How to break in Doc Martens, are Doc Martens waterproof, and do Doc Martens run big? Those answers plus more about the iconic British brand.
Dr. Martens is a British footwear brand, also referred to as Doc Martens or Docs, widely known for its combat boots and punk aesthetic. Its iconic design features an air-cushioned sole, polished leather upper, welted construction, and signature yellow stitching along the sole.
As with so many brands that are popular today, Doc Martens sprung forth from necessity for durable and attractive footwear for factory and workshop workers to wear. The 1460 boot model was Doc Martens’ first, followed shortly after by the 1461 oxford shoe.
The tough, polished leather upper was designed for durability and longevity, as well as safety—to protect workers’ toes—while the rubber composite lug sole was intended for stability and superior grip on factory floors and slippery surfaces.
But what about the famous air-cushioned sole?
Read on for more Doc Martens history, how to break in Doc Martens, and more helpful info about the brand.
The origins of Doc Martens’ iconic “Airwair” footwear actually goes back to the second World War in Germany, where the air-cushioned sole was first invented and marketed. After an initial prototype, Dr. Klaus Maertens and Dr. Herbert Funk produced their innovative shoes for nearly twenty years before they linked up with England’s Griggs family, which had been in the footwear industry since the turn of the century and noticed an advertisement for the duo’s unique sole.
Together, with the cobblery know-how of the Griggs company and license to produce Maertens’ and Funk’s air sole, the Doc Martens 1460 boot was born, taking its name from the date it was introduced: April 1, 1960.
The boots were designed for and sold mainly to the British working class, including postmen and factory workers, but the brand really took off when The Who’s Pete Townshend wore them on stage and on tour, as a reference to his own working-class roots in London.
Throughout the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, Doc Martens boots would be at the forefront of subcultural and movements, including the skinheads, glam and punk rockers, through the anti-government Troubles and grunge, and ultimately all things associated with British youth.
My first pair of Doc Martens boots, circa 1998, purchased on vacation in London, was a gorgeous shade of deep cherry, and I remember how much I loved wearing them to this day, how I wore them with exceeding pride. Not only had I chosen such a statement shoe to wear as an adolescent, but in oxblood red, and directly from the source in England!
Today there are hundreds of variations of Doc Martens boots, laced shoes, and sandals, all following the same clean design and simple qualities: durability, longevity, and style.
How to break in Doc Martens
There is plenty on the internet about how to break in Doc Martens, but here is a quick-reference guide that cuts through the noise:
First, wear them with a thicker pair of socks at first. This will ensure your foot doesn’t develop any nasty blisters.
Second, massage the leather uppers with your hands, which mimics the effect of your foot walking in the boots.
Third, consider the brand’s Wonder Balsam, a composite wax made of yellow beeswax, mineral oils, petroleum spirit (solvent), and petroleum-derived wax. You can rub it on the inside or the outside of your boots!
Fourth, use a shoe tree or other shape-holder to maintain the proper shape of the shoe and mimic the shape of your foot.
If you’re prone to rubbing or pain around the heel or along your achilles, consider a suede heel pad for comfort.
When in doubt, give them and your feet a break. In other words, don’t wear them all day immediately—give your feet and your new shoes time to adjust and become familiar with each other.
Are Doc Martens Waterproof?
No, Doc Martens are not fully waterproof. For that, you might consider a rubber boot or duck boot, which has a vulcanized rubber sole.
Doc Martens are however quite weather-resistant, meaning the iconic gum rubber sole is highly durable and can stand up to harsh weather conditions. Boots made with polished leather (they call it patent, we call it polished because patent is more glossy) will tend to resist wet weather better than suede versions, which are more porous and prone to staining.
Doc Martens has an extensive section of its website dedicated to shoe care, shoe protection, and various use topics.
Do Doc Martens Run Big?
Doc Martens run true to size, but only in whole sizes, meaning you should take your normal size. If you’re between whole sizes, the brand recommends that you size DOWN. Of course, keep in mind how you like to wear your shoes, like with thick socks or not, whether you like a bit of wiggle room, and that the leather will stretch some with use.
All Doc Martens are marked in US sizing, except the made in England styles, which use UK sizing. Subtract “1” from the US men’s/unisex size to arrive at the UK size, or subtract “2” from the US women’s size.
Keep in mind that women’s models will run narrower, as a rule, than men’s or unisex styles of the same converted size. So if you are usually a women’s size 8, the comparable men’s size is a 7, though you may want a men’s size 6 if you have a narrower foot.
Now that you know a bit about Doc Martens and the storied history of the brand, how to break in Doc Martens and do Doc Martens run big (no), you can shop for your new pair of Docs on italist.