What image comes to mind when you hear the words “Doc Marten”?  The answer probably depends on when you were born.  If you were working in a manual job in the early 1960s, you would be likely to think of DMs as quality leather working boots.  If you were a teenager in the late 60s or 70s you would be more likely to associate them with violent gangs.

Did you know that the Doc Marten boot was ‘invented’ by a German Army doctor who had struggled with his army issue boots during the Second World War?  Finding his boots uncomfortable after an injury to his ankle, the good doctor decided to come up with something better – something functional yet at the same time comfortable.  What he designed incorporated better quality leather and an air cushioned sole based on the technology found in tyres that would later become known around the world as “Air Wear”.  Two years after the war had ended and with a new partner helping fund the venture, the boots went into mass production and were an instant hit in Germany.  Believe it or not, at that time 4 out of every five pairs made were snapped up by housewives in their forties, as day wear to keep their feet comfortable while doing their household chores!

Doc Martens Arrival in Britain

Doc Martens were brought into Britain courtesy of a deal the German company entered into with the British company, R. Griggs Group.  Griggs bought the patent and began manufacture in Northamptonshire, making some subtle changes to the design, introducing what would become the trademark oxblood colour and bright yellow stitches.  The boots became an instant hit with construction and factory workers, postmen and the like who need to be on their feet for long periods.

Doc Martens in Fashion

In the 1960s, ‘DMS’ or ‘Air Wear’ became available in oxblood, brown and black.  They began to gain popularity as a fashion item in youth culture, initially among skinheads who would wear them with ankle-length drainpipe jeans, displaying the full height of the boots.  Skinheads were seen as a violent group and so DMs too became associated with violence,

In the 70s and 80s DMs gained popularity among punks, scooter boys and the recycled mod movement.  In 1985, the lead singer of new wave band King was known for wearing brightly coloured suits with cut down trousers, revealing psychedelically spray painted Doc Martens in all their glory.

The rise of grunge in the 90s maintained and added to the popularity of the DM to such an extent that a large Doc Marten’s department store was opened in London selling a massive range of boots and other clothing items that had been added to the DM range.  This was the golden age of Doc Martens.  Production at that time was at 10 million pairs of boots per year.  Marketing of the brand was boosted by a deal with West Ham who upgraded a stand at their Upton Park ground and renamed it the ‘Dr Martens Stand’ – a name which was kept until 2009.

More recently DMs have maintained a lower level of youth appeal, being worn mainly by emos and goths.    

Doc Martins in the Noughties

In the new millennium the name Dr Marten was dropped to an extent in favour of the promotion of the ‘Air Wear’ brand with the range being extended to dozens of styles and colours.  The revenue of the company had dipped somewhat and as a cost-cutting measure, production was transferred away from the UK to China and Thailand.  In 2004, production began again in Northamptonshire on the “Vintage” line of original specification boots.

2010 to the Present Day 

The Dr Marten range is in the middle of something of a revival at present with worldwide sales strengthening and also a new, extended clothing line.  14 new stores specialising in Dr Marten products were opening in USA, UK and Hong Kong in the three years to 2011.

History of Dr Martens in Short

  • Between 1960 and 2010 over 100 million pairs of DMs were sold
  • The appeal of DMs in the workplace has proven to be enduring due to the quality and comfort of the product
  • Its basic style has an enduring appeal to youth, but this has fluctuated due to the trends and fashions at various times

The Future of Dr Martens

The quality and comfort of DMs as a working boot continues to make them popular as work wear and there is no sign that this is going to change.  The newly diversified DM range includes over 250 different styles of footwear and also accessories, belts and clothing to supplement the range.  This gives the brand a more solid mainstream appeal outside of the work wear sector making it less reliant on fashion trends.

Article provided by Mike James, an independent content writer in the fashion industry – working alongside a selection of companies including safety gear and office supply specialists JP Supplies, who were consulted over the information contained in this piece.

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