In true military fashion

Béibhinn Thorsch

The Doc Martens website reads “Dr. Martens’ appeal to people who have their own individual style but share a united spirit – authentic characters who stand for something. People who possess a proud sense of self-expression. People who are “different.”

The rise of the brand in the way it has come has been a surprise to all. The boot was originally invented by Nazi soldier Klaus Märtens who injured his ankle and used air-padded soles with a softer leather than the standard army issued boots.

Unused rubber from Luftwaffe airfields was used in the original production of the boots, which were a huge hit with housewives due to the comfortable soles. In the first decade, a vast majority of sales were to women over 40.

After seeing an ad in a newspaper for the German boots, in 1959 a British shoe manufacturer bought patent rights to the boots and made some improvements. The name was reworked, the heel was slightly reshaped, and the trademark yellow stitching was born – alongside the bouncing “Airwair” soles.

The iconic 1460 style was released in April 1960. The boot had eight eyelets and a smooth oxblood colour leather design. The boots were first popularised in England by workers such as postmen, police officers, and factory workers – but by the late 60s, the skinhead subculture began to adopt the boot.

Coming into the 70s the boots were popular among a number of youth subcultures which were separated mostly by the styles of music they listened to. The street-wear trend for girls was to buy small men’s sizes of the boots, which they would then customise (often with floral patterns).

The Docs website reads “With Britain plagued by anti-government riots and social resentment, youth culture rose up from the streets with yet more highly visual and individual tribes…”

The boots’ association with skinheads – who differ from the modern Nazi association with skinheads, but who were motivated by social alienation and alternative values – meant an association with violence.

As the 1990s grew a new grunge fashion era the boots grew once more in popularity. This was up until 2003 when the Doc Martens’ company sales declined to the point of near-bankruptcy. All but one British manufacturer of the boot was shut down, and most production was moved to China and Thailand.

In 2004, to overcome their struggles the brand launched an attempt into a wider market of young people. The boots were intended to be more comfortable, easier to break in and boasted some new design elements. The Vintage line still exists, which is said by the company as boots made to the original specifications of the boot. In 2010, the company offered 250 different models of footwear and then launched a line of clothing and accessories in 2011. By 2016 the brand was looking to reclaim their fame and began a number of lawsuits based primarily on trademark law.

During the rise of the Doc Marten boots in England, there was a separate military-inspired fashion revolution in the rest of the Western world. As soldiers came home from the field, military-wear was integrated into civilian life. Not only were camouflage patterns and colours such as olive green or sand-dune beige coming into trend, but actual clothing styles were integrated.

The first and most surprising invention was the white t-shirt – which became an official part of the U.S Naval uniform in 1913. Designed to repel the bright sun and heat in tropical climates and to avoid dirtying their uniforms during chores. The white t-shirt was seen on stars such as Marlon Brando, heightening the popularity.

Bomber jackets and flight jackets were originally standardized in 1927, and are now fully established as a fashion staple. The original jackets were produced in a dark olive colour, though most vintage originals found today are in a shade of brown. The jacket was for pilots flying in open cockpits, and so designed to be windproof. There were many variations of the jacket, through seasons and also through constant improvements.

In the 1930s, new airplanes caused many issues due to the advancement in altitude. U.S Air Force pilots reported that the sunglare gave them serious side effects such as headaches and altitude sickness. The Aviators were created, soon to be adopted by Ray-Ban, and were available for public consumption in 1937. They have never truly fallen out of the fashion scene since.

Field jackets are also a style which has recently been adopted especially suited for constantly changing weather with relentless rain, strong winds and sweltering humidity. The style has been adopted by Nike, Supreme, Adidas, and even higher-end brands like Marc Jacobs.

The parka has become a sort of star when it comes to military-inspired, thanks to its open ended design that suits all weathers and styles. The parka has a fishtail style had many flaps, large pockets, and was adaptable for windy weather. Adopted by 1950s mods as a winter coat and to protect their outfits while riding scooters, the fishtail parka fell into pop culture in the 60s and became fashionable in the U.S too.

Some of the oldest military garments, khakis date back to 1847 when the white uniform of british army soldiers made them too easy a target for snipers. The men dyed their uniforms using tea or mud. Khaki is derived from the Hindi word “khak”, meaning “dust-coloured”. The US Army later adopted this, and years later when American veterans returned to college they brought their khakis along – as they were durable and easy to wash and dry. In the 1950s the pants became associated with the preppy “Ivy League” look, and subsequently with dull office attire.

Military influence on fashion has been mostly influenced by the reintegration of soldiers into their homelife. The story of Doc Martens, however, which coincides with this time period and which has similar origins, is an entirely different tale to that of pieces such as parkas, aviators, or khaki pants.

Béibhinn Thorsch

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