How Dr Martens stomped from punk favourite to mainstream must-have

Talk about up by the bootstraps...

A Copenhagen Fashion Week attendee wears Dr Martens in August 
A Copenhagen Fashion Week attendee wears Dr Martens in August  Credit: Getty

Serving as the unofficial bootmaker of the counterculture can be a lucrative business. Dr Martens, the British footwear brand that gave generations of rockers, punks, goths and festival-goers their stomp, yesterday announced plans to go public in a market flotation that would value the company at £3 billion.

The brand has grown from a Northamptonshire business into an international juggernaut that sells 11m pairs of sandals, boots and shoes a year in more than 60 countries.

Dr Martens as we know it is the result of a post-WWII collaboration between Griggs, a British work boot company founded in 1901, and Dr Klaus Maertens. In 1945, the German physician developed an air-cushioned sole for boots that he planned to wear whilst convalescing with a broken foot. Later, Griggs licensed Maertens’ technology, and together the two created the Dr Martens 1460 - an eight-eyelet design with yellow stitching, a branded heel loop and grooved sole.

The design remains largely unchanged today. The 1460 was the style that The Who’s Pete Townshend and the Sex Pistols wore onstage, and that countless punks dressed up with fishnets and kohl eyeliner. 

Punks wearing Dr Martens hanging out on the Kings Road, London, in 1983 Credit:  

But it’s been a long time since DMs were those boots your punky son customised with Tippex. Today they’re firmly in the mainstream. The boots have become a staple of model-off-duty style, with Gigi and Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Kaia Gerber all stomping about town in their own pairs. On the catwalks, heavy-soled, DM-inspired boots have been sell-out items from collections from Prada to Alexander McQueen. 

And the rest of us have been happy to follow in their fashionable bootsteps. The boots are comfortable, for one thing. They’re rugged and dependable, whether you’re wearing them to toughen up a summery dress or for a muddy walk. 

Dr Marten boots (and ones that look like them) represent a fashion trend perched at that rare nexus: something that appeals to both aesthetic preferences and common sense. We’re all spending a lot more time on socially distanced rambles - these boots work for that.

Which goes some way toward explaining how in 2020, the brand’s 60th anniversary year, Dr Martens managed to buck prevailing retail-sector misery and lockdowns that closed its 130 high-street stores, and grow: the company reported that profits rose by a third in the six months leading up to September 2020, with sales rising 18 per cent to £318m in the same period.

White DMs in Berlin in October Credit: German Select

Not all of the gains are attributable to boots, of course. The brand has diversified since peak punk. It offers terrific chunky-sole sandals, and its vegan styles have earned the loyalty of shoppers who wouldn’t dream of going anywhere near a pair of leather 1460s. 

Last year, a friend of mine took her daughter and nieces on a shopping pilgrimage to the DM store in Camden. She was only there to buy boots as a present for one of her niece’s birthdays, but came away with matching styles of glossy black boots for everyone. Mummy-and-me dressing may be the antithesis of punk, but my, if it won’t make the IPO fly...