It’s important to have a good pair of shoes.
Punk girls needed punk shoes, and not school shoes, plimsolls or anything dainty or flimsy with a heel. Punk girls meant business, and their footwear needed to suit that style. Joe Strummer’s useful sartorial advice about only wearing shoes that were good for fighting or running rang true, and all other counter arguments presented by say, shoe advertisers, parents, Jackie magazine or school-friend peer pressure fell on deaf ears.
However, due to the commitment, the expense and even the fear of getting it wrong (see counter arguments/peer pressure above), there was usually something of a run-up to go through first. Monkey boots were often the bridge; easily available, less expensive but still reasonably cool. With their thick black soles and soft leather uppers, they were a good alternative, but usually these were just a gateway shoe, a teaser, a taster session, and unless you backed down, they were only going to lead to one thing – mainlining your first pair of Dr Martens.
The actual first pair of Dr Martens rolled out of R.Griggs Ltd’s Northamptonshire factory in April 1960. The year previously Mr Griggs had bought the manufacturing license from Dr Klaus Märtens the inventor of the shoe, who after the war, had developed a comfortable work boot using reclaimed tyre rubber for the underside. Their new comfortable soles were apparently a big hit with the hausfraus of old Munich town, and an estimated 80% of sales in the first decade were to women over the age of 40. Griggs anglicised the name, reshaped the sole and added the distinctive yellow stitching around the rim.
By the late 1960s the boots had been adopted by factory workers, postmen, and the police force, as well as the Mods and the Skinheads. Their appeal lay in the fact that the boots were utterly unpretentious, totally working class and tough and clever and stylish. They were work boots, they were honest boots, and they were very good for both running and fighting.
Pete Townshend from the Who was an early adopter, and made certain to kit-out the Pinball Wizard, in a pantomime- sized pair for his appearance in the Who’s “Tommy”.
In the UK in the late 1970s, Dr Martens were not available in girls’ sizes and were rarely stocked in High Street retailers; you had to go to military surplus stores or even camping and outdoor shops and hope they stocked them in boys’ sizes.
A pair of Dr Martens was a commitment, a statement and maybe most importantly of all, really painful to break in. We joked how the town planners should always put a Chemist about 20 yards past the shoe shop, so that you could hobble in for a packet of plasters at the first sign of trouble. Obviously, the people on the planning committee hadn’t ever tried to break a pair in. Breaking in your Docs was a rite of passage, it was something to be endured, like your first hangover. Surviving the breaking in, with the blisters, and the scratches on the tendermost top of your foot that were rubbed raw and deep from the unweilding stitching around the base of the tongue, were all there to be survived and triumphed over. But once the silent battle had been won, you were in possession of this new shiny second skin, which had, through wear, moulded exactly to your own feet. The boots just got even better over the years, and they could and were worn with practically anything, including skirts, dresses, ski-pants, jeans and even shorts.
No longer difficult to access, the boots are High Street staples, are now made in a host of different (similar) styles, colours and even special editions, like these “Unknown Pleasures” moulded leather ones.