Dr. Martens 1460: The People's Shoe

Exploring the cultural weight of the legendary workboot.

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Footwear 
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Some branded items are so ubiquitous that they become proprietary eponyms — “Kleenex” is said in place of tissue, “Google” instead of web search. So it goes for Dr. Martens’ eight-hole 1460 boot, the silhouette most people would picture if asked to mentally conjure an image of a boot. The just-chunky-enough shape, versatile height and relatively affordable price have guaranteed the shoe over a half-century of global omnipresence.

The 1460 is turning 60 years old in 2020 and remains as popular as it was two, three or four decades ago. Capitalizing on this relevance, the brand announced “1460 Remastered” project in January with BAPE, recruiting a dozen headline-worthy designers for collaborative 1460 remixes. These progressive partnerships reveal the 1460’s widespread desirability, but these high-brow efforts are merely a celebratory initiative, rather than a motion to elevate the shoe to some inaccessible, rarefied level. At its core, the 1460 is, and always will be, the people’s shoe.

The 1460’s name is derived from its birthdate, April 1, 1960, when the family-run Griggs footwear company exclusively licensed Dr. Klaus Maertens’ air-cushioned sole unit. The revised design was then stitched to a smooth leather upper with the now-iconic yellow welt stitch, with the resulting design remaining mostly unchanged to this day.

Originally designed with laborers and postal workers in mind, musicians like Pete Townshend and then the Sex Pistols introduced the 1460 to a new generation of rebellious youth in the 1970s, who adopted the shoe and its low-top 1461 sister silhouette as symbols of civil unrest and individuality. This anti-establishment ethos continued through the ‘80s and ‘90s as post-hair metal grunge, riot grrls and indie rockers sought no-frills comfortable footwear.

Marc Jacobs‘ legendary “Grunge” collection for Perry Ellis Spring/Summer 1993 was the 1460’s first major brush with the fashion industry. The shoe’s presence on the runway upset the established glamour of fashion shows with its stubby, everyman effortlessness. That the shoe is now commonplace amongst influencers like the Hadids and Hailey Bieber is testament to the 1460’s immense wearability.

However, unlike the Vans Sk8-Hi and UGG Classic II — other utilitarian footwear styles adopted by street-style-savvy celebrities — one crucial element of the 1460’s staying power is the shoe’s humble blue collar origins.

Authenticity is key to success in youth-oriented markets. It’s a crucial ingredient to the continued popularity of corporate brands like Vans, The North Face and Levi’s among younger consumers, alongside streetwear cornerstones like Supreme. In fact, Supreme has collaborated with all of those brands, along with Dr. Martens, underscoring the skate brand’s appreciation for heritage labels with household-name status. Though its friendliness to collaborations lends the company savviness, Dr. Martens’ owes a great deal of its success to the unchanging make of the 1460.

The humble work boot’s design has remained consistent through its existence, whether it was worn by postal employees, rock bands or tween mall-goers. Elegant in its simplicity, the 1460’s unpretentious presentation keeps it free from fickle trends, while its approachable shape encourages versatile styling. Well-suited for jeans, work pants, skirts, slacks and summer shorts, the weighty silhouette is comfortable in all wardrobes.

Easily the most recognizable iteration of the 1460 is the black smooth leather style. The six-inch tall shoe’s trademarks are its eight eyelets, hardwearing “Airwears” leather uppers and the yellow-stitched slip-resistant sole unit, with a branded black-and-yellow heel pull tab for easy entry. Minimal stitching on the upper reinforces the shaft, ankle and thickly-laced vamp, ensuring trustworthy ruggedness.

Of course, the boot is more than the sum of its parts. The shape is just as, if not more, important: the gently-tapered shaft extends outward at the heel and forefoot, curving around the toes, neither snub nor blunt. Meanwhile the sole sports a chunky heel, sliced slimmer underfoot for enhanced grip. Wear tests refined these elements — the 1460 never catered to fashion’s whims. Effortlessness begets coolness, and therein lies part of boot’s counterculture allure.

Its solid upper also serves as a palette for expansive illustrations, be it hand-drawn doodles, thematic prints or artistic graphics. The appeal in tweaking the 1460 comes from the inherent pleasure in re-contextualizing familiar shapes by placing them in unfamiliar situations or adding unusual accoutrement. Anchored by its inherent wearability, the 1460 takes well to remixes both style-conscious and austere.

Unwavering popularity has guaranteed the 1460’s continued appeal, a legacy cemented when the boot took home Footwear News’ “Shoe of the Year” award in 2019. The silhouette is perhaps more crucial than any other shoe to Dr. Martens’ future prospects, particularly as the brand’s owner, Permira, now seeks a boosted valuation for the heritage brand (Supreme investor Carlyle Group is reportedly interested). Whether Dr. Martens changes hands or not, however, the 1460’s future is secure.

Taste-making designs shape the course of history: consider the influence of Vitsœ’s modular shelving and James Dyson’s bagless vacuum. These aren’t merely indicators of good taste, but examples of creations that influence accessibility for all of humankind. Dr. Martens’ 1460 boot shares that inherent relevance; the shoe proof-positive that good design lives forever.

The “1460 Remastered” project will deliver nine more covetable collaborations throughout 2020, following BEAMS and Raf Simons’ special models. Despite the timely alterations and special revisions, however, the crux of the celebration is the classic 1460 boot, unwavering in shape and specification for six decades.

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