Ever since wearing your dad’s hiking gear got dubbed “normcore” and became socially acceptable, comfort has – thank god – become king of the catwalk and street style. But long before North Face or Barbour received an unlikely reappreciation, there was another practical design classic that was lovingly adopted by subculture. And decades later, we still can’t let our Dr Martens go.
Last year, the British footwear company reported a whopping 25% increase in sales, helped in part with a new-found fondness for the rubber soles in Japan and a collab with Vetements.
What is perhaps most likeable about Dr Martens – or Doc Martens, Docs, DMs, depending on how you like to abbrev – is that they were originally designed as an orthopedic aid. That, and the fact that a man named Herbert Funck brought them into mass production. Herbert Funck.
Much like with giant pants, midi-skirts and oversized cardigans, DMs’ original style arbiters were middle-aged housewives. But it only took a decade or so for their disenchanted teenage kids to get in on the action, with punks, goths and skinheads all lacing up and breaking in that famously tough leather on streets and sticky dancefloors.
Dr Martens claims that part of its recent success is down to the new DM’s Lite collection, a range of boots, shoes and trainers that slim down the brand’s traditional heft. But as anyone who has parted ways with cash for a pair of what your mum would approvingly call “sensible shoes” will know, DMs’ magic lies in their chunk – and the fact that you have to pour literal blood, sweat and, yes, tears, into making them comfortable. Want to avoid the rub? Go vintage, but they won’t last as long. I once winced my way around Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and New York over the course of a year (not to mention miles trodden in London) before my narrow fit smooths finally stopped giving me blisters. Reader, it was worth it.
Because unlike a pair of vertiginous heels (which, let’s face it, haven’t been cool for approximately four years now), DMs are truly versatile. Whether you go for the boot version or a lower-cut shoe, they are a style classic – and don’t just take my word for it, they’ve been classed alongside other British design icons such as the tube map and the Jaguar E-Type for a reason.
DMs are my go-to to toughen up a floral tea dress or add grungy structure to a wide-leg culotte, but I’ve also worn them to my boyfriend’s grandma’s house (she was legit into them) and with a “nice” dress to a weird party of rich old people in Palm Springs (they were less so, but I’ve never felt like a better ambassador of British style). They’re also a shoe that is truly, genuinely androgynous. DMs don’t care how you identify, or how that changes in how you present yourself on a daily basis. They just want to cushion your weary soles and help you travel the world.
DMs don’t care how you identify. They just want to cushion your weary soles and help you travel the world.
With such an iconic style heritage, it can be tricky to duck’n’dive retro references in a pair of DMs; aping too many traditional punk or goth trappings can look costumey (unless this is your usual look, in which case: perfect). Instead, cunningly wink to their history at by teaming them with their style-lobster, a skinny leg or a plaid shirt, which harks back to their revival in the Nineties grunge heydays.
And of course, part of the boots’ appeal is what they have come to stand for, the rebellion yellow-stitched into their leather, so it makes sense to take that whiff of anarchy and fold it into dressing your Docs a new way. Give DMs a contemporary lean to streetwear by mixing them with sweatpants (perfect for when the hangover has defeated tailoring) or play with that tough-girl notion by mixing a hefty boot with an ankle-skimming kickflare or ruffled trouser hem.
The boot, too, can hold a whole lot of potential for contemporary styling: the white ones can be an irresistible way of updating the white trainer trend, and look as fresh as a pair of new Nikes. DMs have also delved into a new range of floral, coloured and patterned leathers. Or the most wallet-friendly option? New laces for an old pair. Get a variety to match your accessories, and stomp with pride.