been favored by rebellious youth internationally since the 1960s. First produced as a corrective shoe for people with foot problems, and later marketed as a work boot for people whose jobs kept them on their feet all day, tough-looking Doc Martens have been the boot of choice for many different youth movements.
After the end of World War II (1939–45), a German doctor named Klaus Maertens injured his foot while skiing in the European Alps. Seeking a comfortable shoe for his recovery, he joined with German engineer Herbert Funck to design a special sole of rubber sealed around pockets of air. The first air-cushioned soles were made from army surplus tires. Dr. Maertens's shoes were first popular among older people throughout Germany who wanted comfortable, sturdy shoes. Maertens thought his shoes could sell successfully in other countries, too. In the late 1950s respected British shoe manufacturer R. Griggs and Company bought the rights to Maertens's special air-cushioned sole and designed sturdy work boots and shoes that used it. They changed the name to Dr. Martens, thinking that the German spelling of the name would harm sales in post–World War II Europe where anti-German sentiment remained high due to the millions of people killed during the war when Germany invaded several European countries.
The first Dr. Martens work boot, made of black leather with distinctive yellow stitching around the sole, came off the assembly line on April 1, 1960 (the style is called 1460 after the European style of marking the date: day, month, year). Though the manufacturers intended 1460s to be used by police and fire fighters, they were soon adopted by people in their teens and twenties, first throughout Britain, then internationally.
During the 1960s many young working-class Brits who felt little connection with mainstream society became skinheads. Skinhead was the name given to young people who shaved their heads and dressed in military clothes, black leather, or other threatening kinds of clothing, for a variety of political reasons. Some were racist white supremacists, while others held quite opposite antiracist views. In the suburbs and wealthier classes, many people adopted elements of skinhead style as a fashion. For the skinheads and their imitators, big, black, clunky Doc Martens, or Docs, as they are sometimes called, were the perfect footwear because they looked threatening and tough.
In the 1970s many gays and lesbians joined the ranks of young people wearing Doc Martens, perhaps feeling the heavy boots gave them the strength to survive the hatred and prejudice directed at them. During the 1980s rebellious youth groups called punks and goths rejected mainstream culture and dressed in outlandish styles, often dyeing their hair and piercing body parts. Punks and goths made Doc Martens their own by painting them and piercing them with safety pins. In the 1990s Docs became part of the uniform of the laid-back grunge lifestyle. The identification of Doc Martens with rebellion caused some schools to ban them.
Having gone from work boots to a radical extreme, Doc Martens had, by the late 1990s, become fashion shoes, made in many styles. Famous people from singer Elton John (1947–) to religious leader the Dalai Lama (1935–) to film character Harry Potter have worn them, and the Pope liked them so much he ordered one hundred pairs in white for his staff. In the mid-1990s Doc Martens was rated among the thirty best-known brands in the world.
Dr. Martens Air Wair. http://www.drmartens.com (accessed on August 27, 2003).
"Great British Brands: Dr. Martens." Marketing (August 1, 2002): 19.