Doc Martens are one of those quintessentially British things that, like the royal family and lorries queuing on the M20, turn out actually to be Germany’s doing. The ancestor of what became the ‘Air Wair’ sole was designed in 1945 by a German army doctor with a sore foot. Amid the postwar hurly-burly, he ‘salvaged’ a cobbler’s last from a shop in Munich and knocked himself up an air-cushioned shoe to relieve his discomfort. Pleased with the success of his invention, he and a pal went into business producing bouncing soles.
The delicate question of what Dr Maerten did in the war, and whether he salvaged his shoe-making kit in the same way Hermann Goering ‘salvaged’ Rembrandts, is not easily resolved by a Google search, but no doubt had he been a raving Nazi we’d have heard about it by now. Just to be on the safe side, though, his name was Anglicised when in 1959 the Northamptonshire bootmakers Griggs bought a licence to produce those bouncing soles in the UK. They slapped a stout leather upper and some fetching yellow stitching on the product, and on April Fool’s Day 1960 the bovver boot was born.
It’s very pleasing to read that half a century later, the company has reported pre-tax profits of more than £100 million and is eyeing an IPO no less greedily than any Silicon Roundabout unicorn. Good on them. The DM is for everyone. At various times it has been the signature footwear of popstars, skinheads, hippy girls in floral skirts, and my one-time colleague the City editor of the Daily Telegraph.
I have worn almost nothing on my feet but Doc Martens since I was 16, which is now a bit more than 30 years ago — and every few years my feet come back into fashion. DMs are not cheap: a good stout pair of standard eight-hole boots will set you back north of £100. But as they boast on the instep, the soles are highly unlikely to dissolve if you step in a puddle of acid (or oil, fat, petrol or alkali). They will last you a good two or three years at least, which cannot be said of your fancy trainers even if you avoid puddles of acid. And there’s no feeling quite like the triennial busting out of the new boots: you really do bounce when you walk, and you feel about half an inch taller before the soles start to wear down.
What’s more, they are suitable for all occasions. If you keep them well-nourished with something called ‘dubbin’, they will keep your feet dry on even the muddiest of country yomps. I have worn my DMs to the Arctic Circle and the bottom of the Irish Sea, and I can attest from experience that they do not mark tennis or squash courts. A friend once posted me some flip-flops after she saw a photograph of me wearing DMs with swimming trunks on a beach in Sri Lanka. I was touched, but she needn’t have. They were very comfy.
They also go perfectly well with formal wear. I was never chucked out of the Reform Club for wearing DMs; though my now-wife was chucked out for wearing jeans. When I was a judge of the Booker Prize, I was presented to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall in black tie and DMs. The yellow stitching gives them, I fancy, a slightly dandyish effect.
So let me venture, on this authority, my first and only stock-market tip. If they do go public, fill your boots.
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