This year I’ve been making a point to read a lot of non-fiction and memoirs of places and people, at interesting points in pop culture history – specifically women. Cos I can’t resist any opportunity to fill my head with random, obscure, popular culture trivia that could probably be used for better, more useful things, like….um, long division? Capitals of the world?
Some of my favourites this year have been Meet Me In the Bathroom (the story of the rebirth of rock and that whole indie scene in early 00’s New York), Inside the Dream Palace (a memoir of the Chelsea Hotel in New York)…okay are you seeing a theme here? I like music and glamorous trainwrecks of people and New York…and also, Viv Albertine’s autobiography – Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys.
To the unfamiliar, Viv Albertine was the guitarist in the Slits, a badass, all female punk band in London in the late 70’s. They were there at the birth of the punk scene. They WERE the punk scene. Viv bought clothes and shoes from Vivienne Westwood and Malcom Maclaren when their boutique, Sex, was still just a quirky, underground, hang out spot for the weird kids. She dated Steve Jones from the Clash, way before the Clash formed. The Sex Pistols weren’t the Sex Pistols, they were just her annoying spotty, yob, friends.
It’s a great read and we need to fill our heads and our hearts with more stories about the strong, game-changing, women who weren’t afraid to be different, and made an impact, on a relatable level.
Anyway, this isn’t Bonjela’s Book Club (I mean, it’s a cute idea, but we’d only get through three books a year…but maybe that’s a good thing? Low pressure. It could be A Bookclub For Very Busy People. Or how about a Book Club, but for Vanity Fair long reads? Now there’s an idea).
Today, I wanted to tell you about one particular story from Viv’s book. Some interesting Fashion History, so to speak.
I wanted to tell you about Sid Vicious and Doc Martens.
So Viv was really good friends with Sid Vicious, way before he joined the Sex Pistols. She says that Sid wasn’t as dangerous as he was portrayed to be. She also says that he was way more talented than he was portrayed to be. There’s a picture of him in the early 70’s going to a Bowie gig wearing a Bowie tee – he’s something like 12 – and it’s really cute and makes me sad, cos he was just a shy, awkward, kid who loved Bowie and got excited about seeing his idols like the rest of us.
Viv talks about how insanely natural and skilled as a musician Sid was. When she first met him he played the saxophone (?!?!), but realised that wouldn’t have much weight in the burgeoning punk scene. So one day he picked up the bass and was able to play it instantly.
Sid and Viv would hang out all the times. Share beds. Totally platonic. They were like brother and sister. It’s really sweet. And heartbreaking. I think she fell out of touch with him when Nancy came along, and she doesn’t speak about it much.
Whenever Viv would go out with Sid, as ‘oh he’s alright actually’ I describe Sid as being – Sid was still a violent, unpredictable, hooligan. Wherever they would go, Sid was always getting into fights and putting them in dangerous situations.
One night they were out, and Sid provoked a gang of skinheads and Viv and Sid had to run for their lives. Except Viv was wearing a pair of Vivienne Westwood’s ridiculous rubber fetish heels and couldn’t run for shit. Luckily she got away safe.
But from that day on, Viv knew that heels, with her dresses, were not going to cut it, any more. Not whilst she was hanging out with Sid. And so she swapped her heels for a pair of Doc Martens, and teamed them with her floral dresses and skirts, so that she could be ready to leg it at any time. Docs, back then, were for the punks and skinheads and to be worn with jeans, your Fred Perry polo shirts and bombers. They were not for dresses.
But out of social need, and safety, Viv started wearing her docs with everything, all her dresses and skirts, and never stopped. Then everyone else in the punk scene, then everyone in London, started wearing Docs with their dresses. And this, my friends, is how that style combo was born.
The reason we all wear Docs and combat boots with our dresses because Sid Vicious could not keep out of a fight.
The punks that followed, the Riot Grrrls, grunge and every 90’s alt-teen girl cliche. Oh. And me.
I’ve worn Docs with dresses ever since I got my first pair about 7 years ago. It never occurred to me where the style originated. It just always felt very cool. I guess I assumed it was a grunge thing.
But also, living in a post-earthquake city, it is also a very practical choice. You’re endlessly walking across shingle, uneven, rocky surfaces and cracked pavements and I think I gave up on heels a long long time ago. A bit like Viv, my Doc habit has been as much about safety and practicality as it is style.
Either way. No matter how or why you wear you boot/ dress combo – we all have Viv Albertine to thank for this look. And I think she deserves a medal.