How to Break in a Pair of Doc Martens Shoes
Hooray! You’ve bought a pair of Docs! Take a moment to admire their never-worn beauty, because by the time you're done with them, they are going to look somewhat less pristine.
Breaking in your new Docs will take time and patience, but everyone goes through it. Read on to discover the ways to make this rite of passage go smoothly.
Be Sure to Buy the Right Size
The too-small pair on sale will never fit, no matter what you do to them.
Breaking Your Docs In
Why is there a breaking-in period?
Well, consider the type of leather they're made of. Big, black, standard DMs are made from rigid, hard leather than requires care and time to soften it up and render it to the perfect fit. You may decide to engage a softening agent to save time and protect the leather from cracking, or you may choose to let them tell their own story. Remember, you spent a pretty penny on these iconic shoes, so give them the care they deserve!
At first, wear them around your home for one to two hours at a time. I'm not going to pull punches here… this will likely hurt the backs of your ankles, but hang in there! It will be worth it in the long run.
Doc Martens: There Will Be Blisters
Taking Care of Your Feet as You Break in Your DMs
At first, after wearing your Docs all day, several things may happen:
- Your socks will have left serious impressions and/or patterns on the top of your feet, especially if the socks are ribbed. Your feet will feel itchy in those spots. But take care! If you must scratch, do so gently; vigorous scratching of irritated skin will cause it to scrape and bleed. Try soaking your feet in a foot bath or basin filled with or epsom salts. Towel them dry and massage gently if they are still feeling pinched. Johnson's foot soap
- If you have tied your laces tightly or have a fleshy calf, the boots themselves may have also left impressions on your calves. These impressions will go away over a period of several hours. Seeing an indentation on your calf can be distressing! Try not to tie your boots quite so tightly next time.
Softening Your Boots
Softening your hard, smooth leather boots is easy when you do it right. Although the least hassling way to break in a pair of Doc Martens is to wear them outside, once blustery winter weather rolls around, take care to protect them! Water and salt will leave mottled marks on your shoes, and that's never attractive. So consider one of these treatments:
- Wonder Balsam is Dr. Martens' unique blend of coconut oil, lanolin, and beeswax that protects against water, liquid, and salt marks while keeping the leather nice and supple without polishing.
- Dubbin Polish is their natural wax formula for greasy, oily, and waxy leathers. It provides a water resistant coating to leather and is great for breathing new life back into old, dirty shoes that have been exposed the elements.
- If you didn’t apply Wonder Balsam or another type of protectant and ended up with salt marks, Dr. Martens brand black polish will restore color to your treasured black boots… use cherry polish for cherry-reds!
Socks with Docs?
Invest in several pairs of thick, soft, or squishy socks (i.e. wool for winter). They will protect your feet and ankles while stretching the leather where you need it to be stretched.
By all means avoid wearing thin cotton socks with your DMs until you have broken them in somewhat!
Other Ways to Help Break in Docs
- The last time I was in a DM store, the salesgirl informed me that some styles are cut more narrowly than others... for example, 1460s are cut significantly more narrowly than 1461s or some newer styles. If your Docs feel too narrow, consider using moleskin or a bunion pad in spots to protect your tootsies. It may not be glamorous, but your feet will thank you!
- To help break up the extremely stiff back of the boot, fold them back at several levels each time before you wear them.
- Also, bend them back and forth a bunch of times at the instep. This will assist in making them more pliable.
- Use a boot stretcher to stretch the toe box over the course of several nights.
- Lace them differently! Lacing over the eyelet everywhere except at the base of your ankle will assist the boot in bending.
- You could wear them continuously for days (even while sleeping), but that will mainly just toughen your feet instead of softening the boots.
- Personally, I like to wiggle my foot as far forward inside the boot as it will go to stre-e-e-etch that leather just a little further.
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Removing the Inner Sole
Doc Martens are equipped with an extra inner liner. Did you know you can remove it to customize the fit of your shoes? If you want a little extra room in there immediately, wiggle it out.
Personally, I've never bothered doing this— it's so much more comfortable to leave them in! But if you need more room in your boot, give it a try.
How Often Should You Wear Your Docs?
I have found that alternating days wearing your new DMs with other shoes will help your feet happy and give them time to renew themselves. You may want to break in your DMs as soon as possible, but is it worth hurting your feet? I don't think so.
But above all, do wear them, wear them, and wear them! Because after you’ve broken those babies in properly, you’ll have them forever and you can enjoy figuring out ways to wear them.
What Not to Do with Your Doc Martens
I would not suggest soaking your boots in water, lighting them on fire, or rubbing olive oil or Vaseline into them. These techniques may make your boots more pliable, but only because you will have ruined their structural integrity. Also:
- too much water will make the stitching disintegrate over time
- too much fire will turn them into charcoal
- olive oil or Vaseline will just make them greasy.
Doc Martens makes a great product called Wonder Balsam that contains coconut oil, lanolin, and beeswax for just this purpose, and guess what? It’s comparable in price to Vaseline!
Buy Broken-In Boots Instead!
Of course, you could always just buy broken-in Docs instead of going through all of this.
The good people at Dr. Marten will break them in so you don't have to, using techniques like twisting, fold-and-hammer, eyelet aging, and edge buffing using things like emery paper and colored cream. The high shine is removed from the leather, the bright yellow stitching is dulled, even the bouncing soles are put through their paces. The result is a comfortable boot that you can wear without tearing up your feet.
Of course, if you do buy these pre-softened shoes, you'll never have the pleasure of doing all the work yourself... a trade-off I'm not exactly convinced is worth it. Either way, viva Doc Martens!