Carpe DM: 60 years of the Dr Martens boot – fashion's subversive smash hit
By Lauren Cochrane
The humble eight-holed work boot has won over everyone from postal workers to punks, teens to today’s celebrities and influencers. How did it stride to world dominance?
“It’s almost easier to list which subcultures haven’t adopted Dr Martens over the past six decades,” says Andrew Groves, a professor of fashion design at the University of Westminster and the curator of Invisible Men, last year’s exhibition about men’s working wardrobes. “The list of those style tribes that took the DM to their hearts includes punks, skinheads, northern soulers, scooterists, as well as (later on) teenagers into grunge, two-tone, and Britpop.”
During the 70s and early 80s, the 1460s became part of a uniform worn with skinny bleached jeans, braces and, quite often, a bit of a snarl. Images of skinheads – either in Gavin Watson’s classic photography book Skins, or Shane Meadows’ This Is England trilogy – often feature DMs, and they continued to be associated with the subculture, even as, as Meadows documented, it became darker, as the far right infiltrated it.
Although this association is still there, it’s now a whisper – thanks to Groves’ litany of other, less controversial, subcultures that also took up the DM. By the time i-D magazine’s A Decade of i-Deas was published at the end of the 80s, the style magazine had declared them “the fashion accessory of the past five years”. I remember blisters covering the back of my heels for weeks when I got my first pair in the 90s. Groves says he wore them “when I was a mod, a skinhead and a casual … I’ve worn them polished up with Sta-Prest trousers and scuffed-up with jeans. I’ve probably got at least three or four pairs at the moment.”
“The Dr Marten is such an archetypal object that they can be worn in both an understated manner or used to underplay a full-on fashion look,” says Groves. “It’s hard to imagine anything else being worn by your postie and Gigi Hadid, and both looking equally good in it.”