If you’ve ever laid your eyes on these two brands, you know that they look very similar. So much so, it’s very easy to get them confused, even side by side. Meaning it’s finally time to decide the ultimate winner of the Doc Martens vs Solovair battle. I’ve tested the two boots in a (literal) side-by-side challenge, by walking around New York City for a whole day with one on each foot. After spending time breaking each boot in, I’m ready to give you the full rundown of each iconic boot.
Did you know, at one point, Solovair was helping Dr. Martens manufacture one of the most iconic boots? At that point, they were inseparable, until Doc Martens hit some hard times and decided to end their partnership.
Solovair decided to take matters into their own hands and went from being friends to competitors. Today, I’m going to compare the Solovair boots, which have a legacy of quality craftsmanship, and the legendary Doc Marten Boots, known for the iconic stitching and air cushion soles. Both shoes cross the fashion boundary lines and fit into any wardrobe.
It’s time to lace up and see which one of these boots comes out on top.
Doc Martens vs Solovair: Boot Breakdown
When it comes to the stitching, the Doc Marten stitching is stitched around the upper of the boots, with the iconic yellow thread. The marketing of Dr. Martens has really stood the test of time, much like the Levi red tag. While the Solovair uses the stitch-down method, in which the upper leather turns outward and is stitched directly into the midsole.
Doc Martens are known for their ‘Air Ware’ cushion soles, and hence call them the “Bouncing Soles.” Considering the brands manufactured together at one point, Solovair has something similar branding; they call it ‘Soles of Air’ (also how the brand is supposed to be pronounced).
From an untrained eye, it seems like the Solovair grease leather is thicker than the 1460s made in England Quilon leather. After testing, the leather from Dr Martens feels more stiff on the body but the leather on the Solovair shoe is thicker and has a ‘greasy’ high shine while Dr Martens is a matte dull-medium unless shined.
It’s worth noting that Doc Martens has outsourced a lot of its production to Asia, and uses leather from Asia and South America while Solovair still sources leather from European countries. That’s not to say one is better than the other, due to the popularity Dr. Martens needed to expand, however, Solovair has been steadfast to their European roots.
Regarding sizing for testing purposes, I wear a US size 9 in both boots. My biggest gripe is that Dr Martens don’t come in half sizes (I expand on this later) and they tend to run small. Unfortunately, unless you’re in between sizes sizing up may be too big and ordering true to size may be too small.
As far as price goes Dr. Martens classic smooth leather 1460s are slightly more affordable at $170 (at the time of publishing). The Solovair Black Greasy 8 Eye Derby Boot (a mouthful) is $219. Ultimately, a $49 difference is negligible if you’re a true supporter of either brand, but the price difference is typically attributed to manufacturing choices and materials used.
However, if you opt for Dr. Martens ‘Made in England’ collection you’re looking at $260 for the 1460s, which really proves how Dr Martens are able to provide the more affordable option (outsourcing to Asia and South America. Solovair’s products are also considered to be a more premium product with a higher price tag.
Breaking in Each Boot and Overall Comfort
This was my first time putting on Solovairs, and the leather was very firm, but it was still comfortable, it felt a lot more comfortable than the first day in docs. I had a couple of pain points, mostly my heel because of the shank and stiffness of the sole. The stitching on the tongue also poked every time I walked, which wasn’t the end of the world but something that I noticed.
Breaking In Process
My Plan to break in the Solovairs was fairly simple: I started by putting the Wonder Balsam (from Dr. Martens) on the boot and then heating the leather up so that the balm got deep into the leather and softened the leather to break them in quickly and pain-free. After that, I walked about 10,000 steps a day, which definitely breaks them faster. Also, I used two pairs of socks to protect my feet and wore the Doc Martens double sole to cover all my bases.
Lastly, I stuffed my boots with newspapers when I wasn’t wearing them, so that the boot can still keep their shape, and expand. This is usually the method I use to break into my Doc Martens. Within a week, I felt like my Solovairs were very comfortable, and by the 30th day, they felt like they were broken into; they had molded into my feet and were ready for everyday long-use wear.
The Importance of a Shank
A significant difference, that you can feel, between the two boot brands is that one pair of boots has a shank while the other does not (Solovair has the shank).
Regarding boots, a shank is a thin piece of material between the insole and the outsole, intended to support the feet and provide structure. The question is, are they necessary for quality boots? Let’s find out.
The Unscientific Experiment: Doc Martens vs Solovair
New York is one of those places where I think it’s acceptable to be different, and yes, me wearing two different boots at the same time is a little bit crazy. But unsurprisingly while I was in New York completing my Dr. Martens vs Solovair experiment, I didn’t get a lot of stares. Quite honestly I wasn’t even close to the craziest outfit I saw during my testing period. I’m pretty sure if I did that in other places, I would have gotten a lot of stares.
So the results of my unscientific experiment: the first thing I noticed was I can definitely feel the shank in the Solovair boots. Literally, I walked about over 30,000 steps, and you can feel the shank across the back of your foot. The heel section of the Solovair boots, they’re a little bit thicker or just harder whenever you walk, giving less of a bounce than Dr Martens.
If you work on your feet and are often on uneven surfaces, the Solovair boots are going to perform much better than the Docs. But when it came to my Doc Martens, they were fine, as expected. I personally felt the docs were quite a bit softer than the Solovairs, which for the long distances of pavement walking I did, felt really good.
Since I wore one on each foot, I felt the difference and noticed that each foot had it’s own pain point. For the Solovair foot, I felt it in the ball of my foot but for the Dr. Martens, I felt it along the arch. However, I am willing to accept a lot of it was the distance I walked.
Longevity and Comfort
Overall the comfort of my Docs is hard to beat, the sole is forgiving and after the tough break-in period, they really feel like they’re molded to my feet. However, I’ll have to say, I’ve noticed people complain about higher levels of fatigue when wearing boots without a shank.
I can’t speak to that directly in this testing, because I only wore them both for one day but maybe I will notice the fatigue further down the line. But if I had both pairs for, let’s say five, or ten years down the line, I do feel like the Solovairs would be better longer because of the support shank.
But so far with my Doc Martens, I’ve had them for around two years, and they’ve kept up, they’re not too damaged, they feel good, and they’re good to walk around in, even all day long.
Comparing Price and Quality
For the overall comparison of these two, let’s start by talking about the pricing. When it comes to pricing, as of the publishing date, the Solovairs ($219) are a little bit cheaper than the 1460s made in England ($260). I feel like the made-in-England are like the flagship of the Doc Martens; they’re like the original, the classic, and the most recognizable docs. But also, Doc Martens has the 1460s manufactured in Asia, which lowers the price to $170, making them a little bit cheaper than the Solovairs.
When it comes to the quality, I’ll have to say the Solovair wins, they just seem a little bit better, tougher and made with better quality. The leather is more firm, and compared to Docs, it makes their leather feel thin. Ultimately Solovair gets my vote for better quality.
Also, I think it’s worth noting that while Doc Martens do have a big fan base, which also plays a big role when making a purchasing decision, a lot of people have been complaining about their quality in recent years. This feels like another win for Solovair, as even though they have a smaller fan base, most people don’t have anything bad to say about their products.
Style and Branding
When it comes to the style of each brand, I have to give the winning points to Dr. Martens, they’re the bigger brand, they have done more, there are more styles, and more variations of Docs. There’s literally a Doc Martens for everyone, there’s something that kind of fits your style, your vibe, and occasion. As well, Doc Martens, they’ve done a great job marketing themselves.
Dr. Martens does a lot of collaborations with brands or even individual artists just to make sure that their merchandise is out there, relevant and ever-changing. They’re always trying to push the limit and try to make new pairs of boots, even good or bad, but it fits the widest audience.
While on the opposite end, you have the Solovair. Yes, they do have their core set of boots, which are high-quality premium products, but it’s hard to compare considering they’ve remained small, still with a loyal following. Solovair does what they do incredibly well with craftsmanship that can be hard to find these days, plus it’s hard to compete with over 130 years of experience.
Sizing: Half Sizes Matter
When it comes to sizing, as you may know, Docs doesn’t do half sizes, but Solovairs does offer half sizes, which is amazing. As far as Docs go, I feel like it’s been long enough and they should start offering half sizes, especially because the shoes run small.
Without the half sizes, I feel like Dr. Martens is not fully responding to their customer base because they could potentially make more money by catering to more sizes. But until Docs offers those coveted half-sized Solovair is ready to swoop in and steal their customers, at least it’s nice to have a very similar option.
Resoling: The Game Changer
Lastly, the biggest thing that Solovair offers, that Dr. Martens doesn’t, is resoling their boots. I feel like this is a game changer because with Docs, you cannot resole the boots, at least not easily, as you typically have to find a cobbler that specializes in doc repairs, which means when you wear through one pair, it’s time to buy another.
But with Solovair, you can easily resole them. If you can buy new soles on the website, sometimes it can be a little bit difficult to find your size but the process is a game changer. You can have a pair of boots, resole them all the time, and as long as you take care of the leather they’ll last for you for a lifetime.
The Ultimate Showdown: Doc Martens vs Solovair Video
So my question to you is, are you taking the blue pill or the red pill? What are you choosing in the Doc Martens vs Solovair battle?
Dr. Martens have sustained decades of style changes and remain durable, affordable, and comfortable for most people. Solovair’s boots are also worth considering because even after 130 years they’re still focused on premium craftsmanship with high-quality leather and soles that can easily be fixed. Ultimately, even though Solovairs are at a higher price point, as long as you maintain the leather they could easily last you decades, whereas Docs are more likely to wear out and hard to repair.
The choice ultimately comes down to personal preference, budget, and intended use. After two years, my docs are still the shoes I reach for but I won’t knock the Solovairs out of the rotation just yet