The ubiquity of Dr. Martens and Blundstones in Seattle is owed to more than just our rainy environs. “If you have heavy footwear, there’s a certain physical presence; you’re sure-footed, in more than one way,” says Clara Berg, curator and fashion historian at the Museum of History and Industry.
Durability and versatility are more than just practical considerations; they’re cultural tenets. Seattle’s grunge look, exemplified in aforementioned Dr. Martens, was a rejection of fads and their very premise which hinged upon clothing as disposable commodity. Combat boots, often rummaged from army surplus stores, became a counterculture calling card because of their literal and metaphorical toughness. Of Seattle’s fashion ethos generally, Berg says, “We are not a culture that’s obsessed with the latest thing.”
Blundstone, Dr. Martens’s main competitor out on the city streets, markets its wares according to just these principles; they are built to withstand not just ranch work or hiking, but also the pull of the trend tide. More muted and unassuming than chunky Docs, and lacking associations with counterculture, the Australian-made Chelsea boots are arguably more subversive, these days, than Docs.
The irony of the “anti-fashion” grunge? Fashion houses co-opted it almost immediately. While both boot brands are perennially stylish, they’re having a bit of a (dare we say it?) moment. Seattle-area Google searches for “Doc Martens” and “Blundstones” have steadily climbed since 2016.
At the same time, interest in thrifting—the origin of all that demand for rigid toes—is at an all-time high, with the second-hand industry expected to be double the size of fast fashion by 2030. We’re in an “anti-fashion” renaissance, largely spurred by environmental and ethical concerns associated with garment production. Even major brands promote wearing their items longer now. Timelessness is trendy, and we may have inadvertently started that trend.
Which isn’t to say everyone’s making a sustainability statement when they don Docs or Blundstones. But the movement’s ethos—anti-consumption, anti-obsession—is still very rooted, and booted, in Seattle.