Doc Martens - quality gone downhill? Also, sizing question.
September 20, 2014 8:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about getting a pair of Doc Martens: questions about sizing and quality issues.

1) I read an indignant review on Zappos about the quality of Doc Martens going downhill - they got rather irate and said you'd be better off going to Walmart and buying a pair of boots there. That led me to dig a little deeper, and this seems to be a common complaint: that the Docs of today are nowhere near the Docs of yesteryear.

What is your experience with the quality of this shoe brand? I'd like to hear from people who are very familiar with Doc Martens and/or have bought them within the last year or so.

2) Sizing: I've worn a women's (U.S.) size 7 and 1/2 most of my life, but recently I've found I've moved up a size to US women's 8. Some of the reviews mention that Doc Martens run large, and a few complain about the painful breaking-in window. Do Docs run large? And how to avoid a painful breaking in period?

A bit more information: I intend to wear these on the street only - 2 or 3 miles walking *max*. I do not intend to use them for hiking, climbing, or any other activity - they will be "streetwear" only.

(Note: I like to buy from Zappos because its way easier for me to order online than traipse into a shop, and they have a pain-free return policy if it doesn't work out.)

Any other information that may help me in my (possible) purchase is appreciated!
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome to Shopping (29 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Docs have a bunch of alternate products now, with different styles of leather, different construction, different soles. Some of them are even made out of vinyl. I've seen some Docs, particularly the ones with crazy patterns, that looked and felt extremely cheap.

I bought a pair of classic black leather 8-hole Docs last year however and they look, feel, and wear identically to the previous pair of black leather 8-hole Docs I bought twenty years ago.
posted by 256 at 8:51 AM on September 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


I have these triumph 1914s. I love them but the little tab meant to hold the laces in place on the tongue broke almost immediately. Never had problems like that with the Docs I wore in high school, but then, these are softer, more delicate-feeling leather than the ones I used to wear. Probably would not buy Docs made out of this material again.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:04 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


"I've seen some Docs, particularly the ones with crazy patterns, that looked and felt extremely cheap."

Oh dear. The ones I'm interested in have a pattern. Hm. I was also interested in these but having read PhoBWanKenobi's comment I don't know that I'd buy them now - different model but they have a little tab.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:17 AM on September 20, 2014


I have a pair in the style "Shoreditch" and they are great. None of the usual wearing in issues. I have the same size feet as you and buy a 39 in euro sizing.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 9:21 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just got a pair of 1490s (made in Thailand) and the leather seems much thinner than I remember it being. If the style you want comes with the 'lifetime' option, that might be worth pursuing.
posted by bink at 9:23 AM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have had mixed results. I got a pair of the wingtip oxfords which lasted only a year or two before the stitching came apart, but I've also bought a pair of the fur-lined boots which have held up wonderfully.

I wear a 9.5/41 women's and need a 10/42 in Docs.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:25 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think the quality is not quite what it was, but the prices are also similar to what they were 15 years ago when I bought my first pair, so...

I think the "Made in England" line is supposed to be the best. But those are more expensive.

As a data point, I wear about a 9 in US sizes and ended up in a 7 UK size for my newest pair, which is smaller than I was expecting. If you can try any on in a store that would be helpful.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 9:49 AM on September 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think it depends which style you buy. I have a pair of 1461 from almost 25 years ago that I still drag out and wear and I bought a new pair of 8 hole boots in traditional black leather 2 years ago. The quality doesn't seem all that different.

I agree that the patterned ones seem more cheaply made, but I think the material to get the pattern is part of the problem too. The Made in England ones vintage style in plain leather, they are better made, they cost more but that's why.

I have found that a lot of people don't actually seem to know how to look after real leather shoes and won't actually take care of the leather or polish it or dry them properly then complain when stitching or leather goes. Of course I am not sure how polish etc would work on patterned shoes so that might cut back on their lifespan as well.
posted by wwax at 10:03 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


wwax is right: they have a Made in England line which are the ones you want to go for. They're welted instead of injection molded, etc. I have noticed other shoe manufacturers splitting their products into a Made in First World Country vs. Made with the Blood of Children in Sweatshops. Redwings has a "Heritage" line that does the same thing as Docs does.

Similarly, the Redwings Heritage line has a longer break-in period, which I have heard referred to as "hellish." There may be an unfortunate correlation between the length of the painful break-in period and the quality of the shoe.

Many shoe-buying sites have a bit in the reviews where you can see if a size "runs large" or "runs small" or the like, which I didn't notice until it was pointed out to me.
posted by adipocere at 10:26 AM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have found that a lot of people don't actually seem to know how to look after real leather shoes and won't actually take care of the leather or polish it or dry them properly then complain when stitching or leather goes. Of course I am not sure how polish etc would work on patterned shoes so that might cut back on their lifespan as well.

Eh, mine started coming apart after about a week's worth of wear. I don't think you can blame it all on user error.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:28 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can't speak for recently made Docs, as I still wear mine that I got in 1991! But I can speak to your question about breaking them in. Yes, they took a long time to break in, maybe because I have thin ankles/heels. I remember wearing lots of band-aids on my heels for a year or so. No different from my collection of Frye boots in that respect.
posted by quixotictic at 10:28 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am a woman and do go down a shoe size when I buy doc martens (from a UK 5 to a UK 4). I do think the quality has gone down, but that the plain leather ones are still great quality for the price you are paying. I personally would spring for the Made in England versions (I actually buy Solovairs, which are made by the company that makes the Made in England doc martens. There are complaints online about their quality declining as well, but I haven't had any issues). I wouldn't buy any of the patent, patterned or "fancy" versions, I don't think they hold up as well.

They definitely have a breaking in period (I couldn't properly walk down stairs in my 14 hole boots for weeks), but I never had a problem with blisters providing I wore thick socks. A lot of polishing also helps to soften the leather.
posted by stillnocturnal at 10:31 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Unrelated to quality, but if you live in a very cold area the gummy doc soles will freeze into ice skates in winter.
posted by benzenedream at 10:35 AM on September 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


Doc's were very fashionable 20 years ago and I bought two pairs - lace-up "hiking" style, and a pair of oxfords for work. Last time I ever bought the damn things. More fashion-statement than actual shoe.

I bought a pair of Blundstones a few years ago that lasted me five years. And then I bought another pair. Much better quality, and they keep your feet completely dry in winter slush and snow. Doc Martins do not. Hate them.
posted by Nevin at 10:46 AM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I do think the quality has gone down, but that the plain leather ones are still great quality for the price you are paying.

Yep, I would agree with stillnocturnal. I'm on my third year with a pair (10-eyelet cherry red boots) and though they no longer look new by any means, they're still going strong. That's through commuting on foot wearing them every day for two years, working as a walking tour guide, and doing nothing more than a weekly polish to look after them. The indestructible ones I had when I was a teenager would have held up better, but I don't feel ripped off.

The amount of difficulty you'll have breaking them is hard to predict. A friend and I bought the same boots at a similar time, and I think his were torture for quite a while. Mine took a few weeks to be soft enough to wear with just tights (without a sock layer), but they were pretty painless. Maybe it was luck, but there was no visible difference in the two pairs or anything.
posted by carbide at 11:13 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've worn DMs pretty consistently since around 1990, and I agree the quality isn't what it was. For my last pair (mary janes) I bought Solovair instead - they are exactly the same as the made in England DMs, as Solovair owns the patent for the Airwear bouncing sole and licensed it to DM (exclusively until about 10 years ago). The only issue I've had with them is a snapped buckle after about two years, but that was easily replaced. I get mine from the British Boot Co in Camden.
posted by goo at 11:15 AM on September 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


And re breaking them in - for boots you can speed the process up by rubbing the really hard leather at the back of the ankle with Dubbin wax or similar leather conditoner. Just put it on your fingers and kind of massage the leather for an hour or so while you're watching TV or whatever. Otherwise the first few weeks are pretty painful, and bloody (for me anyway!).
posted by goo at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just bought a pair of Dharmas in black from the Doc store in DC. They are fully awesome and wicked-sturdy. I am your same lady-size (7 1/2 up to 8) and the US 7 fit me perfectly.
posted by ersatzkat at 12:15 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Back when I used to live in the UK and wear Doc Martens in late 80s and early 90s, I remember talking to a shoe store salesman about this. He told me that the Doc Martens sole was patented, but that the company sold rights to manufacture the shoe uppers to different manufacturers, and so this resulted in a wide variety of different shoe qualities. There were also a variety of qualities because of the different uses they were put to. Every tradesman wore a version, but they were also a fashion statement for students and young people. I can attest to having several pairs of different quality myself. One pair broke in like butter, and another remained stiff and unyielding forever. People are right that the "made in England" version is a better version of the shoe.
posted by amusebuche at 12:20 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've had a ton of different pairs over the years, but man, it's true, DM is not what it used to be. The best quality I've experienced in the last few years is in the Excel leather ones from the James series - they're built in Vietnam, which is probably not great, but the leather is as close as it gets to what it was in the glory days. That having been said, I've pretty much moved on. If it's the style you're after, go for Solovair; if it's the imperviousness, go for something like Wolverine 1000 Mile.
posted by ZaphodB at 3:14 PM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I also went with Solovairs. They are the Docs of the 1980s.
posted by oflinkey at 4:34 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I normally wear a 7.5 -8 in shoes and my current Docs are UK 5/ US 7. I've never had problems breaking in any Docs because I always replace the insoles with really good, thick, supportive ones. For me this eliminates much of the slopping around that causes blisters.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:18 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've got some from 20 years ago that are still great, and my sister bought identical looking ones last month. I was surprised to find that the quality seemed similar as far as you can tell by eye and by poking and prodding them. They are just the plain black ankle boots though. No idea about the others.

I did notice they have women's and men's in every style, including the unisex ones, and the sizes differ by about 2 numbers. I am a size six in men's and a size 8 in women's and apart from the number they don't seem very different. So beware.

Also, mine have pretty much never completely broken in. I still get a raw patch on my heel if I walk more than an hour in them, or wear them a few days in a row.
posted by lollusc at 8:26 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


goo: "I've worn DMs pretty consistently since around 1990, and I agree the quality isn't what it was. For my last pair (mary janes) I bought Solovair instead - they are exactly the same as the made in England DMs, as Solovair owns the patent for the Airwear bouncing sole and licensed it to DM (exclusively until about 10 years ago). The only issue I've had with them is a snapped buckle after about two years, but that was easily replaced. I get mine from the British Boot Co in Camden."

Solovair looks interesting but I don't really see any USA retailers carrying them? They have a direct site which as zero products which is odd. I know ebay has a few for sale but nothing on their official UK site.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 9:15 PM on September 20, 2014


chrono_rabbit, British Boot Co linked in my comment above ship to the US for £30.
posted by goo at 12:47 AM on September 21, 2014


Owner of many Doc Martens, and yes, there is a significant difference between the styles. I would say that the ones I have which are thinner leather and I know are not going to last as long as my Made In England ones are very, very comfortable, and because the leather is thinner and softer have taken a fraction of the time to break in. I haven't noticed any problems with what I'd call 'build quality' - I know they're not going to last as well because of the leather thinness, but I haven't noticed any other issues beyond that (and I wear my docs for 13 hour shifts).

My Made In England ones were bought five years ago now, and are wearing out only because the soles are wearing out through having been worn so much. But as I said, much longer to break in.

In fact, the only problem I've ever had with Docs was with a patent pair I bought in the 90s, which cracked along the back of the heel, so I resolved never to buy patent docs again.

They are, though, expensive for what you get. I like the designs, and the fact that they go up to a size 9 (UK).
posted by Vortisaur at 6:27 AM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well, I bought a few new pairs of Docs lately and all are pretty solid. And the pair that was patterned leather - these Hieronymus Bosch boots - are fine in terms of the quality of the leather. I polish them every week or so with leather cream and they look great.
posted by Megami at 6:34 AM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


goo: "chrono_rabbit, British Boot Co linked in my comment above ship to the US for £30."

Hmm--the odd part for shoes if when I look for shops they don't really have my size in-stock US 6/ 4 UK =(

Thanks anyways.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 1:22 PM on September 21, 2014


I bought a pair of (welted) purple patent lamper Docs last year -- I love them even though I'm sure the quality isn't as good as previous Docs I've owned. I got a good deal on them so I'm not sweating it.
posted by mirepoix at 8:45 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


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