DOC MARTENS SHOES: SIGN OF A REBELLIOUS SUBCULTURE, OR A GRUDGING ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF CONVENTIONAL WISDOM?
I’ve often wondered why Doc Martens shoes became so popular amongst countercultural types such as punk rockers and skinheads in the late 1960s and into the 70s onward. The original intent of Doctor Klaus Martens, a German soldier in the Second World War, was to make a pair of shoes for himself that would be comfortable enough to wear after he injured himself in a skiing accident while on leave near the end of the war.
After the war was over, he and a colleague got together, and along with some leftover rubber from the Luftwaffe, made the first ever Doc Martens shoes. They immediately became a hit with middle-aged working people, such as housewives, postal workers, who had to walk long distances, police officers, factory workers, and so on.
A strange thing happened, though in the late 1960s, when skinheads began wearing Doc Martens footwear. Then by the late 1970s, many punk rock bands began wearing them, prompting fans to wear them also, which then led to a whole other slew of youth subcultures to do the same. It’s as if the original skinheads, with their sometimes Neo-Nazi leanings, might have seen the link or resemblance of Doc Martens footwear to their German Army roots, and perhaps wanted to pay tribute to that element of the product.
Some Docs, especially the higher, boot-type versions, definitely had a military look to them, which may have been the primary motivation for the original Skinhead affinity with the product, especially since they were invented by a soldier who’d been in Hitler’s army. However, Doc Martens shoes had already been marketed in Britain since 1959-60, and had a distinctly more sober, proletarian, utilitarian, orthopaedic-kind of approach to their sales campaigns, also attracting legions of working people to buy them for their practical virtues, and not to make any sort of countercultural statement.
This, therefore leads me to believe that the punk origins of wearing Docs are more of a sort of burnt-out proletarian tribute to what, at the time of the rise of punk rock in the mid to late 1970s, was a type of music which essentially was making a loud and rather obnoxious social statement about the economic and social decline of working class Britain, the erosion of the social fabric caused by factory and mill closures with the accompanying rise in unemployment and social friction, urban decay, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and so on.
Punk Rock bands such as the Sex Pistols came out with such songs as ‘God Save the Queen, She Ain’t a Human Being’, just to name a few. I think Punk and other subcultures wore Docs not so much as a rebellious form of ‘in your face’-type of attitude, but rather, to make the statement that they too were of proletarian origin, and if they could, they’d much rather have found some sort of viable solution to the social and economic ills which were afflicting Britain at that time, and certainly still are, and would probably love to wear their Doc Martens to walk to work somewhere where they could engage themselves in some sort of gainful employment, artistic endeavour, craft, trade, or something similar.
So I think in the end, young people with freaky hair wearing Doc Martens are just like everybody else: They’d like to earn their living honourably engaging in a vocation, trade, profession, or job which uses their God-given talents to the best of their abilities just as much as someone who wears a 200-300$ pair of Florsheims to the office and crunches numbers all day.
I’m sure Doc Martens never intended that his invention become embroiled in such heavy-duty socio-economic and political controversy when he slipped and fell, injuring his ankle while skiing that day in 1945 in the Bavarian Alps, but one thing I AM sure of though, is that neither did he probably ever intend on having to wear a uniform with a Swastika on it and go fight and kill people to appease the leader of his country, who just about everybody agrees, was stark raving mad.
One good thing DID come out of it, though. Working people the world over now have a comfortable, practical type of shoe that they can wear to keep their feet, which, by the way, are the principle points of contact that ALL human beings have with this earth and its soul, from growing overly weary from their labour and toil.
Now, if only some of those working people would just cut their hair and stick to the basic standard-issue, God-given hair colours of brown, blonde, black, and red, then we’d be all set. And oh, please take those un Godly, pagan, tribalistic rings and pins out of your noses, nipples, eyebrows, ears, tongues, lips, and God knows what other parts of your bodies you’ve had pierced.
Sigh… I guess that’s not going to happen anytime soon, at least not on this side of Heaven. Until then, let’s learn to live with each other, and especially, to salute a good man, Doctor Klaus Martens, who made the most of a bad situation, and brought relief and comfort to millions of people of all ‘walks’ of life.