Dr. Martens have been my go-to shoes for six years — here's the best advice for sizing and breaking in (2022)

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  • Dr. Martens boots have been my everyday shoe for the past six years.
  • I've found they fit true-to-size, but if you normally wear a half-size, I recommend sizing down.
  • You can order Dr. Martens directly from the company site or from retailers like Zappos and Shopbop.

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Dr. Martens 1460 Pascal Leather Boots

$150.00 from Dr. Martens

I moved to New York City in 2015 to start my first full-time job after college. To congratulate myself on formally entering adulthood, I spent money I did not yet have on a pair of Dr. Martens 101 boots in brown leather. At the time, the $140 price tag felt like a ton of money, so I committed to making the purchase worthwhile. Thus began my loyalty to Dr. Martens.

I wore those boots every single day thereafter — to work, on the weekends, on vacations, to family gatherings; you get the picture — until holes formed in the leather at the creases and the treads were worn flat. They lasted through three years of hard daily wear, and I've never mourned the loss of a pair of shoes like I did my first pair of Docs. I immediately went out and bought another pair.

Now, I'm two years into the life of that second pair of 101s, and they're still going strong, though, admittedly, I've gone a bit easier on them than my first pair. I've got a pair of 1460 boots waiting in the wings for when pair number two gives up the ghost. The price tag no longer intimidates me because I know that they more than pay for themselves over the course of their lifetime — and in the grand scheme of the boot market where well-crafted leather boots could set you back $400 or more, they're downright affordable, though they likely won't last you a decade like Red Wings or Thorogoods might.

But there are a few things you should know before buying your first pair like how they fit, the differences in designs, and, most importantly, how to break them in.

What are the differences in Dr. Martens boot styles?

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Dr. Martens 1460 Pascal Leather Boots

$150.00 from Dr. Martens

1460: Dr. Martens has been making work boots since 1901, but it wasn't until 1960 that it developed its signature 1460 boot. The 1460 — and most other Dr. Martens boots — consists of Dr. Martens' signature air-cushioned rubber sole, a smooth and stiff leather upper, and instantly recognizable yellow stitching in most of its pairs. Its most defining characteristic is its eight-eye design, making the boot tall enough to hit low on the calf. It's Dr. Martens' signature boot and the baseline from which all other Docs vary.

Variations in the 1460 mostly center around the leather upper. The standard features slightly shiny, smooth leather that's very stiff and almost plasticky. The 1460 Pascal replaces that stiff leather with a more textured, thinner, and softer leather. It makes for a slightly sleeker design, a dressier boot, and one that's much easier to break in thanks to its flexibility.

Dr. Martens 1490 Virginia Leather Boots

$160.00 from Dr. Martens

1490: The 1490is nearly identical to the 1460, but instead of eight eyelets, it has 10. The addition of the two eyelets makes the 1490s taller, so it hits higher up the calf.

Dr. Martens 101 Ambassador Leather Boots

$140.00 from Dr. Martens

101: In the same way the 1490 is the tall version of the 1460, the 101 is the short version. It's a six-eye boot that hits about an inch above the ankle bone. All the other features remain the same. My first pair of Docs, as well as the ones I'm currently wearing, were the since discontinued 101 Brandos. (If anyone from Dr. Martens is out there reading this, please bring them back!)

Other notable Dr. Martens styles that vary from the lace-up boot model include the 2976 Chelsea boot, the 1461 Oxford, and the 8053 Casual.

Do Dr. Martens fit true to size?

I've found that Docs fit true to size, but some believe the 1460s to run a bit large. I fit into a whole size, so I just buy the size I normally wear. Docs don't come in half sizes, but several members of the Insider Reviews team who wear normally wear half-sizes have chosen to size down in Dr. Martens. Keep in mind, though, that this may affect how you break your boots in.

While the leather will stretch some as you wear it in, tight boots will simply take longer to fully break in. Dr. Martens does sell insoles, so if you choose to size up instead, you can add them in to fill any extra wiggle room.

How do the sizing schemes work?

Most of the boots list both men's and women's sizes on the purchase page, but there are a few the brand doesn't consider unisex. You shouldn't let that stop you, though. The sizing difference between men's and women's Docs is just one size — a men's seven is a women's eight, for example.

How do you break in Dr. Martens?

If you've heard anything about Dr. Martens, you likely know they're notoriously hard to break in. And it's true. I've suffered many blisters in my quest to reach the fabled land of comfy boots. But I promise you, that place does exist. It's just a matter of softening up stiff leather, which only happens with time and wear.

I've come across a ton of bad advice for breaking in these boots — heat them with a hairdryer, hit them with a hammer, dunk them in water. But please don't do any of these as you're more likely to damage your boots and diminish their lifespan.

There's no silver bullet here. You just need to wear them. Start with short intervals around the house where you can take them off once they start to hurt. My trouble spots have always been the heel and the ankle because there's a stiff leather rib that runs along the back of the boot. You'll want to flex that rib back and forth, either with your foot in the boot or with your hands. Articulate the shoe as much as you can where your foot bends, and the leather will start to crease and stretch.

Don't expect to wear them for a full day on your feel right out of the box. You'll regret it. Invest in some thick socks, wear them for short spurts, and slowly increase your wear time until you don't want to rip them off at the end of the day. They'll soften up over time, I promise. Depending on how persistent you are with this process, you should find them fully wearable within a couple of weeks.

If you truly can't abide the lengthy break-in process, opt for a pair made from Pascal leather. It's a much softer leather than the original, and they're much more comfortable right out of the box. You'll still have to put in some work until they're perfectly comfy, but it'll be a much less painful process.

How do Dr. Martens feel to wear?

Once you've found your size and broken them in, these boots are decent workhorses. I've done 12-hour days on my feet in them, and felt no fatigue or soreness. I've worn them to Disney World. They're my rain boots and my winter boots after light snowstorms. I've worked in woodshops while wearing them, I've gone hiking in them, and I've even worn them to the beach — though there's definitely footwear out there better suited for that, I will admit.

They're a bit heavy, but you get used to the heft, and it can be a positive if you're walking amongst debris or wearing them outdoors or in an industrial environment. Over time, the treads do wear down, and the heel may wear unevenly, but you really have to beat them up to get them there — which I have.

Cons to consider

Jen Gushue/Business Insider

As mentioned, breaking in Dr. Martens is notoriously difficult, and if you're not committed to the process, you may find yourself wanting to give up. You'll likely suffer a few blisters, but if you commit to wearing them in short spurts for the first few wears, you should find them slowly softening up and conforming to the shape of your foot.

I've already mentioned that they don't come in half sizes, and they don't come in widths either. I find the toe-box can be a bit large, and you may find your foot slipping a bit as a result. This will diminish once you break them in and the footbed starts to conform to your foot.

The only other major con I've encountered with Dr. Martens is that you can't resole them. The soles are rubber and heat-fused to the upper, so they're pretty permanently affixed. Though the rubber soles are extremely durable, I wore the treads on my first pair down to nothing after a couple of years of hard wear — so much so that I began slipping and sliding around every time it rained.

The bottom line

Dr. Martens are a cultural icon for a good reason. They're reasonably priced boots that can take a beating, and if you do wind up wearing them out, they're not so cost-prohibitive that you'll feel hesitant about replacing them. They are tough to break in, but if you invest in some thick socks and work to flex the leather, you'll be rewarded with a boot that feels like a second skin. Though the original 1460s are the absolute classic, I recommend going with the 1460 Pascals which have a softer leather upper. They're easier to break in and have a sleeker silhouette than the originals.

$150.00 from Dr. Martens

Jen Gushue

Jen Gushue (they/them) was formerly the Home & Kitchen Editor for Insider Reference, overseeing a team of writers who create how-tos and explainers on everything from plant care and cooking techniques to automotive care and home repair. Previously, Jen served as the Guides Editor on the Insider Reviews team, overseeing the team's testing method development and buying guide standards. Jen also previously reviewed hotels for the travel section. Outside of Insider, Jen writes about theater with bylines in American Theatre Magazine, HowlRound, TDF Stages, and The Brooklyn Rail. Jen is also a voting member of the Drama Desk.

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