As someone who came of age when grunge came a’ knockin’, I have a special place in my heart for Doc Martens. Buying my first pair in eighth grade meant going to Allston Beat, the raver/punk/miscellaneous weird clothing store in the Garage mall in Harvard Square (the mall is so named because it’s in a former parking garage, so you come for the pizza and Newbury Comics, but stay for the experience of being a human car and walking up and down a large ramp).
This would not be a big deal for many tween girls, like the friend who came with me, who was a year older and had already seen Sonic Youth and smoked at least five cigarettes, but I was, and have never been, a cool girl. My other major purchase on this Harvard Square expedition was a Ren and Stimpy T-shirt, and when my friend got me some fancy coffee something while waiting for the T, I burned every part of my mouth hole so bad I thought I needed to go to the hospital. Still, I cowboy’d up and got my first pair of Docs, the basic three-hole oxford, black leather with the yellow stick along the clunky sole.
Much of the cash I had for the next couple of years would go towards newer, kookier pairs, but over time, both pop culture and my closet got oversaturated with grunge couture, and I moved on. I’ve thought of breaking out my black eight hole boots I got on 8th Street at a “going out of business” sale as shoe row was vanishing, but at first, it seemed like it was too soon, and then, it seemed like I was just too old. Docs may be understated in many ways, but that sole definitely makes a statement, something along the lines of “grr, fuck you,” and that’s a sentiment I’m just too exhausted to even try to sell most of the time.
That’s why I am both loving and wary of these simpler docs, made from canvas instead of leather, with soles that have no comment. The yellow stitch is still there, like a quiet morse code spelling out, “I once gave a shit,” but the rest of the shoe is virtually anonymous. I can’t tell, however, if the shoes are so subtle as to be blah, or if they’re not tame at all, just subtle in comparison to the other Doc models, many of which these days involve Liberty prints, spikes, multiple buckles, and basically all punkish frills that only Vivienne Westwood or a baby punk would approve of.
What I like about them is that they look like Docs and Vans had a low-key baby, but if that baby is so low-key as to make me look like I accidentally schtupped a guy in a Berkeley co-op and stole his shoes to do the walk of shame home, then these are not the shoes for me. Nor are they the shoes for me if I’m confusing vegetarian materials for a mellow vibe. Either way, as much as I will always love Docs, I have mixed feelings about these shoes. I still love Ren and Stimpy, though.