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.
You know, the army that was being run by the Nazi party at the time.
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.
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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. 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, 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 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 actually corrected leather — it’s been smoothed down — but since it’s made from the top layer of the animal’s hide and it’s not suede or roughout, Dr. Martens’ representative described it to me as full grain. 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, 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.
Their packaging describes it 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.”
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 seasonal options that, in the past, have included flowers.
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, for use every 6 months or so depending on how hard you wear them and how dry the leather looks.
[Related: The 5 Best Boot Conditioners You Can Buy]
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.
While it’s not at all dressy, this is 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.
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.
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.]
Dr. Martens Price
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.
Here’s the summary.
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
- 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.
[Related: My list of The Best Boots]