The History of the Doc: A Shoe with Soul

After years of ill-fitting, cheap shoes and intermittently sodden socks, I decided something needed to change. I needed something durable and practical, but something that I would still enjoy wearing. For my 20th birthday, when asked what I truly, really wanted, I could think of nothing else but a pair of Dr. Martens. And I haven’t looked back since.

The story of the Doc starts in 1901 with the Griggs family of Wollaston, Northamptonshire. The Griggs family made a name for themselves within the English shoe industry, expertly crafting durable and sturdy work boots. The company grew and grew; with each generation of Griggs perfecting the art of shoe-making.

In post-war Munich, a young soldier, Dr. Klaus Märtens came up with the ingenious idea of an air-cushioned sole to support his aching, broken foot. With the help of his old university friend and mechanical engineer, Dr. Herbert Funk, he made a prototype. This marked the beginning of a beautiful partnership. Production was soon booming; from a humble beginning of salvaging disused military supplies in order to make the shoes, to a thriving and prosperous business catering particularly to German housewives. In 1959, the pair decided it was time to advertise their shoes to an international market.

By chance, Bill Griggs came across the advertisement for Märtens and Funks’ innovative air-cushioned shoes. Immediately, R. Griggs Group Ltd snapped up the patent rights to manufacture the shoes back in England. No doubt, due to the tense relations between Germany and England, Griggs anglicised the name and made other key alterations such as an altered heel, a two-tone grooved sole edge, a simplistic and bulbous upper, and the distinctive, unmistakable bumble-bee yellow stitch.

“But Dr. Martens have always subverted the norm”

In the swinging ’60s, the practical, sturdy work-boot stood starkly against the culturally shifting backdrop – the rise of radicalism and vibrant colour of the decade. But Dr. Martens have always subverted the norm. At first, Dr. Martens appealed to the working class, attracting factory workers, postmen and police officers alike. The game changer was when the radically political and fashionable subculture of ‘skin-heads’ adopted and championed the style of the British working class. Pete Townsend of The Who propelled Dr. Martens to iconic status by wearing them at gigs as a token of his rebellious nature and his working class pride.

In the decades that followed, Dr. Martens has seen the rise and fall of various sub-cultures: glam, punk, goth and emo. But one thing has stayed the same – Dr. Martens has become synonymous with anti-establishment views, against-the-grain youth culture and a fierce exhibition of self-expression.

Docs have shifted from a shoe made purely for practicality and comfort, to being designed to be looked at and coveted by others, with customisation and eye-catching prints being incredibly popular in the 2000s. Nowadays, there are over 250 different styles of shoe – something to suit everyone. Docs are such a versatile piece and can be incorporated into so many looks, from preppy to punk. They are a worthwhile investment and, just like the brand, will stand the test of time. The supple blue midnight leather of my own Dr. Martens Chelsea boots have already started to mould to the shape of my feet. If it is possible to feel at home in a shoe, that is undoubtedly what I feel.

P.s. Thank you Bex and Freddie for my beautiful birthday shoes 🙂

Elle Magill

Image Credit: Paul Townsend via Flickr – License.

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One Comment
  • Annie McGill
    5 February 2017 at 21:47
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    completely agree 🙂 after you break in your docs, it’s the comfiest show ever <3 brilliant article

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