So we had a key note lecture on Doc Martens, delivered by Cath. I was particularly interested in this key note that’s why I’ve decided to write about it. I felt like I was fully engaged when learning of the cultural approaches to the Doc Marten boot. I hadn’t thought about the history or meaning behind them, as I just always think they’re comfy and something fashionable to wear on your feet!
I learnt the original function of Doc Martens and it kind of made me enjoy wearing them even more. In the 21st century Doc Martens are so popular that you can buy them in a lot of other stores now and have any type of colour and design you want. They weren’t always mainstream fashion though, or even seen as fashionable. The original function was completely different and I was interested by this. They were solely made for work wear, the ‘air wear’ sole was designed for comfort, marketing the public service workers. They were made by a German company and founded in 1947.
The boots had been a popular choice of footwear among various groups, starting in the British subcultures, turning the boots into iconic footwear. In the 1960’s skinheads started to wear them, they renamed them as “dms” which still remains in the 21st century. By the late 1980s they were popular among punks, some new wave musicians, and members of other youth subcultures.
Doc Martens being adopted by street cultures from 60’s onwards had become some sort of issue. The mods, punks, skinheads were attracted to the anti fashion – of course Doc’s weren’t seen as fashionable back then and had a specific look. The only colours available were oxblood and black. The police had wore the black as they were designed perfectly for their line of work. As a result of the skinheads wearing the Docs, they started to polish over the yellow stitching as they didn’t want to be associated with thug and crime.
To show which group you were a part of you’d do your laces in various ways. There were set rules in each group. I find this really interesting as people who purchase a pair of Doc Martens nowadays probably don’t think of this and how the lace had an impact and gave clues of who you were and what you were about. Doc Marten boots was definitely a starting point of modification, having an object and changing the style to suit your own preference. The street style and customisation of the past has now influenced the new generations as designers are making the boots look like they’re covered in paint, whereas the punks would just completely wreck their boots and use real paint.
“Stand for something”
We had a reading of a guy who had worn his first pair of doc martens to school “detention…as I insisted on wearing them to school…” (1978) I was fascinated by this as I couldn’t imagine in the 21st century someone getting told of or detention for wearing them to school. As I think now Doc Martens actually cater for school attire. “70’s/80’s police confiscated them”. So, thanks to the skinheads and punks, the Doc Martens actually became fashionable to wear and now mainstream.
After this lecture, it made me think of how an object can have a social life and speak for itself without you even realising. I think that I could take this into my practise with me. As I do textiles, when working on a particular design or surface pattern, I need to think back to this and remember that there is always going to be a customer profile and what meanings my work conveys and who it is going to appeal to the most.