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:
- Why Compare These Two Boots?
- Dr. Martens’ and Solovair’s Aesthetic
- Dr. Martens’ vs Solovair’s Leather
- Dr. Martens’ vs Solovair’s Sole
- Dr. Marten vs Solovair Sizing
- Dr. Martens’ vs Solovair’s Price
- Pros & Cons
The 1460's combat boot silhouette, combined with a cushy sole and trademark contrast welt stitching, has kept customers coming back for nearly 80 years.
Solovair Black Hi-Shine Derby Boots are made in England and provide wearers with a clean yet modern design. The silhouette is classic and the brand offers this boot in a myriad of leathers.
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 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.
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 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 Sole
- 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.
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.
[Related: The 8 Best Boot Soles You Should Know About]
- Rubber outsole
- More padding under heel, less under toes
- Wood shank
- 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.
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]
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:
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 vs Solovair Price
- Solovair: $215
- Dr. Martens: $150
Dr. Martens vs Solovair Pros & Cons
Here are the main benefits of each boot:
- Softer outsole
- Leather’s more comfy (at first)
- Much cheaper
- Better quality leather
- Maintain shape better
- Better arch support
[Related: My list of The Best Boots for Men]
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.
Are Dr. Martens and Solovair the same?
Solovair and Dr. Martens are not the same. They are similar, Solovair used to produce Dr. Marten boots in the UK, but not Dr. Martens are made in South East Asia and other countries. They use different leather, soles, and branding.
Do Solovair make Dr. Martens?
Solovair no longer makes Dr. Martens boots. They are different brands. Solovair used to make boots for Dr. Martens in England before Dr. Martens moved production overseas.
What is the difference between Doc Martens and Dr. Martens?
Doc Martens and Dr. Martens are the same brand. Customers shortened the name Doctor Marten to Doc Marten because it’s shorter and easier to say.
Are Solovair boots hard to break in?
Solovair boots are not difficult to break in but they do have thicker leather than Dr. Martens and take longer to break in because they use more durable materials.
Are Doc Martens and Solovair the same size?
They are not the same size. Solovair uses UK and US sizes on their website. Solovair also comes in half sizes. Doc Martens do not come in half sizes.
Does Solovair run big?
Solovair runs about a half size big. If you are a size 11, you want to try a size 10.5.
What is the difference between Dr Martens and Solovair?
While they look very similar there are notable differences. Dr. Martens are mostly made in South East Asia, and Solovair is made in the UK. Dr. Martens use thinner, cheaper leather. They also have their proprietary outsole called the AirWair sole.
Is it better to size up or down in Doc Martens?
It’s best to size down to the nearest whole size. For example if you are a US 11 size down to a US 10. Dr. Martens do not make half sizes.
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23 thoughts on “Dr. Martens vs Solovair – The Great British Boot Off”
Thank you! I think there are quite a few people who are disappointed by the current Asian produced Docs. In recent years I’ve grown into Allen Edmonds, Timberland, Danner, Mezlan and Pantofola d’Oro boots and shoes, but if I’m honest I do want a pair of Docs like the ones I wore in middle school, high school, & college.
I won’t settle for the garbage they’re making in Asia these days, and I don’t know if the UK Docs are true to their heritage. I, for one, would be very interested in a 3 way comparison between the UK and Asian made Docs and the Solovair boots.
Hey Caleb, glad the article resonated with you. I agree, I should definitely do a UK vs overseas Doc Martens head to head!
Get in touch with ‘The British Shoe Company’ shop in Camden Town, London, UK. Years of experience, They wouldn’t touch Docs that were made in Asia. Great place for info on both these manufacturers and more.
Love it! I’m heading to England this week actually
I could not agree more, pay them a visit if you can (Tube, Northern Line, Camden Town). They advised me to switch to Solovair about 20 years ago after a life of Docs. And not without hesitation I can tell you.
Those Solovairs I bought at that time are still in use. The missus told me that perhaps a new pair would be appropriate (rubbish, but hey, no arguing with SWMBO).
Good thing? They are still made, so no brainer, just get identical, but new. Life is good…
The Solovair steel-toe Gibson shoes I am wearing are vastly superior to the last pair of Dr. Martens I purchased. That pair of Doc Martens were so narrow and cheaply produced that I ended up giving them away, minus $140. Sadly, unless DM’s improve to their previous level of quality, I will be forced to pay more for Solovair or Gripfast gear.
Glad you agree, this was a stressful article to write!
Thank you for writing this article. I am in mourning for the docs I wore as a teenager and well not my thirties. I can’t believe I just gave them to charity shops. Gorgeous goth tbar heels and knee high sexy boots. They just stopped making them. I ordered a pair online of the standard sunshine yellow ones. They were made in Asia and stuff and awful. I can’t wear them. I miss my old friends. I loved my docs. I lived in my docs. They empowered me and made me happy. They made me feel like I could kick ass no matter the odds against me (a big deal when you are a teenage girl). I want my friends back but the brand has sold out and I am beyond gutted. Your article gives me hope that the real doc shoe makers are still out there making quality boots. I’m going to look them up now. Thank you xo
Hey I’m really glad this article was so useful to you, Danica! Wear the Solovairs with pride, I hope they find you well.
I just bought the solovair 20hole boots thanks to your article and am flogging my made in china docs on a second hand sales site. Really appreciate this article. Super excited to get my feet back into quality leather
excellennnnt good choice Danica!
Hey, great article and Im basically more or less sold on the Solovairs now. Just seems like the better Docs to me.
How is the weight comparison? I dont like very heavy boots and Docs are kind of the right weight for me. How much more do Solovairs weigh?
The Solovairs are a hair heavier but not what I would call heavy at all, definitely not approaching something like a Red Wing’s weight.
Maybe visit NPS shoes’ website before considering the (around double price) Camden boot shop. They have been ripping off tourists for years. £300 for solovair derby boots that are £179 online, for example. They do sell ‘made in england’ DMs which are only assembled in UK from Asian parts. Only thing is that Camden boots do have to their advantage are ranges such as Commando-soled 8 holes which last a lot longer (Thicker sole). I have owned both and the Solovairs are better in every way compared to DMs.
Great info, Rob!
Are the Solovairs in this review the greasy or hi-shine?
I wanted to buy a new pair of Docs to replace my 30 year old boots but I was very shocked how bad the quality was in comparison to my old, made in UK, Docs. The owner of the shop where I bought my old pair told me, that he don’t sell Docs anymore and told me about Solovair. So I stumbled about this article and decided to go with Solovair and I am not disappointed! In Germany, the new Docs I found cost regular 199€, Solovair (incl. shipping) 219€ but the difference in quality is enormous.
Excellent! I love thinking about Solovairs stomping around Germany and making a new legacy for the style. Hope you like them Christina!
Good comparison mate. Wish I knew about these two boots before I ordered my Docs – Made in England. It costs $450 (AUD). I am not sure if they have Solovair in Au, would have bought them instead. This being my second pair, I did compare the Doc in their showroom and when compared to the Timberland fit, I was compelled to buy the Timberland. Having said that my next, as and when I buy it would be Solovair.
Hey glad this was useful for you, Neel! Maybe you could order Solovair online, though shipping to oz, I know from experience, isn’t cheap!
The Great British Boot Off is an exciting and unique competition that pits the best British boot makers against each other. Participants must design and make a pair of boots that meets a set of criteria, then present their creation to a panel of judges. The competition tests the creativity and craftsmanship of the boot makers and pushes them to create something that is both fashionable and functional. The winner of the competition receives a cash prize and the prestige of being named the winner of the Great British Boot Off!
And they get free conditioning cream!!