Understanding the Doc Martens hype
The Iron Snail Clothing Company
Oh Dr. Marten, what would we do without you? You’re the only doctor I’d voluntarily let give my feet blisters. You’re the only doctor whose boots I’d buy.
Doc Martens are the makers of arguably some of the most famous boots in the world, but what do we know about them? Not enough probably. By the end of this blog post, you’ll know all of Dr. Marten's secrets. So buckle up for a scenic ride to Dr. Marten town!
What do we want to know?
Are Doc Martens the best combat boots? Are they a good deal? Do they deserve the hate they get? Why should you avoid the made in England versions? How waterproof are they? Are they comfortable? Are they difficult to break in? Are these worth the money? Are any Dr. Martens worth the money? What’s a good alternative to Dr. Martens?
Boy oh boy do we have answers for YOU.
In order to answer these questions, we’ve reviewed 3 boots for you (aka. Michael put his lil feet into these babies and walk around a whole lot):
- Dr. Martens 1460 Boots in regular leather
- Dr. Martens 1461 Oxford Shoes in vegan leather
- Solovair Monkey Boots
Table of Contents
Dr. Martens History
Dr. Martens Boots vs. Oxford Shoes
Vegan vs. Regular Leather
Are Dr. Martens Waterproof?
Maintenance & Repairs
Breaking in Doc Martens
Dr. Martens 'Made in England' Line (and why we don't recommend)
The best alternative to Dr. Martens Boots
A bit of context and Doc Martens history...
People have beef with Doc Martens because their boots and shoes used to be much better quality, namely their leather (they also used to all be made in England). During these higher quality times, Solovair was one of the makers of the original Doc Martens (we’ll talk more about them later). Basically, Doc Martens almost declared bankruptcy when their popularity went downhill, so they went overseas to stay afloat and have been making concessions to quality in order to stay in a certain price range since. The question is though, did they go to far or are they still okay?
Doc Martens Boots vs. Oxfords
Alrighty, let’s talk about the original 1460 Dr. Martens boots. When someone says “Doc Martens”, these are probably what you imagine.
While these aren’t as good of quality as they used to be, you can usually get them on sale, which is awesome (they usually retail at $170 full price). There are not many other boots in that range that knock it outta the park. So, as much as people complain, we’d challenge THEM to show us BETTER boots for THAT price! For the quality, you’re not getting totally ripped off (you could get a bit more for your money though, which we’ll get into later). Regardless of the quality decline over the years, people to this day don’t want just any leather Goodyear welted boot: they want Dr. Martens – the doc, if you will. So are they deserving of their price? Yep. There is only one Doc.
Then we have the Dr. Marten 1461 Oxford Shoes. These are the slimmest oxford shoes by Dr. Martens, and in our opinion, versatile and ~fancy~. These usually retail at $140.
Doc Martens Vegan vs. Regular Leather
What’s the deal with the regular Dr. Martens leather?
This is a medium weight leather that is very stiff because there is so much finish on the outside. Dr. Martens adds such a large amount of this finish because a) it’s sort of their iconic look and b) the leather they use isn’t very expensive.
Cheap leather has bumps, scratches, etc. on it and the way Doc Marten hides this is by coating their leather with a very heavy layer of plastic. Think of patent leather shoes – same idea here. However…this does have a secret benefit that makes these boots better than most for those cold, slushy, wet days.
Although there are some great benefits to having the finish…it sadly doesn’t age well. Meaning, it CAN separate from the leather over time and start to bubble, crack, or flake off. You wouldn’t see this happen with full grain (higher quality) leather that has little/no finish – it ages way better and is usually more visually flawless, with fewer nicks and scars on it.
With the Dr. Martens leather, if the finish does start to crack, the sad part is that you really can’t fix it. Naturally, people don’t love this. The interesting thing, however, is that we scoured the internet and couldn’t find any examples of totally trashed black Dr. Martens regular leather boots or shoes. So, maybe it’s not as much of an issue as we think.
That being said, these boots do not have an unlimited life to them. Some boots can be resoled and Doc Martens technically can be but it’s difficult and your cobbler will hate you. Sadly, as much as we love to not waste things…once these are done…they are done.
What about Dr. Martens vegan leather option?
Their vegan leather is essentially plastic – which isn’t always a bad thing! But we’ll get into that a bit later. The vegan leather option is more expensive, but they use better interior materials to justify this price increase. We speculate this was little more than a wise business decision on their part, and as a consumer, it's pretty reasonable, even though they saved money on the outer material, they made up for the price hike with the innards.
We think that regular Dr. Martens leather has a better feel to it, but the plastic isn’t all that bad (we’ll talk later about how it might be more weatherproof). The thing is though, that because there is so much finish on the regular Dr. Martens leather, there isn’t a huge difference between that and the Vegan leather. One has a leather base and a ton of plastic, while the other has a plastic (vegan) base and then…a ton of plastic.
These boots aren’t made to be repaired often anyways (we’ll tell you all about that next), so the main difference here is that with the regular leather, you’ll see more creases, the leather will age somewhat and “break in” but with the “vegan leather”, it will look more bent over time in places where it would normally crease (a.k.a it won’t age gracefully).
Are Dr. Martens waterproof?
Michael did us all a favor and stood in a stream to test these babies out. So, what did he discover?
Interestingly, because the leather has such a thick plastic finish on them it essentially becomes water impermeable instead of resistant (like unfinished leather). There wasn’t a big difference between that and the vegan leather. However, we do think that the vegan leather would be a bit better in rain, slush, and slow because of its purely plastic quality – it's really just not easily permeated by the elements. And since the heavy finish on the regular leather can wear down over time, if you’re worried about these often getting very wet, the vegan option is a good choice.
Dr. Martens Maintenance and Repairs
Okay, so here’s the thing: Dr. Martens aren’t really meant to be repaired or resoled. The thick finish they add to their regular leather can’t be reapplied, so if it’s cracking or worn out, you would probably just have to buy a new pair. Depending on how you wear them, it might be a while before this happens, or it may never happen! So, it’s not the worstttttt thing, but we’d much prefer a pair of boots that age well and can be repaired.
What about resoling?? Like we said, Dr. Martens aren’t really made to be resoled. If the soles do wear down, you can’t just replace them – you need to have someone basically take apart the entire boot and rebuild it. This is because the soles are heat sealed onto the rest of the boot, meaning they definitely won’t come off, but they’re basically fused to the shoe and can’t be easily replaced easily either.
Dr. Marten’s uses high-quality Air Walk soles on their boots when you buy them new, but they don’t let you resole them with the same soles. In other words, you can’t just buy Air Walk soles on their own to replace ones that have been worn down – they only come affixed to new Dr. Martens boots or shoes. So, if you did want to have your Dr. Martens resoled, you’d need to use a different sole, and then…these wouldn’t REALLY be Docs.
Breaking in your Dr. Martens: Are they comfortable?
Let’s say you did just buy a new pair of Dr. Martens. The soles are beautiful, everything is shiny and new, you’re looking fly af, and you’re loving life. How much can you expect your feet to hurt before they break in??
Well, when Michael tested out the regular leather 1460 boots, he didn’t have many issues. One of the reasons could be that these have a wider fit than the oxford shoes, but also the regular leather may just be softer and therefore gentler on the ole feets.
On the other hand, to use Michael’s exact words, the 1461 Oxford shoes in vegan leather were “blister city”. At least at first. These were much harder to break in than the 1460 boots in leather, meaning more blisters, more pain, and for a longer period of time. It’s hard to determine how long it’ll take for you to break in your shoes or boots…but it’s not the quickest process. Take it slow, walk up and down the block, and then let those puppies rest. You’ll thank us later. You know what they say though, fashion is pain.
Another factor in the comfort of a boot or shoe is the interior construction. Essentially, boots sometimes have what is called a ‘shank’ located in the bottom of the boot between the ball and the heel of where your foot would go. Shanks can be made of wood, metal, or even carbon fiber. The purpose of a shank is to maintain stability in the sole of the shoe.
What does this have to do with comfort, you ask? Well, when shoe soles are supported with a shank, they sag/bend towards the ground less…meaning they support the natural arch of your foot more…meaning your cute little tootsies have to do less work to support your weight :) In short, your feet will hurt less over time the more they are supported.
Dr. Martens boots and shoes do not have shanks in their interior construction. A good thing about this is that they break in more easily. The bad thing is that they aren’t the most supportive shoe and might not be as comfortable as other shoes over time. Especially if you have to be on your feet all day.
- If you care mainly about style or quick break in time, Dr. Martens might be the footwear for you.
- If you care about long term comfort, find a different option that is more supportive (with a shank)
- If you feel very strongly about long term comfort and the Dr. Marten style, we’ll talk about a good alternative to Dr. Martens later ;)
Dr. Martens ‘Made in England’ Line
Martens has an entire ‘Made in England’ line of boots and shoes, and you’ll never guess where they were made…
Basically, the Made in England line uses better leather, mid soles, other interior materials, etc. Items from this line will age better than the regular Dr. Martens. They’re also more expensive.
But here’s something spicy and controversial: we still recommend the regular Dr. Martens.
We know, it’s shocking and brave of us to tell you this, but we stand by it! The reason why we recommend the plain old Dr. Martens boots and shoes is because of the value, the bang for your buck if you will. We believe that while it’s great to support locally made Dr. Martens from England, all you’re really paying for is mainly them being made in England.
The materials are better (especially the leather) BUT these are still made the same and they’ll be very difficult to resole. Basically, we don’t think that the value of the better materials they use in this line is worth the increased price you’re paying for the ‘Made in England’ label. Especially since you can’t repair them. That’s not to say the Made In England label isn’t amazing…it’s just when we are talking value…it’s not all there.
There IS another option that we would highly recommend, however, if you’re all about finding the best quality. Remember earlier when we said Solovair made the original Dr. Martens back when they were reallllyyyy nice quality? Well, we suggest heading straight to the source…
Dr. Martens vs. Solovair: The Best Alternative
We tested out the Solovair Monkey Boots for you, and while they’re not perfect, we recommend you check these out for a few reasons.
First of all, Solovair is a smaller company, which is always nice to support :) There are also several other factors we take into consideration when we recommend you consider Solovair:
Leather/Materials: They use better leather than regular leather, which will age quite nicely. Dr. Martens They also use better quality midsoles.
Comfort: Their boots have a shank in their interior construction, which we know means that they will be a bit harder to break in, but will offer more support and overall comfort down the road.
Maintenance/Repairs: Solovair boots and shoes are Goodyear welted in a more standard way than Dr. Martens, which means you can resole them quite easily and you can repair the leather too.
Style: The Derby Eight Eye Boot by Solovair is basically the same as the classic Dr. Marten 1460 boot, it’s just missing the classic Dr. Marten brand yellow stitching.
Value: Solovair boots and shoes are less expensive than the Dr. Marten Made in England line of products, and use the same or better quality materials in our opinion.
- If you just want the straight up ‘Dr. Marten look’, you gotta go with the doc… you simply can’t find that classic yellow stitching anywhere else.
- If you care a bit more about long term aging, quality, and comfort, invest in Dr. Martens Made in England line, or check out Solovair. It won’t be a classic Doc Marten, but it might be better value