Doc Martens have got some pretty audacious designers

Doc Marten's were the iconic footwear of my adolescence, both a subcultural marker and a dare to Toronto's skinheads, whose sport was beating up other kids and taking their Docs. There was a whole hanky-code for the laces, a million different meanings for the leather colors. Today, they're just another made-in-China high-street brand, surrounded by hedge fund scum who're squabbling over who gets to steal its soul, but every now and again I pass a window and see a pair of Docs that stop me and make me stare, agog. Deconstructed Docs, Paisley Docs, and now Velvet Docs, and of course, Docs with this summer's ubiquitous spikes.


  1. Back in our day, docs only came in one color, and one shape, and one style!  And we had to walk to school in the snow, uphill, both ways!!! Says the lady with the doc martin mary janes…  

    Also, spikes were ubiquitous this year?  I really am out of touch with the kids today… 

    It would be kind of cool to get the kids some docs.  She’d be quite stylish in a pair of those. 

          1.  Now you’re getting it… our day was infinitely cooler, yet infinitely harder in terms of terrain over which we had to get to school!  And we never complained, though there was 350 of us living in a shoebox in the middle of the road!!! 

            Try telling the kids that today, and they don’t believe you… 

            Get off my paper bag, Wreckbob8!

    1.  I remember finding out there was no hill, in either direction. Furthermore the radius from home to school was no more than half a mile (and probably a bit less).  There were no goats nor hens to feed.

      The denouement was while visiting my dad’s university and remarking how small the ROTC building seemed.
      “What do you mean, it looks small?”
      “I mean, it doesn’t look big enough to hold so many beds.”
      “What beds?”
      “The beds you said you had to make in ROTC, and be able to bounce a quarter off the sheets…”

    2. I had a similar reaction.  I was thinking, “Has Cory has already reached the “Things were better back in my day,” phase of life?”

  2. i feel the same way about john fluevog. they’re made in china now, and kind of hit-or-miss in construction and fit (though they still look amazing). i hear that their heyday was when they were produced in portugal. i guess i found out about them just a few years too late. any recommendations for alternatives would be appreciated. resoleability a big plus.

      1.  almost everything is made in China now.  But I think the quality of Chinese made goods are on the upswing, so more things are being outsourced to South East Asia and the like… 

        1. Three of Fluevog’s shoe families are made in China, and according to their site, they took some care to ensure good working conditions when they moved production there. The rest are made in various places, but a lot still are made in Portugal. Sorry if it seems like I’m shilling, but Fluevogs are my favorite shoes of all and I’m happy to stick up for them.

          On-topic: I have only ever bought one pair of Docs, for some reason, but I often ogle them in the window of the downtown PDX store, because they do have some wonderful designs. I would totally wear either of the ones in this post.

          1. good to hear about working conditions (though i’m skeptical about how much they can really do…). quality-wise, however they certainly had some issues. i went to their store to pick up a pair of angels; the salesman told me they were defective and, to illustrate this, casually tore off the heel!

            it then took almost a year for that line to come back into stock, and what i got was not as comfortable as what i tried on.
            i later got a pair from another family, and it was much better. i know anecdotes are not evidence, but maybe this pair was portugese.

            i’ll probably go back, but i will still be wary.

  3. At my school, the colours of the laces were attributed to being a Nazi, or a homosexual, to supporting some band.
    I just went out and got rainbow coloured laces to shut them all up. :)

        1. Neither was I – I had one of those Lisa Frank binders. It’s rainbow beams emitted no less than 15.3 giga-homos per second to anyone within the school grounds.

  4. I had a friend in the late 80’s who visited the UK and grabbed what he thought were some pretty cool unobtainium Docs, left them boxed til he got home. 

    Strapped them on, went to the nightclub we frequented to meet intending to spend the next few days out n about, but the Docs he’d so admired, which were white/pearlescent didn’t work out at all, no not at all. My friend, being a bit chubby, looked like nothing less than a 175 lb baby in his pearly white Docs which completely resembled the baby shoes… cute as hell, not too cool though

  5. Bah! By the time I’d heard of Doc Martens (1980-ish) they’d already become suburban bourgeoisie costume accessories, not in my size, and too expensive. Never did get a pair of their boots. I made due with no-name steel-toed work boots from the army surplus store, and then ‘Nam boots.

    Finally, upon joining the middle-class, I’ve gotten a pair of Doc Martens oxfords. Meh. Expensive, poor fitting, and heavy.

    I always wanted to love them, but…

    1.  Combat boots are the best…. I love mine that I still wear in the winter.  A good new pair (I like the altimas, actually) will set you back a ways, though.

      I never liked the Doc boots for the reasons you mention (they tend not to fit me well), but I love the Doc mary janes I have – super-comfy and I can wear them for anything.  I utterly refuse to wear heels of any kind ever.  Yuck I say.

      1. High heels just make women more vulnerable, and prone to injury. Give me a woman in boots, or any “sensible” shoes.

        Sensible is the new sexy.

        1.  Thing is, it seems like they are higher than they used to be – 3 or 4 inch spiked pumps are the norm now, and that tends to be on the low end it seems.  Platforms with higher heels are very in right now.  It really is insane….  Back in the day, the only people I’d see with those sort of spiked stripper heels were strippers and the occasional goth chick in a corset.  I regularly see girls around campus wearing them now. Like every day they wear them.  I’m like “do you know how bad the streets and sidewalks are around here?”  Boggles my mind. It really does.

        2. these are the kind of heels i most love — i have these same docs, but in dark red. juuuust enough to give it a feminine touch, but totally sturdy and not at all high.  i could run a marathon in these, if i had the cardiovascular endurance to run a marathon!  unfortunately i think they’ve discontinued this type of wedge sole/heel.  the current wedge is a good bit higher. :/

  6. I like Blundstones. I order them directly from the factory in Tasmania and they can be in the UK in a couple of days. They make basic hardwearing, steel toe-capped boots in black (sort of similar to the original Doc Marten). Velvet and spikes wouldn’t look right with a pair of combats and a skinhead hair cut, would they?

        1. Blundstone openly announced that various aspects of boot production would move to China, India and Thailand in 2007. The company, however, had outsourced some of its manufacturing long before that (you can find Made in China labels inside Blundstone boots produced as early as 2005). Boot uppers have probably been made in China since at least 2003. The company does however still make gumboots in Tasmania, but you’re not buying them so I guess it’s not really relevant. 

          Some buyers complain that quality has suffered since the move in 2007. 

          Blundstone received government assistance prior to the move in 2007, so there was some anger that taxpayers had propped up the company only to see jobs lost when it finally shutdown the main factory. 

    1. I was thinking that they woud go well with some of the brown leather and brass Bob Basset  masks.

    1. When that scandal broke it took me awhile to figure out what people were so upset about because it looked S&M to me.

    1. You are correct. My wife has the purple velvet ones shown in the photo. She bought them in London in ’93.

  7. If you’re looking for a sturdy, stylish boot, that’s not made in China check out Red Wing, which are still made in a factory in Red Wing, MN.  These boots are not glued, they are stitched and can be repaired many times before you’ll need a new pair.

  8. The lace code is usually referred to as the braces and laces game. Stared with early uk skin head/ska culture with people matching suspenders (braces in the uk) and shoe laces to sports teams. Later they became mostly about politics. Even my microscopic little ny town still had this going on in the late 1990’s early 2000’s. Don’t remember what any of the colors meant, aside from red. Seemed to vary based on where you were and what time period you were talking about. Does seem that red always means neo-nazi/white supremacist, excepting the rare cases when its Manchester United. 

    1. “Does seem that red always means neo-nazi/white supremacist, excepting the rare cases when its Manchester United.”

      You know you set that one up for the response of “There’s a difference?” But I’m not using it, just pointing it out.

      1. No actually. I’m aware there’s some connection. But it was common enough where I was growing up for an anglophile punk kid to wear red for Manchester and end up spending entirely too much time trying to explain why exactly they were wearing red laces. We’re talking 15 year old Americans here, deep understanding of British culture is not their strong suit. 

    2. i’m pretty sure red has usually meant communist or anarchist (as in Red And Anarchist Skinheads) and white meant white power (aka boneheads). it may be different in insular scenes, but i’ve never heard anything different. i’m not skin though, just antifa.

  9. My original “Made in England” oxblood  Dr. Martens boots are 15 years old and still serviceable. My “made in China” Dr. Martens lasted 2 years before the leather started to crack.

    Now they still have a few classic boots made in England, but they doubled the price.

  10. “just another high-street brand” – are you sure? I’m 31, and here in Germany Docs were very much the footwear of choice for the “alternative” subcultures (i.e., Punks, Goths and Skinheads, who all are very much related anyway) well into my mid-20s or so, when I lost touch with ’em young folks.
    Cheaply made in China, though? Yeah, pretty much, and it’s been that way for a long, long time. I got my first pair in ’96, and my heels were *literally* torn open after I first wore them  – and then they started to fall apart after a year or so.

  11. Even in the early to mid-nineties I thought Docs were over-priced silly shoes for suburban kids trying too hard to look unique/different/special…all in the same identical way.

  12. Converse: Made in China.
    Doc Martens: Made in China.

    But the “Made in China” point isn’t the issue as much as these are now products of marketing & no longer products of quality.

    I used to be able to wear a pair of Converse Jack Purcells for a full year before they wore down significantly. Now I have tried out the Nike/Converse versions, and wow… They suck… They last maybe 4 months for me.

    1. Where do your Jack Purcells wear down? I have a couple pairs myself and really like them and they seem to hold up fine. Though I don’t wear them daily, one of them is my go-to casual shoe, and one I’ve had for three years or so. It’s beat up a bit but not anywhere close to wearing out. I’m not sure what exactly you’re referring to as the “Nike/Converse version” though.

      I do agree with your general point that for this type of thing it’s no longer about quality. But there are still a lot of classic shoes that are made with good quality, even though production is now in Asia.

      1. Typically the rear heel insole & sole gets completely detached from the upper. Never had that happen in a shoe or sneaker before. Completely unwearable not because of raggedness but because there is 100% no structural support when that happens.  Have also had eyelets tear when I was tying laces normally; never had that happen before.  Not to mention glue on the outer rim of the sole detaching from basic use.  Have seen others face the same issues.  The quality is simply not the same as U.S. made Converse we all grew up with.

        I’m old enough now to graduate to decent casual shoes & have found that even Chinese made Clarks hold up very, very well.  Some styles of Pumas hold up well as well.  But it’s really hit or miss.  I hate it.  I spent $80 on some Adidas that looked rock solid but fell apart IN A WEEK! Good thing I could return them, but this is ridiculous. I grew up wearing “reject” sneakers I scored from local NYC shops in the 1970s & that stuff lasted a very long time.  Even work-boots back then that resemble John Fluvelogs cost like $20 but were rock solid & would last me at least 2 years in school.

        We truly live in a disposable age.

        1. I should note that I can’t really wear the Jack Purcells stock because they’re uncomfortable. I take out the removable insole and put SuperFeet insoles (which are hard, not soft and squishy) in. I have just one pair of those insoles (which are pretty expensive) and use them in most of my shoes. I also cut out the hard rubber bit at the back that goes against the back of your foot.

          I’m explaining this because it’s probably relevant that I have to do so much modification to make the shoes wearable ;)

          I did not grow up with U.S. made Converses BTW; I’m 25 and never wore Converse until that pair of Purcells I bought three years ago :)

          The other brand I was thinking of was Clarks actually; my other most-used shoes are a pair of beeswax leather desert boots from them that are also 3-4 years old now and those things just get better with age.

          I think the general trend in shoes right now is towards higher quality, but you have to pay close attention (and pay a fair amount of money) and be willing to take the risk of getting burned once in a while (like with your Adidas).

          1. Ehhh… Shoes nowadays are made badly in general. The concept of “breaking in” a pair of shoes of any kind is gone. Everything is comfort & style IMMEDIATELY when you put the shoe on… Durability? FUGHETABOUTIT!  Just but 2 pairs for 1 at your local Foot Locker!

            Crap all around.

  13. Out of curiosity what did the different Toronto lace colours stand for? Here in New Zealand white were for facists, red for communist and blue were for those indefferent to the whole thing.

  14. I am agog.

    And yet, to me, they smell of pubs, and wormwood scrubs, and too many right-wing meetings.

  15. I have to say that I don’t understand the appeal of these (Doc Martens in general, not these ones specifically). I understand the appeal when it meant something – it was a counter-culture symbol of sorts, and in that case aesthetics are not necessarily that important.

    Now that it’s just a boot, am I the only one who thinks it’s a really, really ugly boot? It’s really clunky-looking, and it makes your feet look enormous!

  16. Ugh. Docs remind me of all the skinhead morons I met when I was a kid. Never before have I met so many idiots who devoted so much time to playing a character. I hung out with them for maybe a month before I decided that enough was enough. Their costumes cost too much money, the upkeep on a shaved head is actually pretty high (daily shaving, sunburns and so on) and the music is garbage. You can’t be a skinhead without having a mind as narrow as a matchstick and deep as spit on the sidewalk. Actually, that goes for ANY subcultural archetype. It’s all pinheads and shit talk. Save your money and just be a nerd. There’s no uniform, the people are so much more interesting and you’ll have fun playing games and learning how to do whatever you want.

  17. The deconstructed Docs just remind me of the ‘gladiator sandals’ that most women wear a few times before they get mangled to death, the velvet ones seem like a high-top brothel creeper, but the paisley ones are a thing of beauty.

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