Lily Yepez (12) in Doc Martens. Photo by Gus Flores-Rascon.
In a romanticized version of our school, grey socks and chipped nail polish are a heroic act of disobedience against a uniform made by a tyrannical administration. In reality, we couldn’t find any clean socks in uniform, and we’ve picked off our nail polish while nervously taking a test. I’ve never been great at following the uniform, mostly because I don’t like to do laundry, but I’ve accepted demerits without argument when it comes to dress code offenses. The uniform is pretty comfortable – if you keep your skirt unbuttoned- and easy to follow. Most of the time, it’s not worth arguing with admin over whether or not your earrings are too distracting.
Therefore, it’s understandable to get a demerit for wearing cowboy boots or thigh high leather stilettos. Those types of shoes are loud, distracting, high maintenance. But what about practical, undeniably comfortable and waterproof Doc Martens? They are a classic, much like Converse, that are so popular among ARS high school students in solid black. I’ve worn black Doc Martens since the beginning of this school year, but I was forced to return to my flimsy, worn out Chuck Taylors when I was informed a full semester into the year that my reliable Docs were not in uniform. My Converse, which I bought three years ago, are so faded they’re basically dark green, but apparently that’s better than my Docs.
The specific uniform violation I committed was wearing “boots.” Every winter, admin crackdown on boots as students try and wear winter boots to school. Prior to the wave of winter boots, nobody had a problem with my Docs. There are a handful of students who have also sported Docs, some longer than I have, without anyone bringing up a uniform violation.
First of all, I don’t think Docs even qualify as the boots the ARS dress code mentions. Maybe Docs cover the ankle, like many boots, but so do high top sneakers. Docs have laces just like tennis shoes, and they have a heel like any supportive footwear. Docs may resemble typical work boots, but they’re hardly ever worn by blue collar workers. Similarly, you can call Converse tennis shoes, but I don’t know anyone whose athletic shoes of choice are Converse. Doc’s have been claimed as an everyday shoe that is versatile and appropriate for the office, traveling, going out, or school.
Second of all, this whole new attack on Doc’s may not be just about the dress code. It may be political. Since their popularization in the sixties by British Skinheads – a subculture of working class Brits who loved reggae and ska music – Doc Martens have been a symbol of rebellion against the man. They’re ugly, industrial and the opposite of sophistication and the upper class. Instead of kneeling to the bourgeoisie by imitating their style, Skinheads wore work boots as a badge of pride in their working-class roots. Through the decades, Doc’s have been adopted as signs of rebellion. To admin, Doc’s not only “violate” the uniform, but also have connotations of societal defiance and nonconformity.
Now days, a new pair of Docs can cost over a $100, but they are still a common shoe of younger generations, perhaps because of retro style and thrift store trends that make them more accessible. For example, I’ve had three pairs of Docs, all of which I bought used for under $45. It may appear as if Docs have become a luxury item, but with clothing recycling they aren’t hard to come by at a good price for broke teenagers.
There is solid reasoning in banning a clothing item that is recognizable as a sign of rebellion: it clashes with the idea of sisterhood and students working with teachers for the same goal. However, if admin embraced Docs, and they became as widely worn through out the ARS halls as Converse, then students would gain a cohesive image of empowerment. In a way this currently banned shoe could be a physical representation of the school’s commitment to fighting for change.