Ideal for protecting the feet during battles in Ancient Rome, combat boots were originally created as footwear for soldiers, thanks to their resistance to muddy terrain and harsh weather. This is a type of shoe that has spanned different historical eras. Before Americans adopted the trench boot, it had already been provided to French and Belgian soldiers as early as 1914. Starting in January 1918, improvements were made to the design, resulting in a heavier leather construction and enhanced water resistance, including a thicker sole. The compromise was that the new boots weighed much more, to the point that soldiers nicknamed them “little tanks.”
Military boots were originally designed primarily for their protection and durability in challenging environments, establishing their status as basic footwear for special forces units worldwide. These boots stand out for their resilience and durability due to robust materials such as thick leather or resistant synthetic materials.
The sturdy soles provide a secure grip on various surfaces and often feature a grooved profile to enhance traction, the so-called “tank tread.” They offer strong ankle support to prevent injuries and are resistant to weather conditions, often being waterproof. Lace-up or zip closures provide adjustability and convenience, while reinforced toes protect against impacts. Despite their sturdiness, they are designed to be lightweight and allow mobility, and some include ventilation systems to keep feet fresh and can accommodate accessories like knee supports or knife pockets. The tactical design is often discreet with neutral colors for military or tactical purposes.
It is also the distinctive sole that has transformed these functional shoes into a fashion statement.
The ancestor of combat boots was anything but a combat boot: the “calceus” was worn daily by the Roman upper class and was made of leather with studded soles, bone closures, and decorations in gold, silver, and pearls. Over the years, they underwent improvements. For example, in 1901, entrepreneurs Benjamin Griggs and Septimimus Jones began producing boots for miners and the British army, characterized by ten eyelets, a studded sole, and stitching on the toe. The company that manufactured these shoes was located in Northamptonshire, Britain, a county historically known for shoe manufacturing.
Dr. Martens: The Most Famous Combat Boots Ever
The turning point, however, came in 1945 with the help of German doctor Klaus Martens, who injured himself skiing in the Bavarian Alps and drew inspiration from his misadventure to create a pair of safety boots that absorbed shocks and were resistant to all weather conditions. Made from high-quality rubber and equipped with air cushioning, the prototype was shown to his mechanical engineer friend Herbert Funk, and this partnership gave birth to the Dr. Martens brand.
Emphasizing comfort, the shoe initially appealed mainly to older women.
Sales began to take off when entrepreneur Bill Griggs entered the scene and made essential modifications: the rubber sole was elevated, yellow stitching contrasted against dark leather, the lace eyelets became eight, and the iconic black and yellow “Airwair” branded loop appeared at the back.
Solovair is another British boot brand produced by NPS Shoes in Northamptonshire, the UK.
This brand was tasked with contributing to the production of the iconic Doc. Martens boot, which actually featured the Solovair sole and the Griggs upper.
This collaboration continued until the mid-1990s, when Dr. Martens began shifting production abroad.
In the 1960s, the world experienced unprecedented changes, and Dr. Martens boots became a symbol of that decade. They rode the wave of innovation and ended up becoming an icon of protest, beloved by young people, especially in Britain, and a cultural icon.
Punk Symbol Boots of Rebellion
Combat boots have played an important role in community engagement, particularly as a symbol of London’s youth subculture known worldwide as “Punk.” Emerging in the mid-1970s in the United Kingdom, in a context of economic decline and civil unrest with disheartening prospects for young people, it allowed for the upsurge of a diverse counterculture of musical groups that seemed to give voice to the population’s frustrations.
Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, this ideology developed that influenced literature, poetry, fashion, and political rebellion. As a movement, punk inherently defies any definition, and in the musical context, the word “punk” was used as an adjective to describe any intentionally raw and non-technical type of music.
The basic and scruffy look, characterized by ripped jeans, clothes recycled from thrift stores, and so-called combat boots, also spread overseas. Although imitated, ironically, by fans, this emerging movement provided a platform for authentic and spontaneous self-expression accessible to anyone.
The boots have become a symbol of punk and rebellion due to their military origins, rebellious aesthetic, and association with influential figures in punk culture, such as the band The Clash, a British punk rock music group.
Active from 1976 to 1986, they were one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the period. The Clash were famous for the variety of their music, their particularly intense live performances, and their outfits that fully represented the style of the period. At the very pivotal moments of their extraordinary career, The Clash wore a pair of Dr. Martens.
This gave rise to a Made In England collection released on October 6, 2022, made with the same technique used to produce the shoes that The Clash first wore over 40 years ago. The collaboration was inspired by the boots they appeared on stage in, combined with the DMs’ attitude and the colors of their revolutionary albums.
To celebrate the Dr. Martens x The Clash collection, Don Letts, legendary filmmaker, DJ and musician has created a playlist that tells the story of the iconic band from his perspective as a longtime friend and collaborator.
“The Story of The Clash in 100 Tracks” is actually a mix of tracks from the band’s albums and solo careers, as well as the music that inspired them and the artists who in turn took inspiration from the British group.
Combat boots were an iconography of the social revolution that earned their appeal for their strength and durability, which made them suitable for a busy street life. These characteristics went well with the idea of endurance and independence that was often associated with punk.
Combat Boots: A Timeless Fashion Staple
Meanwhile, the amphibious boot caught the attention of stylists, thanks to their rebellious aesthetics, embraced by fashion as a reaction to more traditional trends. Moreover, they carried with them a history of rebellion and counterculture that attracted a younger audience seeking unconventional identities.
The first models to wear them on the runway were Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss during the Perry Ellis spring 1993 ready-to-wear show under the direction of Marc Jacobs.
In 2007, the Dr. Martens company, however, decided not to give up and return to producing a line of boots in England, successfully relaunching the iconic combat boots, which were also used in fashion shows by famous designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, and Jimmy Choo.
A few years later, no one could do without the notorious combat boots; they were also worn by singers and “it” girls like Miley Cyrus and Gwen Stefani.
Today, they have graced the runways of the most iconic high-fashion brands, but they are also considered a basic item for all occasions: they are easy to wear and at the same time offer great resilience. These boots can make a sweet skirt bolder and even make sweatpants look cool, and they can also be used to balance out sequins, making outfits fresher and more casual. This look is especially popular with Generation Z, which wears this type of footwear at any time of the day and in any season.
We can thus affirm that the secret weapon of these boots is their versatility, their ability to adapt not only to temperatures and terrain but also to any item in the wardrobe. They may appear aggressive at first glance, but they have the capacity to play with contrasts and blend perfectly with a biker look as well as a super romantic outfit.
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