Teenage Kicks: Cultural Approaches to Dr Marten Boots

Object – what is it and meanings

Cultural approaches to material and visual culture – culturally specific meanings

Concept: The Cultural Biography of Things (Kopytoff, 1986)

  • Meanings can occur from an odject

“How to identify ‘cultural markets'”

  • investigate status
    • periods and cultures
  • investigate production process
    • who made it? what purpose?
  • role – different stages of career

Evolution of the Doc Marten

  • brand connotations have changed
  • original incarnation as workwear due to functional design – e.g. police, postal workers
  • from 60s, adopted by youth scenes
  • seen as anti-fashionable
  • subcultures adopted/adapted the brand:
    • skinheads and mods in 60s
    • punk, 2 tones/skinheads in 70s
    • Goth, punk and rockability fashion in 80s
    • Grunge and britpop in 90s
  • traditionally black and oxblood
  • different uses of Dr Martens
  • Street gangs
    • how they were worn was crucial – e.g. skinheads: tight laces
    • everyone wore them differently
  • wearable object that conformed to society or different – depending how you wore it
  • footwear had different associations
    • e.g. police had to modify boot to not be associated with street gangs

Can adapt and customise the original design

Youth tribes have traditionally “mutated and customised” boot – unisex brand

E.g. Morrisey – how he wore; different look

Individuality: Dr Martens suggest you customise the boot

How you wish to be seen – construct your own identities visually

  • How does my practise define me? – expresses my personality?
  • Customising Doc’s is an act of ‘self-fashioning’ – a social performance

21st Century: pick and choose what we want

  • history/styles always come back
  • can pick from the past
  • pick and choose from british subcultures (60s/70s/80s/90s) and combine it
    • e.g. wearing Dr Martens but customising to own interests

Platform: objects are a blank canfus

Dr Martens: personalising their own boots to sell

  • selling a punk boot to sell commercially – making it mainstream
  • not a subculture anymore: advertising “brand”
  • society change = mainstream ideas change

DM’s brand themselves as “non conformities”

  • came from street sub-cultures
  • rebellious connotations
    • 80’s – got detention/sent home, if you wore DM’s
    • wearing an object can mean a particular connotation – DM = violence
  • 21st Century: children wear them
    • not a violent connotation anymore?

21st Century Branding:

  • standforsomething:
    • selling non-conformity; non-traditional
  • 80s: marks of the boot would be intimidating; imprint = frightening image
  • 21st: trying to change the connotation
    • used the imprint in their branding
    • ‘stamping out’ of original use
    • non-conformative = don’t discriminate: stand for rights
  • gender value
    • statement: I don’t want to conform to traditional femininity

Object: identity expression

  • femininity: fusion of materials – docs and ribbons

Cultural biography

  • flags up loads of different concepts; meanings can be acquired by a brand
  • “only individual people buy Dr Martens”
    • culture of alternative people
    • uses past to inform present
  • uses their own cultural biography as their selling point in the 21st Century

Objects have social lives:

  • stories embedded
  • cultural
  • narratives on a object
    • trace it’s uses back
  • break the rules on how a material has been used – need to know how it has been used and what it’s uses are
  • cultural approaches to objects and images
  • What does the object/image “speak” about?:
    • gender identities
    • race and ethnic identities
    • class
    • sexual identities
    • social

Follow the cultural biography of an object: when wanted to experiment with a material, research how it has been used in the past to understand it’s use and to truly know how to break the rules when using that object.


Author: ellenreiddesign

First year Graphic Communication student at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

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