I really try my best to not create sentimental attachment to things and stuff. This type of detachment tends to form when you live in NYC long enough and become painfully aware of the dollar value of each square foot of your apartment. When my husband (then boyfriend) was packing for the move from Tampa to Brooklyn, I’m pretty sure we had our first fight over a collection of wooden spoons. He owned somewhere in the ballpark of 13 wooden spoons and argued against tossing them because… honestly, I don’t even know. I stopped listening because our new closet-sized 1BR had exactly one utensil drawer in the kitchen and we had to be smart about every inch of it. We had to be ruthless. In the end, I think we compromised at three spoons. The rest stayed in Florida along with some t-shirts dating back to middle school and a lot of typical mid-90’s Asian-inspired dude décor.
Unlike my husband, I find it pretty easy to get rid of stuff. But, there are two things I’ve held onto for nearly 20 years: my Doc Martens.
They’re the original “greasy” boots with the signature yellow stitching and “bouncing soles.” I got them in 1995 after months of campaigning. They were around $120 even back then, so I had to make a pretty good case for myself. I promised I’d wear them every day. I explained that they came with a lifetime guarantee, so I’d have them forever. So, on my 15th birthday, my mom drove to Maurice the Pants Man in Worcester, MA and returned home with my very own pair of Docs.
Most trends are pretty bizarre and fail the test of time. I usually failed to catch them in time to benefit from their coolness. Some trends were just out of my price range. Others, like all that expensive soccer apparel that kids started wearing off the field, would have made me look like a “poser” (#1 insult at my school, btw) because I wasn’t on the team. Occasionally, I would just catch on too late. I remember finally getting my first and only pair of skids in fifth grade just as the pajama pants look was starting to fade.
But for the most part, a lot of trends just didn’t feel right. I’m not suggesting that I was at all above the influence of my peers. I was, just like most teenagers, very much affected by what others thought of me. I think a part of me rejected certain trends because there’s a certain “all or nothing” aspect to my personality, and I didn’t feel like I could sustain them. Even if I could have afforded it, I’m not sure I could have delivered upon what I thought the expectations were for a girl who wore brand name apparel every day.
I say all of this now with the benefit of personal reflection and 20/20 hindsight. I’m sure at the time I would have said something like “Pumas are wicked stupid.”
BUT, there was something about the Doc Marten thing I could latch on to. I didn’t really know or understand the history behind the boots (you can read a particularly poetic account here) but I got that they were a little edgy, a little subversive – a bit of a non-trendy trend, which was very attractive to a teenager starting to seek an escape from the shelter of her small, suburban town. They felt substantial (maybe because they weighed about 5 lbs). And, they also weren’t accepted by everyone. In fact, a lot of the kids who easily picked up on trends flat out rejected Docs. Partially because goth and alternative kids (we didn’t say “emo” back then) wore them, as did band geeks and the kids in show choir. Partially because they thought they were ugly, clunky combat boots. Wearing Docs gave me a tiny, easy-to-digest taste of rebellion.
I wore them all throughout high school and with everything in my closet (not hard to do, since that was jeans, corduroys and t-shirts). They came with me to college and remained in the rotation even after graduation. When I got a more traditional office job, they mostly lived in the back of my closet and came out only on weekends. And then, for years, I kept them not as a pair of shoes but more as a souvenir from my past, dutifully packing them up as I moved from apartment to apartment.
Up until a few months ago, Docs haven’t really been on my radar. I’d occasionally see someone wearing a pair during my morning subway commute or notice a few pairs in a shoe store display and be like “Oh, yeah.”
Then all the sudden I was seeing them everywhere. High cut boots and low cut shoes. In every color and texture. Docs were having a mini revival (at least in my world).
I was inspired to reconnect with the boots that meant so much to me at one time. So, I bought some new laces and took my Docs for a spin.
It was fun to wear them again, but I think I tapped into their true power at age 15 when I needed it most.
On my way home from work a few nights ago I observed a girl on the train with her mom. She had that signature look – equal parts curious, self-conscious and embarrassed to be in public with a parental figure. She had an anxious energy, like she was ready to burst at the seams. I remember feeling that way. Like I couldn’t wait to start living my life. I imagined she was thinking about the day she’d be let loose in NYC, free to run through the streets of the Village, linger in coffee shops, go to shows and take the train with just her friends.
That’s when I noticed she was wearing a pair of brand new, not-yet-broken-in Docs with her long black dress and tights. It made me smile.
Whenever she’s ready to make her escape, she’ll have the right shoes.