Doc Martens Review: Why The 1460s Are Overrated

Here’s a weird fact I hadn’t heard before I started researching these boots: the first Dr. Martens boot was designed by Dr. Klaus Märtens who was a doctor in the German Army in 1945.

As in the Nazi Army.

He injured his ankle while skiing and found that the Nazis’ standard-issue army boots were uncomfortable on his injured foot, so he designed a new boot made with air-padded soles made from tires. Eventually he went into business making the soles, for a while with discarded rubber from Luftwaffe airfields — that’s the Nazi air force — and at the outset the Dr. Martens boots were framed as a solution to nagging injuries, orthopedic foot problems, age-related foot pain, things like that. For the first decade, 80 percent of their sales were made to housewives over the age of 40.

Somehow their target market went from being that uncool to being incredibly cool and as the 20th century progressed, Dr. Martens became the unofficial boot of skinheads and punks and grunge musicians.

For a long time they were made in England but after they almost declared bankruptcy in 2003, they moved production to China and Thailand and according to Business Insider, just 1 percent of their shoes are still made in England. But the boots remain a symbol of Cool Britannia, so let’s take a closer look at the Asian-made Docs.

 

[Love these boots? Get the best price for them on Amazon here.]

Dr. Martens 1460 First Glance

  • Shiny, corrected grain leather
  • Mostly single stitched
  • Over 7 inches tall
  • Pretty shapeless
  • Characteristic yellow stitching

This is a pretty uncomplicated boot: while Doc Martens calls this “full grain” leather it’s super corrected and smooth, making for a shiny, plasticky, relatively thin leather.

It’s mostly single stitched so it’s not screaming durability with triple and quadruple stitches all over the place like a pair of White’s, the construction is pretty basic. It’s a tall boot, well over 7 inches (so you need to make sure you have pretty long socks), and the shoe itself ins’t particularly streamlined or contoured, the toe is rather snubby.

Otherwise, the most characteristic things about the 1460 are the famous yellow stitching around the welt and the famously squishy rubber sole. Both of which make for a boot that doesn’t look particularly elegant or formal, but I think that’s the point — these boots are meant to look hip. Märtens has made über casual boots that are utterly impossible to dress up, but they pass in a lot of outfits and environments that wouldn’t otherwise be boot-friendly.

Doc Martens leather

Doc Martens 1460 Leather

  • Comes from South America or Asia
  • Super corrected leather
  • A little plasticky
  • Available in many colors/patterns

When I spoke with their helpline they told me that this leather comes from “either South America or Asia” which is a pretty broad net to cast but that’s the only information they gave me.

Now, the company describes this as “full grain leather” even though it’s very, very smooth and doesn’t have a trace of grain on the skin. This is corrected leather — it’s been smoothed out, that’s corrected — but since it’s made from the top layer of the animal’s hide, it’s often referred to as corrected full grain leather, and that’s how Dr. Martens’ representative described it to me. If you’re a leather purist there’s a chance you object to the idea of “corrected full grain leather” as a contradiction in terms. I’d remind you that Horween considers their famous full grain leather Chromexcel to be corrected as well, as they said in my interview with them. But I’m going to just say this is corrected grain to be safe.

This leather is so smooth that in my opinion it looks quite plasticky. There’s no real surprise there, everyone knows what Doc Martens look like before they buy them and this is an aesthetic that speaks to a lot of people but in my opinion, this leather looks as cheap as it is.  

Doc Martens rear

Their packaging describes this as

“Durable and famously stiff to start with, it moulds to your feet and gets more comfortable with wear. smooth leather can be polished to a dapper shine or artfully scuffed up, depending on your preference.”

Now this is the very classic 1460 leather, which they describe as having “a smooth, semi-bright appearance.” Personally, I’d use “greasy” as the first word to describe them but they actually have another version of this boot they actually call “Black Greasy” which is less shiny.

That’s one of the good things about buying from such an enormous company: they have a ton of other leathers to choose from. I picked up the classic leather because it’s the most popular and I wanted the review to be as useful for as many people as possible, but you can also get these in oxblood — I had a pair when I was 17 — or white, or a range of flowery patterns. There’s even one in Horween’s famous Chromexcel leather if you’re inclined to pay extra.

Doc Martens akimbo

Dr. Martens Leather Care

  • Doc Martens suggests their “Wonder Balsam”
  • Made of lanolin, beeswax, coconut oil
  • Use once a month
  • Dubbin Polish will add a thicker wax layer

The company is known for their “Wonder Balsam” product that they recommend for their leather, which is made from lanolin, beeswax, and coconut oil. It’s meant to soften and polish the leather but remember not to use it any more than once a month.

You can probably use similar off-brand products if you like and I know a lot of folks just use coconut oil, but if you’re really interested in water resistance that beeswax is pretty important.

Then again, if you’re really interested in making the leather as durable as possible, Doc Martens also sells a natural wax formula called Dubbin Polish that adds a bit of a thicker layer of wax to the shoe.

Doc Martens sole

Dr. Martens Sole

  • Super soft
  • Great shock absorption
  • No shank
  • Hard to resole

This is the main event. The sole is what made Dr. Martens famous and it’s made from an inorganic rubber that’s oil and fat resistant. It really is super soft; as I mentioned above, it was originally used for people with orthotic concerns or foot pain.

Now, it is not even a little bit dressy. But again, it’s not meant to be: it’s meant to be a comfy, casual boot and I have to say the sole was my favorite thing about the boot. The shock absorption is great, the rubber is soft but not too soft, and it’s a delight to walk around in. I did find it’s a little squeaky on indoor surfaces, but that may change as the shoes get older.

Doc Martens stitch

After the rubber, there’s what the guy on the phone called a “cork material” and then the insole is a “vegan material” that he then clarified is polyurethane foam, which would further add to the shock absorption.

A few downsides to this sole: there’s no shank, which means it’s not as stable as other boots, and it’s very hard to resole. If you’re asking, “But isn’t this a Goodyear welt?” well, I know what you mean. It’s a weird kind of Goodyear welt and just as Doc Martens calls this “full grain leather,” I feel like they’re playing fast and loose with their terms, here. For these shoes, the upper is heat sewn to the sole with flame. You can see it in this neat video below, which should start at the welting.

Yes, it looks cool, but while some cobblers do specialize in resoling these shoes you shouldn’t expect to be able to resole them. But then, the sole is super longlasting and the upper isn’t that longlasting, so it probably won’t be an issue.

Dr. Martens Fit & Sizing

  • No half sizes
  • Size down
  • Sole is crazy soft
  • Doesn’t fit the foot that well

For men, the sizes run from 6 to 14. There’s just one width available and no half sizes. To find your fit, they recommend sizing down one half to one full size — I’m an 11.5 and the size 11 fit me fine. But with no half sizes and no other widths, they’re making the shoe somewhat inaccessible to, what, half the population?

As for walking around and breaking them in, there are a few things worth pointing out.

Number 1: the sole is crazy soft, which made for a pretty nice experience.

Number 2: the lack of a shank was clear. A lot of people feel like a shank is the most important part of a shoe and purists will be disappointed by this.

Doc Martens shapeless

Number 3: in general, it just doesn’t fit the foot very well. I often have ankle slippage and I find it simply didn’t contour to the foot very well. To be fair, I’m coming off of a pair of White’s Service Boots which fit better than almost any other shoe I’ve tried. But my Docs give me quite a bit of slippage and more importantly, I just didn’t find it contoured the foot as ergonomically as it should have. This is a brand that began as a means for helping people recover from foot injuries, so I was expecting something more ergonomic but alas, it’s just a pretty blobby, generic fit.

All I’ve ever heard about these boots is that they’re hard to break in, but personally I didn’t really have issues. I think that’s because these are Asian made Docs, not the pricier ones made in England. Sure, I got a little abrasion on my pinky toe but otherwise I didn’t have problems.

[Get the lowdown on fit in my ultimate guide to how boots should fit.]

Doc Martens welt

Dr. Martens Price

The best price is always on Amazon, you can check for the best price here. Normally they’re between $120 and $145 for a pair. If you prefer the Docs that are made in England, those are usually closer to $200.

Some people say that the British shoes are better quality. In my experience with matters like these, they’re probably just being wistful for a less globalized world. (See also the American-made Thursday boots, made in response to people thinking Mexican made means poor quality.) Some say the leather is thicker in the British version, others say it’s thinner, in any case I haven’t tried them out and can’t say either way.

Doc Martens together

The Verdict

Dr. Martens Pros

  • Very cheap
  • Super soft sole
  • Water resistant
  • Casual, can be worn with a t-shirt
  • Cultural icon

Dr. Marten Cons

  • High shaft
  • Laces come undone easily
  • Hard to resole
  • Shapeless
  • Doesn’t fit well
  • No shank
  • Leather is thin
  • Not versatile
  • Not very mature
  • A little feminine

I don’t like these boots. Sure, they’re casual, but they’re so casual I feel very weird wearing these with anything other than black jeans and if I’m being honest, they really are a brand that’s targeted very squarely at youth culture.

These are boots for teenagers.

The bright yellow stitching really drag down the maturity of these boots as do the plasticky nature of the leather and the chunky rubber sole. I know I’ll make enemies saying this but they simply aren’t grown up boots. If I see a man in his 30s, 40s, or 50s wearing these, my immediate thought is that he didn’t get the memo that adults are allowed to wear nicer boots.

Now, I know that might be the point — they’re not for stuffy olds, they’re an icon of rebellious youth, of sullen teenagers, of flannel skirts. But on that note, these are unisex boots. I think it’s fair to say that when women wear them it’s to give their outfit a tougher, more masculine edge. When a man wears them? I think they feminize his outfit.

I’m not saying that’s an objectively bad thing or that no man should ever wear these, I’m just saying that the yellow thread, the shapeless form, this cheap, crappy leather, and the association with grunge and punk make for a boot that just looks like it’s meant for boys and women.

It’s meant for youth culture and rock’n’roll culture and if you fall into one of those camps, enjoy them. If you don’t, I don’t know why you’d wear them.

29 thoughts on “Doc Martens Review: Why The 1460s Are Overrated”

  1. Have you tried the 1460 Laceless? The leather is milled and the overall vibe is superb to the standard 1460 – more like the high-end version. I believe you may like these (if you don’t mind a side zipper – eliminating that pesky my-boots-won’t-stay-tied issue).

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  2. I think your analysis misses out on the nostalgic factor of boomers buying these to relive the misspent days of their youthful consumerism . But spot on on the material construction of the current iteration though.

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  3. Great review though. And great site. I just bought some doc boots and they’re way to chunky so swapped for shoes… they’re chunky too but still think I’d be better off with a Thursday boot. Ah well. I’ve worn them now.

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  4. Just purchased a pair of the made in England boots for my daughter. The quality seems poor, cheap corrected leather. Time will tell but I have low expectations.

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  5. Do you have any idea about Dr Martens Serena fur lined? Do they have a good grip on ice? My second option is Timberland Premium 6 inch boots. I have bought both of them to try on I feel good in both but I just want to know which one will work better in snow and ice.
    P.S. I live in Sweden.

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  6. I used to wear Doc’s all the time. I needed work boots & they fit my style better than Timberlands. The “corrected” leather cracks pretty quickly, & the lack of a shank is an issue on job sites.

    An older worker told me to save up for Carolina, Chippewa, Danner, Thorogood, Red Wing or Wolverine.

    Thorogood’s have been my favorite work boot ever since. Great customer service, too.

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  7. I have worn Asian made Docs (mostly 1460s) since before they stopped making them in the UK. I know they have a “special” line now, but I haven’t worn those.
    They are tough tennis shoes, not sure where people are getting the idea these are purchased by people who are buying work or fashion boots. They are extremely durable tennis shoes that I can get away with wearing to work instead of dress or work shoes.
    Moved to Solovairs for actual boots years ago (I have yet to try the UK Docs, probably never will), but I love and will never stop buying Asian Doc Martens because they are the dead center between canvas sneakers and actual work boots, and they last a hell of a lot longer than any tennis shoes. I wouldn’t try running in them, though…

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  8. To each their own I guess. I’m 40. I have a pair of Greasy boots and Iowa WP. I wear 10.5 normally and have mine in 10. They fit fine. They go with my normal, 40yr old guy outfit which is some levis, tshirt/button up. If someone judges me by what I find comfortable and my style then I figure they’ve got bigger issues to deal with.

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  9. I recently bought a pair because they were on sale for $90, I liked the way they looked, and they felt good when I tried them on. Your article makes it seem like every time I wear them I look like a feminine weirdo that is in the midst of a mid life crisis. They just look like basic black boots to me.

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  10. I’m 31. I have 18 pairs of Palladium boot which are made from all kind of materials. I’m a big fan of Palladium. Recently I bought myself two pairs of Docs. All my boots are Unisex and I like them that way. Making a man look more feminine is a feature. Maybe that feature does’t serve you but it serves me. All my boots go well with my Ecko T-shirts, jeans and even some other oversize outfits. The style represent a fearless, “I don’t give a f***” attitude. Even I’m 31, My face look so young that many people make mistake thinking I’m 24. I love being that way. Trying to look older is just the dream of young boys.

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  11. My mom has docs from the 80s and I can immediately tell the difference between those and what I got. For starters, the leathers on both my Asian and English docs were pretty floppy and weak, while the corrected leather on my mom’s boots was stiff even after years and years of wear. Second, the coating on the leather is tougher as well. Third, the stitching is more true to a good-year welt than today’s boots. Fourth, the sole is not only harder but is more stiff, thanks to a (strong) wood shank.
    I also hate how everyone and their mother complains about bleeding their feet with these. Sure back then it made sense, but when people tell me that today I am like “Are you feeling alright? I dare you to try Red Wings and then you’ll understand what a real break-in period is.”
    My point is the brand caters to the nostalgia of the boomers and Gen X (as mentioned in another comment). It’s no different than using the heritage selling point. I’d say companies like Solovair and Gripfast are much better. I have yet to try them out, but I can’t wait!

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    • Cool, thanks for the note Dustin! The fact that the leather is so easy to pinch and fold, even around the heel, is a clear indicator that it’s not tough. I’d love to get my hands on a pair of old Docs like your moms!

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  12. I have several pairs of Docs and do not find any slippage around the heel as you mentioned. Considering I’m on my feet in 1460s all day at work, have a hip replacement, arthritis in my foot (so a boot is better for foot comfort) and a bad knee, these are the best thing ever for me. I do also put a DM inner sole in which maybe lends a little more arch support. Even my surgeon and physio approve these boots. I also tie my boots the straight bar lacing way which eliminates crossovers on the foot for more snug fitting.
    I’m 63 aand female and have worn Docs for years and will continue to do so.
    I guess each to his own. I just wish I looked as cool as the young girls, but being English I really don’t care what others think

    Reply

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