There are certain books or films or objects of clothing that become seamlessly engrained in our personalities. They serve as a species of mascot projecting our style and personal tastes externally. My Dr. Marten boots have become my own campaign logo for personal growth. I acquired them in the midst of great personal change. They came to symbolize my transition from a student in high school to an independent adult at university. These shoes morphed into an object that was representative of my new existence.
I moved to London with a few suitcases. Many university ‘essentials’ I decided to buy in Britain, either for the sake of rationing precious luggage space or because it simply made the most sense. The process of selecting what could go with me was tedious, though most of my wardrobe mysteriously made the cut. In hindsight, this was quite a poor judgement call on my part. Who would have possibly known that the English climate is different to that of a hot and humid sub-Tropical Florida? I learned the hard way that many of the dresses I brought with me were not designed for temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit/ 20 degrees Celsius. Almost all of the shoes I owned were either trainers with no support for walking long distances or, as was needed in hot weather, sandals. Then came my saving grace.
Side Note: I also found that looking like a lost American tourist was symptomatic of wearing some of that things that were more suitable for the cold and rainy weather.
My parents nearly forced me to let them buy the pair of red Dr. Marten boots for an early birthday gift. On that particular day, we were exploring Stratford-upon-Avon in between trips to IKEA and university welcome meetings. On our walk from the train station down to the city-centre, we wove along cobblestone streets, ducking in and out of the shops that adorned them. Halfway between the train station and town, we passed a shop window that caught my eye. There, as if waiting for me, were a gleaming pair of oxblood 1460 Dr. Marten boots. I could easily embellish this part of the retelling and say that a beam of sacred light shone down on them, but that wasn’t the case. These boots are, however, very deserving of a sacred golden spotlight. (I swear I’ve walked a few hundred miles in them and they still look fantastic despite their mileage.)
The idea of spending so much money, in a currency I didn’t fully understand yet, was difficult to swallow. My mom persisted that I would get more use out of them than I thought. Dad insisted that I would be doing quite a lot of walking around London and that I needed a good pair of shoes to accompany me. Unable to ignore the validity of their points, I caved. There are few days that I am not still grateful for their protests.
I changed into them almost immediately. In fact, if I remember it correctly, I wore them out of that very shop. I loved the way they made me feel: strong and capable, and like I fit into my new surroundings just a little bit more than before. I wore them for days straight despite the discomfort of the slow breaking-in rite of passage.
Now, almost four years on, they’ve aged gracefully, but still remain a strong and stable uniform item in my wardrobe. They’ve acquired scuffed scars and new laces. The more I think about them, the more they remind me of those first few months. Of catching the Tube to Temple for a lecture. The first day I was able to navigate the underground without consulting my phone or a map. Of being able to move more effortlessly in a city that required so much of my efforts on a constant basis. When I lace them up, a part of me catches a glimpse to when I unpacked them for the first time I found myself back in England during a stay in the Cotswolds. How excited I was to be back. The association the boots held to England and London, now Sheffield. They’ve traveled all over with me – from Edinburgh to Switzerland, Florida to Washington D.C.. They’ve worked long shifts with me at the grocery shop. I’ve split many cups of tea on them. Many crates of vegetables have been dropped on them, but they don’t seem to mind.
It would be naive of me to ignore the fact that a lot of fashion has to do with status symbols, whether subconsciously or otherwise. In my own way, these boots became a status symbol of movement and transition. Whenever I wear them back in America, there’s a certain pride that swells in me knowing I’ve brought them from another country. In my head I’ve earned the right to wear something to iconically English. I suffered the literal and metaphorical blisters to prove it. These boots accompanied me along a breaking-in process, my own transcontinental rite of passage.