Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Philadelphia Street Style: DJ, Walnut St

Doc Martens have such a long, tumultuous history, it's hard for me not to notice as they come in and out of fashion. They were work boots once, marketed to British workers for their durability and comfort, their "air-cushioned soles" and their steel toes, just in case an anvil got dropped on your feet on the job. And then, in the early 1960s, the first generation of British skinheads picked them up as a signifier of unpretentious working-class culture. They soon became a uniform, spreading to the US, Germany, and elsewhere as part of the complete skinhead package. When they started popping up in the US in the late '70s and early '80s, they were deeply associated with two distinct groups: the punks, who saw them as the ultimate shit-kicker shoes, the perfect wardrobe item for a mosh pit; and the racist, white power skinheads, who saw them as the ultimate ass-kicking shoes, the perfect wardrobe item for getting into a fight. The racist skinheads retained the old school working-class association of the boots, but added a new connotation of militancy and right-wing politics.  

By the time I picked up my first pair of Doc Marten ten-eyes at age 15 in Sacramento, California, they had become something like a wearable billboard of one's political ideology, with the shoelaces one wore as indication of one's political orientation. Black, the color that came with the boots, was essentially neutral, although neutral in this case tended to indicate a kind of default left-wing attitude. That was the color I wore. It was also the preferred color of punks, retro-mods, emo kids, and goths. White meant "white power," and was the color of choice of racist skinheads. Red was specific to WAR, White Aryan Resistance, advocating an even more militant and violent form of racism. Blue, on the other hand, was taken up by SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice), a group of American skins who traced their politics back to the old-school British model of skinhead (i.e. solidarity with the working man and a stylistically sensibility borrowed from Jamaican Rude Boys, imported to the UK by West African immigrants). They wore British flags on their flight jackets to make the connection even more apparent. They claimed they were the "true skinheads," as if somehow that was a legacy they were born into. I always suspected they chose to become SHARPs largely because they wanted to get into fights without seeming like assholes. And if you're going to pick a fight with someone, why not racist skinheads? Who'd blame you? Pink, on the hand, by the late '80s came to signify "queer core," LGBT activists with a punk bent. By the early 1990s, Doc Martens were damn near ubiquitous among urban American youth subcultures of all types. And then Guess bought the brand, and they gradually went out of fashion.  

Fast-forward to 2007 or 2008, when I started noticing Doc Martens on the feet of Los Angeles hipsters, those purveyors of ironic nostalgia with a penchant for continually recycling styles from their childhoods. And then, moving to Philly in 2009, I started noticing Docs showing up on hip hoppers. And now, walking the streets of Philly, it is obvious that Doc Martens have become the shoe of choice for a wide of young people, from a variety of backgrounds and with a wide variety of stylistic orientations. They are everywhere. And since people don't do subcultures in quite the way they used to, these days it seems like they represent something else: individuality, as Docs now come in so many shapes, styles, and colors, they can be just about anything to anyone. Just check out the frowny face on DJ's boots. But it's funny how so many of us use the same product to define ourselves as different. Is this individuality? Or a classic case of "pseudo-individuality," mass marketed for popular consumption, as Adorno and Horkheimer dubbed the phenomenon way back in 1944?

Hard to say. But I like the way DJ wears the boots, one more bright color to go with her lively, over-size Betsey Johnson sweater. There's a touch of new and a touch of old here, like she's maintaining a set of incongruous traditions, while attempting to pave her own way. 


  1. Thanks for the shoe-history lesson - I didn't know about the meanings of the various laces colour. Docs have worked their way into the pantheon of classic footwear, like converse, penny loafers, desert boots, etc. They are comfortable and durable, come in funky colours and patterns, and you can dress them up or down, or customize them as DJ has with hers - what's not to like?

  2. The market is flooded with different types of shoes and new types join the catalogue every year. Shoes are broadly divided into few categories like Formal, Casual, Party, Travel, Fashion, and Sports. Each category has further sub-categories, each of which also have a range of shoes to offer.I find this website for Red Wing Best Work Boots you can visit this site.


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