I bought my first pair of Dr Martens in 1990, the same year Margaret Thatcher was toppled and I entered a new school for sixth form. They were oxblood red, eight-holed, and I wore them with a short black tube skirt, grungy old sweater and thick black tights. The boots had a foreshortening effect on the leg. "I wonder if you girls would all be so worried about your figures if you didn't wear such big heavy boots", remarked a male teacher dedicated to our pastoral care. I promptly bought a black workwear version with 10 eyelets and steel toecaps to forearm against similar advice in future. In a cold and unfamiliar environment, the boots delivered an attitude and confidence I couldn't quite express any other way.
It's 70 years since Klaus Maertens, a German doctor, and Herbert Funck, a plastics engineer, first launched their air-cushioned footwear technology on the commercial market. It's doubtful they ever imagined the influence their prototype would have. In 1947, their ambition was simply to create a pair of comfortable shoes. "The whole of Europe had just spent five years in army boots and everyone knew how uncomfortable they were," Maertens said decades later. "The shoe was the right answer at the right time." But the best, most enduring, most authentic items in fashion were never intended to be fashionable. Like Levi's jeans, or the Carhartt jacket, Maertens' shoes were first developed as workwear. Even the fabled 1460 boot, named after the date of its birth, 1st of April 1960, was never destined for much. The first boot to be produced under the anglicised name of Dr Martens by R Griggs (the Northamptonshire-based company which bought the UK licence to manufacture the shoes with the bouncing soles in 1960), they were initially sold to postmen, builders and medics for £2 a pair. Oil-, acid- and petrol-resistant, the soft-sole quality was especially popular with policemen wanting to creep up on criminals.