Dr. Martens: a brief history of subcultures and self-expression

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Dr. Martens silhouettes aren’t just known for their durability materials or their ability to adapt to an abundance of styles; they have been a critical part of the fabric of counterculture around the globe, shaping outfits for decades and acting as a symbol of empowerment for honest working communities.

The brand is renowned for its recognisable features; the shoes are crafted with highly durable leather, have bright yellow stitching and come with an innovative air-cushioned sole unit.

What are the origins of this brand, though?

It all began in 1945 when Dr. Klaus Maertens was recovering from a broken foot, and he used his bleak situation to craft an air-cushioned sole to aid himself to recovery. He later showed his new creation to an old university friend Dr. Herbert Funk, a mechanical engineer who helped develop this silhouette into one that would gain a much larger audience.

Eventually, the pair decided to advertise their tech in overseas magazines, with the hope that they could branch out their audience. Little did they know, this technology would revolutionise street fashion forever. It didn’t take long for the established Griggs company to spot an opportunity, they gained an exclusive license, changed the name slightly and in 1960, produced the first eight-hole 1460 Dr. Martens boot in the village of Wollaston in central England. Following the success of this silhouette, a year later Dr. Martens released the 1461 model, a 3-eyed low-cut leather shoe with yellow stitching and an air-cushioned sole unit.  

It wasn’t long before the shoes became a central part of British subcultures, catching the eyes of Jamaican rude boys and original skinheads, becoming a shoe that represented multiculturalism. Following on from this; during the ‘70s the shoes have become a recognisable part of the styles of glam rock, two-tone, early goth and punk. The shoe’s welded, robust structure was enough to empower youth scenes and channel their energy at the time.

The shoes also eventually gained a reputation for customisation in the ‘80s, and they were taken overseas to America by musicians touring Europe. They went on to influence American scenes such as grunge, with the likes of Kurt Cobain showing them off.

Fast forward to today, the brand has endured a lot, and the shoes are symbolic of its imperishable nature; Dr. Martens remains one of the most iconic footwear brands around. You can still find much-loved, archival designs or indulge yourself in a range of exciting collaborations for their 60th birthday.

Check out our full range of Dr. Martens silhouettes here.

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