Breaking in Dr Martens – The Myths

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This post doesn’t exactly fit in with the regular theme of this blog, but this is something I really want to write about and set a few things straight. Having recently been struggling with a very stubborn pair of Dr Martens boots, I have spent some time reading through tips and techniques for breaking in Dr Martens online. Trusty Google provided me with lots of sources of information and lots of crazy suggestions. I tried various things but I ended up taking them to a professional and I quizzed him all about the dos and don’ts of breaking in your boots. As it would turn out, many of the things people suggest online are actually bad for your new Docs!

1. Water is a no-no!
A common tip I see instructs Dr Martens wearers to wear their new boots/shoes in the shower to get the leather wet then wear them all day until they are dry. Supposedly this will soften the leather and help them conform to your foot. Please DO NOT do this to your Docs! This tip only works with leather army boots that are constructed entirely of leather. Dr Martens are not 100% leather, other materials are used to built these fashion staples. The insole beneath the removable inner sole is a mix of products, including cardboard. If you get your Dr Martens soaking wet, that insole is going to disintegrate and you’re going to have very uncomfortable boots. You can also end up breaking down the glue and the stitching may rot. Your Docs can handle being wet on the outside but the inside should stay dry.

2. Heat doesn’t help.
Another tip I’ve seen is heating up the leather to help it stretch – whether it be using a hairdryer to heat up trouble spots or leaving your shoes outside in the sun all day. Guess what? Heat shrinks leather! Heat also draws all of the moisture out of the leather which can result in cracking if you don’t condition the leather well. So don’t leave your boots in the sun, in the car or in front of the fire. If you do get them wet from the rain, leave them in a warm room to dry but not right in front of a heat source. Extreme heat and extreme cold is going to compromise the construction of the shoe. The last thing you want to do is spend lots of hard earned money on an awesome pair of boots then ruin them in the process of trying to break them in.

3. Hammertime.
I have seen many people suggest that you beat your Dr Martens with a hammer or mallet. This tip is quite unnecessary. Does it really sound like a good idea to take a hammer to your new shoes? I think this one is just common sense. Don’t partake in Dr Marten abuse. Put the hammer down.

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The things you should do.

Just wear them. Start off wearing them for short periods while you’re at home. As soon as they begin to hurt, give your feet a break. You will be able to build yourself up to wearing them for longer. Your feet will get used to them. If you feel a blister coming on, give your feet a break straight away. Like learning to play guitar, you don’t play until your fingers bleed because then you can’t play. You want to build up little callouses on the areas of your feet that need them. When wearing your new Dr Martens out and about for the first couple of times, take a second pair of shoes with you just in case your feet get sore. You can wear a couple of pairs of socks but one pair will also be fine – don’t cause yourself any unnecessary discomfort by layering up multiple pairs of socks. Your boots will conform to the shape of your foot over time. Be patient. You can stuff them with newspaper overnight or for a longer period to prevent the leather from shrinking back when you aren’t wearing them. This worked like a charm with one of my pairs of Dr Martens 1460 boots, but the stubborn pair I mentioned at the beginning of this pair wouldn’t stretch at all with just newspaper, no matter how tight I stuffed them.

If you are really struggling, take your Dr Martens to a professional. Your boots were an expensive investment, a professional shoe repairer will only charge you a small fee to stretch your boots for you and they have the knowledge and proper equipment to stretch your Docs without damaging them. They can also stretch your Dr Martens in places that you can’t. Almost everyone will have some discomfort where the tongue is sewn into the boot, that will get better with normal wear. But if your pinky toe is being squashed because the toe of the shoe is a bit narrow, a professional can stretch the toe area to be a little wider. They can’t make them any longer though, so make sure you buy the correct size in the first place. A couple of days with a professional can make a world of difference. My stubborn pair fit much better now after two days of being stretched by a professional and it only cost $10.

Basically, wearing good quality socks, wearing your Dr Martens as frequently as you can and covering up any painful spots with bandaids is the best advice. Professional stretching is also the best option if you can’t break them in on your own. Don’t say I didn’t warn you if you decide to shower with your Dr Martens.