I have a few thoughts about shoes and would like to start out with one I consider to be a true icon in footwear. The original Dr Martens black patent leather work shoes. Now, I’ll confess to having always thought of these as being British, so found myself quite surprised upon reading the entry in Wikipedia about Dr Martens to discover that the true originator was a German, Dr Klaus Märtens! He started work on the original design during WW2, using soft leather and tyres to make his first design with air-padded soles. Their initial sales success was to 40+ housewives, mainly due to the comfort. Give how the boot versions where much later such a hit among British skinheads, we can truly say these shoes capture the imagination of a wide range of people!
The shoes first came to Britain in 1960, the brand was renamed Dr Martens, the soles trademarked as Air-Wear, the yellow stitching was added and a legend was born. Hard to imagine this shoe has been in production for over 50 years now. Although the shoes have been popular among workers such as postmen, policemen and factory workers, have been the shoe-du-jour among youth cultures as diverse as skinheads, mods and grunge rockers, the general sales have varied over time.
In 2003 the factory was so hard up that production was moved to China and Thailand. In fact, my own shoes, bought 3 years ago, are produced in Thailand, a fact that caused me much consternation when I discovered it. My partners older (and perfectly kept pair) are original UK production. I’ve been quite jealous of this fact! All is not lost however, as in 2004 they restarted the original factory in order to produce limited numbers of shoes as part of the new “Vintage” line. These cost more than the foreign produced variants, but for someone keen on things being Made in Britain, there is a kick to be had knowing they only produce 50 pairs a day. I can see myself buying a pair of the “Vintage” line.
As far as I can tell, the UK made shoes have better leather, so the around 50% hike in price is probably worthwhile in the long run. And we do know that paying more for quality works on all levels, right?
I’ll admit, I came late to the Dr Martens, it’s a little embarrassing to buy your first pair when you’re past 40 (my partner has been wearing them on and off since her teens). Then again, if we can’t dare to venture a little outside our comfort zone, how can we possibly expect to improve ourself?
So, for the dad that wants to upgrade from sports shoes, I can strongly recommend a pair of classic Docs, for work, leisure and even party (but make sure you keep them well polished!)
Here’s a crummy shot of our Doc’s. Mine are nicely scuffed and dusty after 3 days of traipsing round London.
And here are my girlfriends vintage pair in the urban street-environment of Bergen, Norway. Not how well they cope with the rough surface and discarded cigarette butts!