When I visited London in 1996, I was a junior in college with no sense of style. Trying to enter a neighborhood pub in South Croydon one night with a friend, I was denied entrance because my hiking shoes did not meet the pub’s dress code. “Sorry, mate, no trainers,” the bouncer firmly explained. Suddenly thrust into a culture where my choice of shoes limited my access to socializing, I resolved to remedy the situation.

The next day my friend and I journeyed to the expansive Doctor Martens store in Covent Garden. I was disappointed to learn that in four stories of shoes there was not a single pair that would fit my size 15 US (14 UK) feet. After some research I learned of a specialty store hidden in the back of Piccadilly Circus that only sold shoes on the extreme ends of the sizing spectrum. Eventually we found the place, and in short order I had bought a beautiful pair of the classic Dr. Marten 3-eyelet shoes in a color called oxblood for 45 pounds. They were spectacular, a rich, ruddy red. Simple and functional, but with more panache than any pair of shoes I had ever worn.

That night I returned to the same pub, dressed much as before but with my new shoes. The bouncer waved me in. From that moment my presence in England and on the European continent changed. I felt more a part of my surroundings. Strangers on trains asked me if I was Belgian. I started meeting and going out with French women. I danced in clubs, explored winding side streets of new cities, wandered through markets, attended parties, met fascinating people, and walked amongst the wealthy and famous at the 50th Cannes film festival in my Doctors. They molded to my feet and I molded to them. I received compliments everywhere I wore them. I polished them with a religious fervor and took pride in my unique shoes. When the leather finally cracked and I could no longer wear them, I was saddened to learn that the company no longer made those shoes in my size. An era had passed. I am on my third pair of Dr. Martens.  While just as comfortable as my first, the quiet black pair of today doesn’t have the same luster as the originals.

Nicholas Bratton, Seattle, WA

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