June 20, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

The History Of Dr Martens In Youth Culture

3 min read

The Dr Martens boot is one of the most famous and iconic shoes in the world, having been born in Germany by creator Klaus Martens. The classic boot has been the footwear of choice for rebellious youth culture and has never lost its cool aura and divisive style. It’s been a constant symbol for fighting back against ‘the man’. Classic Dr Martens Boots

But who were the rebellious youths that took this distinctive shoe into their lives and embraced its values? Read on and you shall learn of the rebels that have shaped popular culture for decades and continue to stand as retro influences even on youth culture today.


The mods were a British youth phenomenon that was popular in the early 60’s with young men that wore sharp clothes such as polo shirts, suits and shirts that were above their working class origins – and the Dr Marten was also a boot of choice for this subculture. Mods were initially fans of modern jazz music but eventually became fans of bands like The Who and then ska and reggae music from Jamaica. They often rode around on modified scooters and clashed against another subculture, the rockers, who wore leather jackets and preferred American rock and roll. A great film that tells a story of a young mod inspired by a Who album is 1979’s Quadrophenia.


The hippies were a youth culture that grew in popularity in both America and Britain and their movement stood for worldwide peace and tolerance in the mid 60s. Their style was championed by artists such as The Beatles, Cream and Jimi Hendrix and their culture involved recreational drug use and green earth philosophies. Hippies tended to wear relaxed and casual clothing as a rebellious statement against the formal attitude and dress code of their parents. Boots like Dr Martens still found a place amongst the hippies though, due to their rebellious style.


Punks In Dr MartensThe punk movement of the mid to late 70’s across both the Atlantic and in Britain was the next big youth culture phenomenon to take Dr Martens under their wing. Rebelling against the hippies love and tolerance vibes and angry at the establishment that promised no future for young people, punks listened to hard and fast music like The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Ramones. Punks wore battered and distressed clothing that made them appear tough and scary, so the military style Dr Martens became a natural choice of aggressive footwear. The various different colours the boots came in also suited the punk ideal of subverting the usual colour choices of hair and clothing.


First appearing as a kind of mod and then being revived in the late 70s due to the emergence of punk was the skinhead. The skinheads, as their name implies, had shaved heads and wore clothes similar to that of the mods in the 60s. Skinheads had a multicultural influence on their ranks with reggae, ska, R&B and also punk as their music of choice. The Dr Marten was a very popular boot of choice with skinheads, and this was demonstrated very well in controversial film This Is England where main character Shaun pines over a pair of the iconic boots.


Grunge first came to be in the late 80’s but became hugely popular in 90’s with the breakout of Grunge Band NirvanaNirvana. Grunge’s style was that of a slacker lifestyle, with teens wearing battered, second-hand and hardy clothes that clashed with the glamour of popular 80’s fashion. Guys and girls both wore clothing that was more practical than stylish to achieve a carefree look and once again the Dr Marten became a crucial part of another fashion ensemble. Although worn with torn jeans, the boots also made a curious partner for kilts and tatty dresses.

The Vintage style Dr Marten boot has endured decades of relevance as being a cool alternative choice of footwear for youth cultures. Even today it still upholds those values and you could still grab your own pair and be retro cool like all the mods, hippies, punks, skinheads and grunge kids that wore them before!

Featured images:

Elaine Moore is an amateur fashion writer who owns various styles of Dr Martens.


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