Dr. Martens has become synonymous with rebellion and timeless style. With those wearing DM’s having an unapologetic love for self-expression. From its humble beginnings to becoming one of the most iconic footwear brands in the world.
In this guide to the history of Dr. Martens, we explore the brand's founder, Dr. Klaus Maertens, and the crucial event that resulted in the development of their air-cushioned sole. We'll delve into DM's early years and how they came to represent counterculture and subcultural movements as we set off on this historical journey.
Let’s explore the history of Dr. Martens…
The beginning of Dr. Martens
In 1945’s post-WW2 world, Dr. Klaus Maertens created the first pair of air-cushioned soles that would change the face and aesthetic of British punk attire forever. In a bid to help the healing of his broken foot, Dr. Klaus Maertens, created the sole which later became the iconic Airwair we all know and love today.
Based in Munich, Germany, the brand’s footwear had an initial target audience of workers who required sturdy and comfortable footwear. This soon propelled into something much bigger, taking over the world of street fashion and the British working class.
Dr. Klaus Maertens
So, who is this Doctor, and how did he create one of the most iconic cultural shifts in footwear we’re likely to see? Dr. Klaus Maertens was born on December 08, 1915, and died on February 03, 1988. He was a Doctor in the German army.
At the age of 25, he broke his foot, spurring the arrival of Dr. Martens boots. However, he didn’t create the OG boot alone. Once he’d developed the prototype, he took it to his friend, Dr. Herbert Funk, where the pair went on to produce Docs together.
The birth of “Airwair”
In the late 1950s, 1959 to be precise, the R. Griggs Group bought the rights to Dr. Martens footwear and launched Docs in the UK. A pivotal moment in both history and fashion. This was the birth of “Airwair”. The Griggs brand found its slogan “With Bouncing Soles”. Their bouncing soles and sturdy frame were a recipe for the best hard-wearing boots of the century.
1960s and 1970s
A rise in popularity of DM’s saw extreme lengths in the 1960s and 70s. Their boots excelled their way into the wardrobes of punk rockers to skinheads. They became an enduring fashion statement for those seeking rebellion and individuality.
During the 60s most prominent moment in Dr. Martens history was when The Who’s Pete Townshend proudly wore his Docs on stage in 1967. This was both a move for comfort while performing and a way of standing with the working class.
The 70s especially saw a ska-loving culture take serious ownership of their style, and taking centre stage in their silhouettes were a pair of yellow stitched Docs.
DM’s in the 1980s
A pivotal moment for Dr. Martens footwear in the 1980s was music and subculture. Punk music had the nation in a choke-hold, with the likes of The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and The Cure stomping in classic DM’s, inspiring fans of their music and style alike to do the same.
DM boots became an integral part of ‘skinhead fashion’ during the 1980s. The association with skinhead culture continues to influence the perception of Dr. Martens today.
Later in the 1980s, grunge movement was well underway and grabbed a pair of DM’s for the journey. With Kurt Cobain proudly wearing Docs, it confirmed that underground grunge apparel was ready for the brand’s boots and wouldn’t be letting them go anytime soon.
DM global expansion in the 1980s
Dr. Martens experienced significant international growth during the 1980s. The brand expanded its reach beyond the UK and gained popularity in the USA and Europe, soon leading to worldwide popularity.
This is when Dr. Martens truly became a symbol of rebellion and alternative fashion.
Dr. Martens in the 1990s
Throughout the 90s, DM boots maintained their position as a symbol of alternative individuality. Their association with music, subcultures, and the rebellious style continued to shape its image and influence pop culture.
Dr. Martens boots continued to represent the punk, goth, and ska subcultures, with these alternative scenes starting to rely heavily on their particular style. However, as the 90s progressed and more ‘mainstream’ celebrities wore the boots, the core consumer was about to change.
Although there were many key points to DM success in the 90s, a new trend emerged thus inspiring feminine women to wear Docs with their floral dresses. This juxtaposition was referred to as “Doc and flowers”, where Brits blurred the lines between feminine style and grunge aesthetics.
Celebrities and Dr. Martens in the 1990s
Celebrities like Kate Moss, Drew Barrymore, and Winona Ryder were often spotted wearing the iconic boots in the 1990s. This was a key factor in helping to fuel their popularity among trend-conscious individuals.
At this time, more than punks and emos were wearing Docs. They’d become footwear for all, each person being able to achieve their own personal style. Aided by famous individuals and their attempts for ultimate individuality in the fashion scene.
Fast forward to DM’s in the 2010s
Dr. Martens boots' fundamental design features remained constant, although the company gradually changed in the 2010s. Customers began to have more opportunities to express their individual styles thanks to DM’s introduction of new materials, colours, and patterns.
DM prides itself on its deep-rooted culture with a solid approach to always doing the right thing. A self-proclaimed “people-first” company.
Throughout the 2010s, Dr. Martens experienced a notable resurgence and achieved some major milestones:
Firstly, they transitioned from traditional association with counterculture and punk fashion to gaining widespread popularity among a broader audience.
Secondly, Dr. Martens broadened their product offerings to encompass a wider array of styles, including sandals, and dress shoes. This allowed the brand to cater to diverse fashion preferences and broaden its customer base.
Thirdly, DM wholeheartedly embraced online platforms to reach a wider customer base. The brand enhanced its online presence, launched an official website, and actively engaged with customers.
Finally, the brand demonstrated a commitment to sustainability by implementing eco-friendly initiatives. These efforts involved waste reduction and using vegan materials.
Where are Dr. Martens made?
Once the brand was bought by the R. Griggs Group in 1960, Docs were initially produced in Northampton, England. However, once DM’s took the globe by storm, they soon expanded their manufacturing locations into a global affair. They extended their manufacturing facilities to China, Thailand, and Vietnam, in addition to their UK locations.
Find your next pair of Dr. Martens with TOWER
Interested in more? See How to Break in Dr. Martens and What to Wear With Dr. Martens.
At TOWER, we're all about embracing individuality and expressing yourself through fashion. We’re a family-run business from London, born and bred. We have decades of footwear expertise, a proud prominent TOWER culture, and setting trends since 1980.
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