BUSAN, South Korean — Growing up in Canada, if you decided to wear Doc Martens, you had to read the fine print. For one thing, they were expensive, (and even worse, the choice footwear of the Heritage Front—our domestic version of England’s National Front) and you couldn’t possibly take any little bastard who wore them very seriously—ostensibly they were purchased by the kids’ mothers, which screams rebellion, right?
I waited until I was in university before I bought my first pair—jet black, three-holes. By then nobody would know my internal hypocrisy, and of course, at age 19 who would really give a damn what you chose to wear? I’d never worn any footwear so comfortable in all my life!
The Cherry-Red, eight-hole 1460’s (named after their birthdate: April 1st, 1960 and pictured above) were the first model of Docs to roll off the production line in England, courtesy of the Griggs Company (who began bootmaking in 1901). What isn’t exactly common knowledge to the average Joe is that the aforementioned Griggs company bought the exclusive rights to the shoes from two Germans, Dr. Klaus Märtens and Dr. Herbert Funck, who patented the early “bouncing air soles” and originally crafted them out of rubber from abandoned Luftwaffe airfields and old army uniforms.
Griggs introduced some cosmetic changes to the original model including the now-famous yellow stitch, and the two-toned sole edge. In the first few years of the ‘60s, it was mostly postmen, factory workers, builders, police (who had to pen the yellow stitches with black ink according to regulations), and other workers who purchased them. It was during the mid-‘60s that the Mods (an early youth, working-class affiliation) adopted them as standard footwear.
The Doctor could no doubt scarecly imagine the designs that would build on his original concept.
Probably the most famous cinematic Doc Martens moment came in Ken Russell’s movie adaptation of the Who’s “Tommy” LP—when the “Pinball Wizard” (played by Elton John) stands atop a 54-inch pair of brown 12-hole Docs. The really twisted little puppies among you will remember the shoes far more vividly from a specific scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film, “A Clockwork Orange.”
As of 2003, most DMs are now manufactured in China or Thailand, but this shouldn’t deter you. I’ve barely noticed the difference in quality over the years, and the Chinese-made docs have lasted me as long as the English variety, if not longer. A few purists may beg to differ, but then again, there’s always some meathead naysayer out there who bought the one Honda Civic out of 10,000 that turned out to be a lemon. Anyway, the 9-year-old Chinese kid who’s making my shoes now is doing a terrific job with them. Hell, he’s simply given the 55-year-old British missus who lost her job more time to enjoy Coronation St.
In Busan, it wasn’t always easy to find Docs. As a brand name, they were somewhat obscure to the average Korean (not to mention outrageously expensive), and the odd store that opened up never lasted very long. Korean shoes, while often a bargain, don’t last nearly as long as you’d like them to. After many years of fruitless searching, you can now readily find them at various ABC Marts around town, and there’s actually a bona fide DM store in Nampodong, about 10 stores past the multi-tiered ABC Mart.
Even with the lousy exchange rate I’ve found the prices to be astronomically high (as little as 150,000 won for the shoes), so I often peruse Ebay and get absolute steals by Korean standards. If you know your size and you’ve got a working credit card, it’s really the way to go. I picked up a pair of brown Kurt Lasso “sneaker” Docs (that I’d never find here) online for about $70 U.S., and if by chance I had found them here, I’m sure I would have paid twice that amount. Needless to say, I’m seeing more and more of them on Korean university students here, and I’m all for it—I’ve always been a ham for goth chicks.
Years later, you realize that true rebellion doesn’t involve what footwear you deign to choose—the only true rebellion left in a collective society is thinking for yourself. Cue to 15 years and 10 pairs later, and they’re still the best thing I ever did for my feet. Do your bunions a favor and suit them up in some righteous footwear—they (like the DM company) will thank you for it.~
My own stack of Docs in all their glory.