Constellation Lecture: Cultural Approaches to the Dr. Marten Boot – Cath Davies

The “meaning of an object refers to investigating the artifact in relation to culture, looking at it from a cultural aspect. This lecture was focussed on the cultural meaning of the Dr.Marten Boot.

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Every object has cultural markers, the objects status within different periods of time and it is interesting to consider how objects relate to identity statements. Kopytoff’s concept of this is that “there is a cultural biography of things – the objects have culturally specific meanings and therefore an identity”.

The meaning of the Dr. Marten Boot has changed greatly over time. Dr. Marten boots are now very fashionable and fit in with current trends and styles. If we retrace trends we can find out the development of the item. Dr. Martens were initially designed as work wear for postal workers and police officers. When they first came out elderly women were wearing them for comfort. It is interesting that Docs were originally made for workers but are now a fashion item. So how did the boots come to be fashionable?

Unintentionally to Doc Marten, subcultures adopted and reclaimed the boots. The reclaiming of the boots meant new connotations were ready to be made. How people wear the Dr.marten boots changes their meaning. Also, the boots in relation to what else the person is wearing can change their meaning. Youth street style from the 1960s until how have adopted the boot. In the 60s, the Skinheads and Mods claimed Docs because they were not mainstream fashion. In the 70s it was the punk revival that claimed the boots. In the 80s the Goths and Psychobillies and in the 90s it was Grunge and Britpop wearing Docs. The Dr. martens did not change at all, but how they were worn did!


There are many examples of  the refashioning and remodelling of Docs  and many instants where docs were being used as a symbol of masculinity. The punks refashioning Docs happened beyond the company. Dr. Martens were being associated with looks and images that the company never intended. The Skinheads wore the brown leather or ox blood boots and antiqued them with black polish. They were always over sized and the laces were passed through the heel tog and tied around the leg. Docs were aggressive and connoted weaponry when worn by the skins.


Youth tribes have traditionally mutated and customised the eight eye boot to paint their own personality. The boot then claimed a personality itself. We interact with material objects to create meaning and the way people modified their docs was telling us how that person wanted to be seen, Identity is malleable. We can construct our own identity through the customisation of objects such as Docs.

I contrast to the company’s feeling in the 60s, Dr Martens now want people to know that the docs are a blank canvas and use this factor as a selling point. People are now visiting styles from the past. Borrowing parts of the old styles to create new ones. They go through a selection process to create a fusion of the past. People have customised Dr.Marthens of their own accord in the past but now the company promotes customizing your product. We are making the product, refashioning it, which gives us a sense of authenticity and originality.

In the 70s, headmasters of schools thought that if you wore Dr.Martens to school, you were going to cause trouble. They were in fact banned in many schools and considered a rebellious anti-fashion statement. People used to feel safe wearing Docs, they were also used as weaponry and referred to as “a boxing glove for the foot”.

Today, Docs are becoming more feminine, they are seen with ribbons instead of laces. “Meaning” can be carried by advertising as well as the Design Process. absorbing the Ideas and values associated with the design in the culturally constituted world. Art history is always important when creating something new. For people to find new ways of customizing Docs, they would have to look to the past. Doc Martens still stand for alternative, individuality and originality. The company is continually channeling the past of the Docs and have seized the idea of street cultures from the past. We are now sold the idea of personalizing the boots. We are also sold the idea that you buy a bit of the story of them when you buy a pair. Stories and objects have a relationship and visual culture is the place for that relationship.


What do objects say to us? Do objects now have social lives? How do objects speak about gender, race, class,sexual identity, and social and historical context?

Cultural contexts generate meanings.


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