This is one of those blog posts borne out of my own frustration. Apparently I'm not the only one, as this has become one of my more popular posts since it was originally written.
I started with a simple question: are British-made "Vintage Collection" Doc Marten's really worth the extra cost over the standard shoes?
(Side note: did you know there are Doc Martens now that cost more than $1,000?)
I couldn't find an answer anywhere, so I took a chance on a new pair of Vintage Collection Doc Marten 1460's:
All Doc Martens used to be made in England, but like every other company in the world, they're trying to cut production costs. They now outsource their standard shoes and boots to either China or Thailand - I've seen both on the current market, though the Thai ones seem more common in the United States these days. Due to the proverbial "popular demand", they now produce limited quantities in England again and sell them as the Vintage Collection.
I wondered if the cost difference ($65, or about 60%) was really worth it. Both my wife and I already have pairs of Thai-made Dr. Martens, and other than the vague psychological oddness of wearing such an iconic British punk boot made in Southeast Asia, we've had no problem with them.
These are my self-darkened cherry red Thai-made 1490's, which are just the 10-hole version of the 8-hole 1460's:
I love them. I don't wear them a lot - I wear a lot of black, so it's tough to really pull off a red boot without looking like some sort of gothic clown - but I still love them.
And these are my wife's black 1490's:
If they look significantly different than my 1490's, it's mostly the size and age. Hers are a lot more broken-in, and much smaller.
I went nuts looking for differences in the Made in England boots. Here's what I found:
- The biggest difference is the leather. Vintage DM's use Quilon, supposedly a "reissue" of the original DM leather. It's harder than the leather on the Thai and Chinese Docs. It does have a more substantial feel. On the downside, it takes forever to break in. And just a vanity thing, but my boots have developed creases in odd patterns as they've broken in - they just look weird. This leather is also not quite as shiny as whatever's on the Thai version, which can be a plus or minus depending on your outlook on life.
- The PVC sole is slightly darker on the UK boot. It's not as big of a difference as I thought it would be from the pictures on DM's web site, though. I doubt most people would even notice while you're wearing them, especially as they age. It's definitely not a reliable way of telling a pair of UK Docs from Thai or Chinese-made Docs from afar.
- The soles/insoles are a little different. Honestly, I have a hard time believing the Vintage Collection DM soles are period-correct. They are extremely hard. It's like walking barefoot on concrete. Given DM's rep for comfort, this can't be right. The Thai boots are way more comfortable.
- The English ones say "Made in England" on the sole, insole and tongue. The Thai/Chinese ones obviously don't.
- The 1490's and 1460's differ in this, so you don't see it in the photos of our 1490's, but the new 1460's sometimes have a top collar (a "lip" around the top of the boot). The Vintage Collection ones don't have this. Oddly enough, though, neither do some of the Chinese-made boots. There seems little rhyme or reason on the non-English ones.
- This seems a little inconsistent from one color to another, but some of the new Thai-made 1460's have a Dr. Marten's logo stamped into the side. (The 1490's all seem to have this too.) The English 1460's are logo-free.
- The sizing is a little different. The Thai boots run a little bigger than the UK ones, and for me are more comfortable. (My feet are kind of an "in between" size for the UK, so size 11 is a tiny bit too small but size 12 is too big. The Thai size 11 fits perfectly; the English boots pinch my toes.)
- The yellow side stitching, which is a big part of the DM look, is actually a little sloppier on the English boots. The stitches themselves are of inconsistent length, the overlap is on the outside (rather than the inside where it's not as obvious), and on mine, at least, the overlap is really pretty poorly done and the thread is kind of frayed already. You can see it if you open up the photos above.
They literally made my feet bleed in several places walking around for a week straight with them on in Tokyo. And that was after a month of breaking in, including oiling/waxing. (They're now a bit better, though I still won't wear them every day.)
A little bit about the Chinese Docs... I actually don't have a lot of experience with these but I did see a few pairs in Tokyo last month (June 2009). The leather actually seemed Quilon-ish, moreso than the Thai Docs, although otherwise they looked like the Thai version. Not sure about the sizing. I do know some people have complained about quality control on the Chinese version, but I can't speak to that. The Thai ones seem well-made in my experience.
Hope this is still helpful to some people. I'm actually somewhat disappointed in my UK Docs and I thought about selling them for a while. They're now a little better broken-in, though, and I've got some good insoles for them so they're comfortable enough and I'm confident I'll be able to wear them long enough to wear them out. I really wouldn't buy these expecting them to be like the ultra-comfortable old Docs you used to read about or wear, though - just because they're made in England doesn't make them just like the old ones. I think the now-standard Thai version is actually closer to the original ideal at this point.
UPDATE! Ordered a new pair for yet another trip - still can't do a lot of walking in those UK boots - and they ended up being Chinese. So now I can directly compare all three versions - UK, Thai and Chinese.
So far, I might like Chinese the best! They're sized and shaped like the Thai boots, with the same more comfortable insole, but the leather is more similar to the UK version (as mentioned above in my earlier experience). A little bit less shiny than the Thai leather and just a tiny bit harder off the bat - but not "woody" like the current UK leather. I'm sure every factory is using leather sourced close to the plant. I don't really detect any other difference from the Thai version. These are very comfortable.
I'll update/rewrite this post again further to do a more direct comparison of all three in a few days. One thing I didn't mention enough before is the difference in size and shape between the UK and Thai/Chinese Docs - they're really just using a totally different template. I'd recommend going up a size on the UK ones - I don't think they're true to size, and that's one problem I had. I'm a US size 12, and a UK size... 12? That's not right. But I bought a size 11 for my UK Docs and they pinch, even a year later. My size 11 Thai and Chinese Docs are fine, and holding them up to each other, it's clear that the Thai and Chinese ones are just bigger. Pics coming soon!
One new pic for now. Some people in the comments have claimed that Thai/Chinese leather is "thinner" than UK leather. That's just factually incorrect:
That's Thai leather on top, UK leather on the bottom. If anything, the UK leather's thinner. UK leather's just harder; it's perception if you think it's thicker, because it isn't. In any case, it's 100% fact that the Thai leather is at least the same thickness as the UK leather.
It's harder to directly compare the Chinese leather because of the top collar on Chinese 1460's, but from the eyelet area (which is doubled on both boots), it looks the same.
(Note: due to a few bad apples from the UK who clearly have a political agenda, I've yet again been forced to turn off comments for this post. Sorry! I'll try turning them back on in a while. Everyone needs to realize that this is a xenophobia-free zone and a 100% non-political post before commenting.)