1950’S Britain- the first colour television is released, Queen Elizabeth the Second is crowned, and British explorers conquer Everest for the first time. The country is buoyed following years of war, with the golden age of consumerism slowly descending across the nation. Everything was changing. Houses were getting bigger, wages were going up and cultures were colliding. American music was travelling the Atlantic, inspiring the young British generations who were refusing to become the carbon copies of their parents that the generations before them had been forced to be. Freedom of expression became pivotal for the teenagers of the time, and with it came the emergence of sub cultures. The rock n roll generation gave creation to the mods and Teddy Boys, bringing along with them a host of stylistic choices, backed by what have now become some of histories most infamous brands. Dr. Martens was one of a handful of brands charged with the mission of providing something different for the rebelling youth- but before it did, it had to break through the norm.
Starting life in the Midlands in the nation’s home of quality shoe making, Northampton, Dr. Martens was the greatest product of the Griggs family, who had been making shoes and boots at their factory since 1901. The company was greatly respected for their traditional values and production quality- however, underneath their classic appearance, the Griggs’ were a family of innovators, yearning to break through the rigmarole of conventional style that was lingering over Britain.
Sharing the resurgence of the countries youth, Bill Griggs began searching for something that would change the footwear scene in Britain forever. He stumbled upon it whilst browsing through an issue of Shoe and Leather News Magazine, discovering an advert from two German doctors, who were looking for overseas partners to push their new innovative venture.
Munich residing Dr Maertens and Dr Funck were mavericks. They sought to tear down convention with their brand new air cushioned sole technology, which offered a new found level of comfort and support. Bill Griggs seized upon the idea; following a name change that would appeal to the British public in 1960, the first pair of Dr Martens left the production line. At the time of their launch, the concepts of British subculture and youthful tribes were still rare. The idea was there, bubbling under the surface, but the majority hadn’t yet taken it upon themselves to rebel and lead a new way of life. The next 40 years saw the explosion of subculture in all corners of the globe, drawing their own sources of inspiration from music, fashion and perspectives to create a unique group.
The early years of Dr Martens saw them forge allegiances with some sub cultures that would stand the test of time. The first were the skinheads. Obsessed with celebrating the work wear of the British working class, to the skinheads, detail was everything. At the time, Dr Martens were being used in the work place, so the transition from the factory floor to the feet of skinheads across the nation was seamless. This adoption of Dr Martens style turned out to be just the start of the brands role in subculture. A couple of years later, the infamous Peter Townshend rocked a pair of black Dr Marten 1460s on stage with The Who. It was a time where rock and roll was hitting a euphoric peak. The young consumerists in the crowd saw one of their idols bouncing around in a pair of Dr Martens, and the reaction was almost instant. From punks, to Britpop kids and grunge lovers, there was a pair of Dr Martens in the ever-growing range that reached out to them.
The Dr Martens story is truly unique in the affiliation with youth culture. Whilst other brands became the sole associates with one single movement, Dr Martens were universal. From being worn with military precision, to not being touched until they were unlaced, or scuffed and scraped within an inch of their life, no movement kept their Dr Martens in the same vein.
The age of technology changed the face of Britain yet again. By the end of the 1990’s the idea of belonging to a tribe where clothing dictated your allegiance was a distant memory, but a sense of nostalgia and heritage remained.
Dr Martens now rides this wave of retro styling, continuing to do what they have always done- provide today’s youth with a unique style that they can display their own stylistic choices with. Now with an army of loyal followers, the Dr Martens philosophy of rebellion has never been more alive; with their message of free thinking expression sending ripples through every generation.
Published by Sarah Kearney