I was a diva once. In the leafy outer-London suburb of Twickenham – a town with the median age of a retirement home, but nice enough if you like coffee and charity shops – it wasn’t hard to stick out. From my yassified Prince-inspired fits at parties, to an obligatory long hair phase, my mid-adolescent style slapped.  

Docs are an essential part of any Cambridge student's wardrobeOmar Burhanuddin with permission for Varsity

At least I thought it did. Cambridge, as always, has its way of making you feel average. Just as nerdiness goes from being everybody’s to nobody’s distinguishing characteristic, so too will your impeccable fashion sense be rendered pitifully unremarkable. Ripped shorts-wearer? Scarf enjoyer? Bore off. STEM-bashing stereotypes aside, people just generally dress better at Cambridge. Not the least of my week five worries was the growing realisation that I was even being outdressed, time after time, by my own supervisors. Sitting before my cracked mirror at 3am in pyjamas, crunching on my fourth Taco Bell of the week, I was overcome by the pathos of it all. How far I had fallen!

"Cambridge, as always, has its way of making you feel average"

It was during my midterm fashion crisis that I noticed something unusual. Every now and then, some of my bandmates would suddenly become taller than me. During these growth spurts, they wouldn’t so much walk as sway, airily sauntering down Trinity Street like mafia dons traversing an avenue in Sicily. What was causing these transformations? None other than the Docs.

There they were. Again. And again. And again. The more I looked, the more I saw the strange things. Every five minutes to the hour, when Sidgwick transforms into the valley from the stampede in the Lion King, a pair of Dr. Martens can be seen strapped upon many a sweaty arts student. Weirder still were the appearances they made at clubs, bops and even formals. Formals - nihil sanctum est? Seeing those whoppers in each of these settings, I would be overcome by powerful emotions.

Formals too?!Omar Burhanuddin with permission for Varsity

And what did I feel? Imagine me, will you, sipping coffee on a bench outside the arc café, hands clasped around my thermos, peering over my glasses in engrossed fascination at the sea of leather. Was I impressed? Bedazzled? A touch envious, perhaps? Did I, like stout Cortez, gaze at those open vistas in speechless rapture?

The fuck I did not. Dr. Martens disturbed me. From the too-thick laces to the tacky yellow stitches, they combined farce and indelicacy in equal measure. The ridiculously chunky soles screamed Simon Cowell. And the gleaming, jet-black boots looked oddly…fascistic? Oswald Mosley probably had something similar in his wardrobe. Discovering that their inventor had been a doctor in the Wehrmacht didn’t help dispelling this impression, I must admit. 

I whinged and bitched in this vein for a time. Eventually, during one such rant over a hall lunch, I exhausted the patience of a long-suffering friend. For over an hour, we had it out over the pros and cons of Dr. Martens. My venomous, sneering jibes were effortlessly parried by their unassailable logic. Indeed, so persuasive was my learned friend, converting me with a speed that would turn any American televangelist green with envy, that I now own a pair of 1460s. From parading around in them over the last two months, I have confirmed the following of my friend’s observations:

Dr. Martens match every outfit. This is inarguable. Those sleek black boots can obviously enhance a goth’s dark combo, but they also contrast nicely with lighter colours and softer textures (think cosy cardigans or fluffy scarves). This universal suitability means that Docs take out some of the thought that goes into getting dressed every day. When collections are looming and I’m trying (as a recent blockbuster put it) to ‘hear the music’, every extra bit of headspace helps.

"This universal suitability means that Docs take out some of the thought that goes into getting dressed every day"

They are supremely versatile and durable. Care for a midday romp through Grantchester Meadows? Fancy a late night galavant up Castle Mound? Paid your entry at Kelsey Kerridge, and realise you’ve forgotten your climbing shoes? Your Docs have got you (yes, I once actually went bouldering in Dr. Martens). In the impulsive, unplanned twists and turns of life in Cambridge, there is only one pair of shoes for you.


Mountain View

We don’t always need to dress our best

Dr. Marten’s intersection with queer history is well known: the boots are a staple of LBGTQ+ activists, from London pride marches in the 1980s right up to the Russian Pussy Riot protests in 2012. The brand’s popularisation is one of the most visible ways in which queer culture has been brought into the mainstream and seen as cool. This is a wonderful thing. Cambridge is, on the whole, a queer-friendly place. In life outside university, though, that generally isn’t the case. I’ve often found, in these chillier contexts, that wearing them can be my own little mark of quiet assertion, of understated confidence - of pride.

The case in favour of Dr. Martens is now settled for me: I have never changed my mind so dramatically about anything. The motivation for getting them will vary for everyone, with reasons ranging from the playfully frivolous to the personally affirming. These shoes are truly for everyone. And so I raise the call to (literally) take up space, and cop yourselves a pair of these bulky beauties. Although the heavy soles might prevent a spring in your step, you’ll still feel amazing.


Mountain View

A love letter to the tote bag