Fashion Week has officially completed its rollout, and the verdict from Paris has returned: heels are back and dominating the season. That’s all well and good, but for those of us in rainy New England running late for our 9 a.m. class, strappy stilettos aren’t exactly optimal. Innovation seems best left to the Gaultiers of the world because the classic black boot has reared its head for yet another year.
Of course, variations abound. I’ve seen Chelsea boots, for fans of the 9th grade English teacher look, shiny Prada footwear, a pretty quick marker of arrival to Boston via first class international plane ticket, and 2020’s newest addition, tractor-trek sole boots. The latter has an admirable utilitarianism, but in my opinion, whatever steroids the platform sole took to be a tractor boot pushes its outfit a little too close to a U.S. army cosplay.
It’s no wonder then that most people have turned back to the perfect balance of rugged utilitarianism and universal class present in only one shoe: Dr. Martens, commonly known as Doc Martens.
From their very conception, Doc Martens were made for durability. If they’re in your closet, they’re easily the most long-lasting pair of shoes you own, not to mention your most trusted for bad weather. There’s something to be said for their classic design too. Though you can find almost any variation to suit your style, the trademark yellow stitching and strong yet understated platform make for a shoe that will go with any outfit while also providing character to it.
The biggest proof of Doc Martens hegemony is the diversity of groups who have claimed it for their own. Before Brandy Melville poster children and Brooklyn art students, the iconic shoe was made for Germany’s housewives in the early ’50s. Since then, it has cycled from postmen to skinheads to punks to ’90s grunge artists. Now, the boots grace Gigi Hadid’s feet and Vogue features of Emma Chamberlain, proving that at least one subculture will always lay claim to its powerful design.
Its popularity hasn’t always evaded controversy, however. It doesn’t take a teenage boy fresh off a first reading of the Manifesto mansplaining late-stage capitalism to you to realize that a brand’s success in general means more profits and more international outsourcing. In the case of Doc Martens, a 2003 bankruptcy scare led the brand to outsource production to Asia the next year, prompting criticism that the quality had gone down.
Despite these comments, the brand holds that overseas factories use the same manufacturing methods as the ones in England. Personally, because many of these complaints in more recent years come from online shoppers populating Reddit, it is hard for me to give them weight. The brand doesn’t seem to have suffered much from this either. I mean, the chances of getting a classic pair of Docs before they sell out rapidly on ASOS is still next to nothing.
To me, the lasting popularity of Doc Martens represents something larger about the way fashion is moving. No matter what outfit they’re paired with, the shoes hold a sense of power and rebellion. They’re universal and unisex, and you know the person wearing them has something important to do or somewhere important to go.
Where before the elitist world of fashion would have turned up their noses at these masculine, working-class traits, the boots have started dominating high fashion. Out in the real world, people of all genders, races and groups have embraced the iconic shoe and its energy. In my view, out of all the trends and clothes being thrown at us today, Docs are among the few classic enough to be claimed by everyone and gate-kept by none.
All of this is evidence that fashion today is moving towards no longer being separated into spheres. More and more, clothing and accessories, and the cultural sentiments they represent, are not particular to one group of people. Fashion can be utilized by anyone for any purpose, and the feeling of wearing a certain piece belongs to anyone who uses it in their outfit.
It may be true that the 1960’s English postman never imagined his shoes on this year’s most unlikely duo, Kourtney Kardashian and Addison Rae. But it just goes to show the universality of what we wear and how it makes us feel. Let’s hope this shift to clothing without casting calls, to freedom to claim something regardless of our identity, extends to opportunities, rights and everything else that matters.