50 Years of 1460s: Happy Birthday Doc Martens!

Tomorrow marks an anniversary that anyone who was ever a member of a teenage tribe should be celebrating. April 1st 2010 is the fiftieth birthday of the 1460 – the original and iconic eight-hole Doc Martens boot, so named for the date it first went into production:

Decades have come and gone, brands have exploded and then imploded, but the 1460 is still there, unique, individual, original. Anti-fashion defined in eight holes.

Of the many styles of DMs that are now available, it is these boots in particular which have become design classics, and which have also gathered a cult following among the many who have had the pleasure of owning a pair at some point in their lives (I, for one, wore out several much-loved pairs of 1460s in my teens and early twenties).

Beginning life as a practical, hard-wearing and popular footwear solution for workers, the 1460 soon became much more than that. Adopted by the burgeoning skinhead movement (which started out as non-racist – ska and rocksteady being their soundtracks of choice – and very style conscious), the 1460 style soon spread further afield.

According to the Dr Martens website, these simple, comfortable boots rapidly grew in popularity, and were to be found on the feet of any number of youth culture tribes (and, of course, the musicians they followed) over the next few decades:

Mods, glam, punks, ska, psychobillies, grebos, Goths, industrialists, nu-metal, hardcore, straight-edge, grunge, Britpop…

As a typical teenage grunger/metaller back in the 1990s, I flipped between several of these tribes – and like so many others I certainly wore my 1460s with pride. I loved my Docs. Teamed with almost indecently ripped jeans or long, floaty Indian cotton skirts, big baggy band t-shirts and equally over-sized checked shirts (what did I think I looked like!?), DMs were the perfect footwear for the moshpit and the dance floor and the festival mud.

Despite the inevitable month or so of absolutely agonising blisters while you broke a new pair in, my several pairs of lovely black 1460s saw me through many a gig, club night, rave and festival over the years, as well as being ideal for marches, demos and (slightly more sensibly) any job which involved being on your feet for any length of time – according to a doctor I once spoke to on the subject, they’re actually very good for your ankles too.

I am certainly not the only one for whom DMs were a major part of the outward appearance of their sub-cultural identity as a teenager, and I am glad that they are still playing a central part in today’s youth culture and style despite the tribal element of all that being, sadly, all but gone. The continuing presence and iconic status of the 1460 in all its classic or customised glory is, however, a comforting reminder of how some things can manage to be of the past and the present simultaneously – and of how good, simple design, like that of the 1460, never dates.

Happy birthday, Doc Martens!

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