Dr. Martens vs Solovair – The Great British Boot Off

Ever since I published my first review on Dr. Martens 1460 boots, I’ve been asked to compare it to the shoe’s twin, Solovair. Why?

For starters, the boots are practically  identical, but the two brands also share a very storied history. Solovair — whose name just comes from “Sole Of Air” — were the manufacturers of Dr. Martens in Northamptonshire, England for decades. Back then they were sold under the license “Dr. Martens of Solovair.”

Solovair hasn’t really caught on in the United States the same way Dr. Martens has, but many consider Solovair the real Dr. Martens because when Dr. Martens moved most of their production to Asia, cutting ties with Solovair, Solovair didn’t stop manufacturing boots. They used their facility to make boots that are extremely similar to the Dr. Martens they used to make, but started selling them under the name of Solovair. 

Make sense? Dr. Martens stopped paying Solovair to make their boots so they could make them overseas, but Solovair just kept on making boots under a different name. So which one is better? Here’s what we’re looking at:

[SHOP DR. MARTENS HERE]

[SHOP SOLOVAIR HERE]

Wait, Why Not Compare Solovair With the “Made in England” Dr. Martens?


While they do sell a British-made Dr. Marten, 99 percent of all the company’s boots are not made in England. The flagship 1460 boot is made in Asia. Dr. Martens even says on their site that this made-in-Asia boot is “The original Dr. Martens boot.” It’s what the vast majority of people buy and it’s the company’s principle product, so it makes the most sense to compare these two models.

dr martens and solovair

Dr. Martens vs Solovair Aesthetic

  • 8 eyelets
  • Glossy, corrected grain leather
  • Bouncy rubber sole
  • Vibrant pull tab
  • Solovair is snubbier and glossier
  • Dr. Martens has yellow stitches

Both shoes are pretty similar. The Solovair has a glossier leather, but they’re both made with shiny, corrected grain leather — meaning it’s been smoothed down to eliminate the grainy, skin-like appearance of full grain leather — they both have 8 pairs of eyelets, a bouncy rubber sole, triple stitching along the sides, and single stitching at the counter and along the eyelets.

Where they differ — and we’re just talking about when you first look at the boots, the exterior — is that the Solovairs have a slightly snubbier look and the stitching is much more muted. A lot of guys don’t love the trademark bright yellow stitching on the Dr. Martens, so they find the more sober stitching on the Solovairs to be more versatile. Then again, other guys think the yellow stitching is almost the whole point of getting a boot like this.

The stitching along the sole actually serves different purposes on each boot, but first, let’s check the leather.

Doc Martens leather
Dr. Martens’ leather

Dr. Martens vs Solovair Leather

  • Dr. Martens from “South America or Asia”
  • Solovair European tanneries and cattle
  • Both smooth and glossy
  • Solovair’s is thicker and more robust

 Solovair has this “hi shine” leather and a matte, “greasy” leather, whereas the 1460s are more of a medium shine.

Dr. Martens doesn’t say a lot about the origin of their leather. When I called them up to find out, all they said was that it comes from “South America or Asia,” which is a pretty broad net of 5 billion people to cast. 

solovair stitching
Solovair’s leather

Solovair is a little more precise, guaranteeing that it’s from European tanneries and European cattle, a fact that’ll please the purists for whom made in England — or at least made in Europe — is really important. 

As previously mentioned, both leathers are corrected grain, meaning it’s remarkably smooth to touch, but the leather on the Solovairs is significantly more robust. The Dr. Martens has a much looser fiber structure and “floppier” feel; there’s more integrity to the Solovair’s leather. To be clear, neither of them are examples of amazing boot leather, but Solovair’s is thicker and less plasticky. This also means they come with a tougher break in, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

[Related: The Best Types of Leather for Boots]

dr martens vs solovair soles
Dr. Martens on the left, Solovair on the right

Dr. Martens vs Solovair Sole

Dr. Martens

  • Rubber outsole
  • Cork midsole
  • Polyurethane foam insole
  • Hard to resole
  • No shank

The sole is what Docs are famous for, and it’s my favorite thing about the boots. In fact, Dr. Marten made the soles of his first boots with discarded rubber from the German Air Force (he was a doctor in the German army in World War 2) and they were originally marketed as a solution to age related foot pain. That’s why they’re so soft. 

The shock absorption is fantastic, the rubber is soft but not too soft, and it’s a delight to walk around in. The footbed is made with a polyurethane foam that compresses over time, though, and that coupled with the absence of a shank means that the shoes aren’t so great for long term wear or for all day wear. Many people report no problems, but factory workers and folks who have to be on their feet for a living tend to note that they don’t prevent foot pain the way that well made, pricier boots do.

solovair pull tab

It’s also worth noting that Dr. Martens can’t really be resoled. The boots are advertised as having a Goodyear welt, but it’s not really a Goodyear welt. The upper is heat sewn to the sole with flame, which is cool and all, but it’s very hard to resole. Some cobblers specialize in resoling Dr. Martens if you’re happy to mail them your boots, but your average cobbler won’t be able to.   

In summary: it’s a nice soft sole, has great shock absorption, but isn’t great if you’re on your feet all day.

solovair sole
Solovair’s sole

[Related: The 8 Best Boot Soles You Should Know About]

Solovair

  • Rubber outsole
  • More padding under heel, less under toes
  • Wood shank
  • Resoleable
  • A little more rigid than Dr. Martens

This shoe also comes with a rubber outsole that’s a tiny bit less springy, but not to a significant degree. 

Regarding the rest of the boot’s construction, there’s more foam under the heel but less padding under the toe relative to the Docs. But the big thing to note is that Solovairs do have a shank. It’s made of wood, not steel, so it’s a bit more liable to break over time if you happen to aggressively bend the particularly bendy sole. But nonetheless, the consensus is that Solovairs are more comfy than Docs when spending all day on your feet — and the boot’s shape holds up better over time as well.

solovair and dr martens heel

The non-yellow “welt” stitch on the Solovairs, meanwhile, is actually decorative. It’s a second stitch, which is hidden on the inside of the boot, that’s keeping things together. But the take home message here is that the Solovairs are resoleable. 

In summary: Solovair’s sole is a tiny bit more rigid, but the foam under the footbed is better quality, the arch support is much better, the stability is better, and they’re resoleable.

[Related: Dr. Martens vs. Timberland]

Doc Martens together
Dr. Martens 1460

Dr. Martens vs Solovair Sizing

  • Dr. Martens: Size down to the nearest whole size
  • Solovair: Use British sizing (usually one whole size down from US sizing)

One of the most surprising things about Dr. Martens is that they don’t offer half sizes. It’s perhaps the most recognizable boot brand and on Earth and they don’t make half sizes. As someone with an 11.5 shoe size, this is frustrating. The company recommends sizing down half a size to one full size to find your fit. I went down to an 11 and it’s a little big, but a 10 would be too small. So I’m stuck with a blobby, not so great fit on the Docs.

Solovair does offer half sizes, but they use British sizing. This means when you get your confirmation e-mail it’ll show the British size, but the good news is their site will give you both options, so when you’re picking a size it looks likes this:

solovair boot sizing

Usually, your British size is one full size down from your true size in US sizes.

In short: I’m the same size (10.5) in both Dr. Martens and Solovair. But Dr. Martens doesn’t offer my size, so I had to go with a slightly-too-big 11 for Docs, 10.5 UK/11.5 US for Solovair. If you’re using your US size as a reference with Solovair, it’ll be your true size, the one you’ll get on a Brannock device in a shoe store. That’s typically half a size smaller than your sneaker and half a size bigger than your boot.


dr martens with solovair in the back

Dr. Martens vs Solovair Price

  • Solovair: $215
  • Dr. Martens: $150 

[SHOP DR. MARTENS HERE]

[SHOP SOLOVAIR HERE]

solovair boots times square

Dr. Martens vs Solovair Pros & Cons

Here are the main benefits of each boot:

Dr. Martens

  • Softer outsole
  • Leather’s more comfy (at first)
  • Much cheaper

Solovair

  • Better quality leather
  • Maintain shape better
  • Resoleable
  • Better arch support

solovair boots

I feel like the best line that summarized what advantages the Docs may have was in a review I saw on Gear Patrol:

As far as cultural cachet is concerned, Dr. Martens has it in spades (…) The yellow welt stitching is almost as iconic as the Levi’s red tab

In the short term, the Docs’ soles are softer, the leather’s more comfortable (because it’s thinner), and it’s way cheaper.

I think it’s fair to say that most people who want Dr. Martens buy them because they like the look and the heritage. It’s possible, though, that they’d spend a little more if they could find boots that look like Dr. Martens but are higher quality. 

If that’s you — if you’d spend a little more to get something similar but better — you should get Solovairs. At first, they’re less comfy because of the more rigid leather and arch, but long term they’re much more comfortable, they keep their shape better, the leather is better quality, and you can resole them. So they’ll last much longer. 

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By day: Manhattan-based journalist with reporting experience on four continents, published in Vice, Men's Health, Popular Science, and a bunch of other places.By night: ravenous consumer of anything and everything related to high end men's boots.Stridewise is where I nurture a maniacal obsession with footwear and share my findings. Say hey: [email protected]

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