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It’s hard to remember a time when people weren’t wearing Dr. Martens. The classic leather boots and chunky-soled oxfords have been a footwear staple for years, as a favorite of both the street-style set and students, office workers and travelers alike.
Though “Docs” are often associated with the rise of punk rock and the counterculture movement, the original Dr. Martens boots were originally more modest, as everyday work-wear boots for postal service workers and factory workers in the UK. It wasn’t until Pete Townshend of The Who donned a pair of the 1460 boots that they became associated with music and art.
“Music been the heartbeat of the brand since day one,” newly-helmed Global Creative Director Darren McKoy told Rolling Stone. He’d cut his teeth on the Dr. Martens design and product teams for seven years before stepping into the new position, and is working honor the original Docs legacy, while envisioning a new future for the iconic kicks. “I think it’s kind of an unwritten rule that if you go to festivals, you’re most likely sporting Docs. Because there’s this element of the ‘worker boot’ origins to the brand: it protects you, it keeps secure when you’re out in a muddy field again, you’ve got this element of protection. There’s also an element of empowerment, too, being a part of a community of culture.”
By the Seventies and Eighties, “Doc Martens” had become synonymous with music, rebellion, and self-expression. The brand’s combat-style boots, leather loafers and stitched oxfords were quickly adopted by the psychobilly, hard-core and alt-rock music scenes, and it seemed like every grunge and ska artist in the Nineties wore Docs too. By the time the 2000s hit, Dr. Martens had taken over street-style blogs and festivals as a subversive take on youth culture and individuality. A pair of Docs was as versatile as a good guitar lick or fat beat. Just look at the list of artists who wore Docs, which runs the gamut from Eddie Vedder and Morrissey, to Rancid and Rihanna.
But updating something that feels so timeless is, admittedly, a creative challenge. “It’s one of the hardest things in the world to do,” says McKoy. “I think we’re trying to pay creative respects to the origins of the brand, but there’s also this aspect of the DIY narrative. We make shoes and sandals that are democratic, which means that anyone can wear, or customize, the product as they see fit. Sixty plus years of heritage and multiple different styles give us a really clear, iconic DNA that allow us to continue to evolve in new directions, but we don’t talk about it in terms of creating the latest fashion trend. The brand itself has been adopted by the culture.”
These days Dr. Martens boots are seen on everyone from Machine Gun Kelly to Lizzo and Lil Nas X, while the brand has introduced new collaborations with The Sex Pistols and Black Sabbath, which McKoy says come about through a kind of mutual respect. “What we look for in partnerships is really about mutual thinking. We work and partner with people that have been within the culture, or at the very least, a counterculture mindset, that we feel have a natural authenticity. Marc Jacobs or Raf [Simmons], or be it Yohji [Yamamoto], or Supreme, they’re all part of some kind of movement.”
Part of McKoy’s goal is seeing how the boots can expand into more diverse subcultures, as well. “There’s so much great music and so many new diverse opportunities where Docs has relevance. It’s quite interesting to see a lot of interesting rappers, people like Frank Ocean and Tyler the Creator, the music of my generation, style them. One minute, he’s wearing loafers, the next he’s wearing 1461s. His music is pushing a kind of alternative narrative as well. It’s not the quintessential norm, and it has a message. So for me, that’s where I see us in the future, further expanding the wings. We have the historics of rock, the alternative, the grunge, the Punk, but there’s this new space that’s opening up.”
Part of this approach is getting the Dr. Martens teams on the ground again and talking to locals in clubs and performance scenes around the world. And we’re not just talking what’s traditionally considered epicenters of culture, like New York City. “I encourage the teams to dive into the archive, look back at the details and the brand’s origin stories. That’s one part of it. The second part of it is getting out and actually talking to creative communities. You can go and look at things online, and that’s great because you get here and now moments of culture, but you’re not getting the real juice, right? So spending time in a bar and watching someone walk past, asking where they got their shoes, going to the clubs — we’re asking them to go against what they know from the digital age.”
So what direction are Dr. Martens heading in next? For McKoy, one place of inspiration they’re starting to delve into is Korea. “There’s lots of interesting stuff happening in Korea right now. It’s a kind of epicenter of creativity. So that really transmits through the designs, influenced by what I’ll call the ‘K-pop spirit’. Groups like BTS, Blackpink — in our team in Korea, we have some connections to them.”
But the low-key leather boot from London is still one of the most iconic pieces of footwear, even as the brand has since expanded its offerings to include collaborations with musicians and design houses, casual canvas styles, sandals and dress shoes, too.
Whether you’re searching for a gift for a music fan and fashionphile, or looking to pick up a pair of kickass shoes for yourself, we’ve rounded up our four favorite pairs of Dr. Martens to buy right now. These time-honored boots and oxfords have been updated with modern details and features, to work as a comfortable and durable pair of shoes, whether you’re rocking out on stage, bar hopping across the city or running to make your blind date. Here’s what to add to your closet right now.
1. 1460 Greasy Leather Lace-Up Boots
The 1460 leather boot is one of the most iconic silhouettes in Dr. Martens arsenal, with black leather construction, all-black laces and the classic pull-tab built on top of Dr. Martens’ signature air cushion sole. This “greasy leather” version re-imagines the original boot with a matte black leather that’s treated to give off a “waxy” look and feel. The easy-wearing boot breaks in beautifully, with the leather getting softer and achieving that coveted distressed effect the more you wear it.
2. 2976 Smooth Leather Chelsea Boots
The 2976 leather chelsea boots are a sleek and streamlined version of the 1406 boots above. Originally released in the early Seventies, the Chelsea boot takes its cues from dapper London style and rebellious rock and roll alike. This pair slides on easily with an elastic ankle gusset and works great paired with everything from skinny jeans to trousers.
3. 1461 Smooth Leather Oxford Shoes
We like the styling of these 1461 leather oxfords, which are at once preppy and punk rock. The smooth leather is handsome and sophisticated, while the contrast-color stitching adds a contemporary twist.
This was the second shoe ever introduced by Dr. Martens and the same attention to craftsmanship and small details is showcased here, proving that good design never goes out of style.
4. 1460 Slip-Resistant Leather Lace-Up Boots
The 1460 is the iconic Dr. Martens silhouette and the shoe that started it all. The 1460 boots have been seen on everyone from rock stars to rappers, and the distinctive lace-up eyelets, leather construction and chunky sole remain an instantly recognizable status symbol.
The classic boots have been re-engineered this season with extra cushioning and a grippy, slip-resistant GripTrax™ tread, making this a great pair of kicks to take outdoors. The rugged, tough-as-nails design holds up to all-conditions, while the industrial-grade leather is spill and weather-resistant (just wipe clean with a soft cloth if it gets dirty).
Dr. Martens says the boot has been re-fitted for comfort, with a lighter weight, increased cushioning (thanks to built-in memory foam padding) and a moisture-wicking lining to keep your feet warm and dry.
It’s hard to make a good thing better, but this updated take on the 1460 leather boots makes a case for adding a pair of Docs to your everyday wardrobe again.
See more rocker-inspired boots, oxfords, dress shoes and more at DrMartens.com.