I bought my first pair of Dr Martens at 16, and own few other types of shoe. But taking them to the Arctic Circle was a step too farby Sam Leith / November 17, 2010 / Leave a comment
These are not Sam Leith’s Dr Martens
I have only made one fashion decision in my life and I have stuck to it—which, according to those who take an interest in these things, is quite the wrong thing to do. That decision was, aged 16, to buy a pair of black, ten-hole Dr Martens boots. Two decades on, those boots, or at least their eight-hole descendents, are still on my feet. And this year, I heard on the radio the other day, the boots themselves are half a century old
It is nothing of an exaggeration to say that—except for one pair of flip-flops and a pair of patented “anti-smell trainers” lent me years ago for the purposes of an inane feature in a newspaper—I own no other shoes. I seldom ever have, replacing my boots once every couple of years when the stitching comes loose or a hole appears in the upper where the leather flexes. Like the stopped clock that’s right twice per day, I am in fashion once every couple of years.
The Dr Martens boot can and does go everywhere. Sockless and trailing its laces, it makes a tolerable slipper while still being suitable for a trip to the corner shop. Tightly laced, it goes on muddy country walks. A quick wipe with a flannel equips it to be teamed with my dinner jacket and black tie for the Man Booker prize. It won’t mark a tennis court, either—I know that, strictly, it’s not the ideal athletic footwear but then, I am not the ideal athlete.
I took my Docs to the Arctic Circle to write a feature on the Royal Marines’ cold-weather training in northern Norway. Until my hosts lent me a pair of the decidedly more robust combat boots that the commandos wear, it was in my Docs that I shuffled around on the pack-ice watching young men letting off mortars. Soon afterwards, I was having my feet assessed for frostnip by the unit’s CO. My Docs were pronounced “civvy,” which is only one step up (or possibly one step down) from “chad” (a reference to the suboptimal toy maker Chad Valley) as an evaluative epithet for equipment. Like costume jewellery diamonds, Guy Ritchie and newly- cooked fudge, Dr Martens are not as hard as they look.
The soles are too rubbery to administer a properly vicious kicking, and steel toecaps (I’ve had that…