Friday, May 01, 2009

Doc Martens: England vs. Thailand vs. China

JANUARY 2013 UPDATE: I've gotten a new pair of UK Docs and they are a lot different from what I describe below. Feel free to continue reading this earlier post, but be sure to read my thoughts on the latest revisions as well.

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.
Most of those things are minor, with the important differences being fit, sole, and leather. Honestly, just to walk around in comfortably, I like the Thai ones better. The UK DM's look and feel more like "real" vintage DM's when you hold them in your hand, but they are a little bit sloppily made, are uncomfortable as hell and take forever to break in.

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.)


  1. Anonymous1:59 AM

    Thank you! This is just what I was looking for.

  2. Great info man!!...I love DM's boots...I have "made in england", Thai and Chinese...I'll buy the new vintage collection definitely...

  3. Anonymous10:06 PM

    Thanks Jeff! I'm one of the people 'looking for exactly this post on somebody's blog' - and you explain things so well. Another possible difference I'm wondering about is comparative weight. Maybe you can help me here. My wife's old 'Made in England' docs are quite heavy. I noticed another friend's vintage 1461's are also quite heavy. In fact, this latter observation makes the point nicely: my friend's 3-eye 1461's feel heavier in my hand than my 8-eye Thai 1460's. Where does the weight come from? (You mentioned the leather is slightly thicker on the MIE docs, but perhaps the sole is also more dense?)

    Thanks again for a great post sir. I'll check back in a few days to see if you've come up with anything.

  4. I think any perceived weight difference might be just that. I had the same perception myself, but then I actually weighed my English 1460's and Thai 1490's. The results:

    Thai 1490's: 25.8 ounces
    English 1460's: 24.5 ounces

    The 1490's obviously have a slight bit of extra leather at the top, so I don't think I'm going out on a limb in saying Thai and English 1460's would most likely be exactly the same weight, give or take a few tenths of an ounce.

    I have a feeling that the harder, thicker leather in the English Docs gives them a feeling of increased heft. But the actual evidence doesn't seem to bear this out.

    This is for the *new* "vintage" Docs. The older ones might really be heavier for all I know. If that's the case, though, then it kind of destroys the whole "built to vintage specs" line they're promoting these with.

  5. Great information. Thanks a ton. Just what I was looking for. I do have one question. Do they or did they at one point make a 12 hole doc? I could have sworn my high school pair were 12's but I can't seem to find them anywhere.

  6. I'm not sure if they ever made a 12 hole boot... although they make a lot of different styles, not just the original work boots, so they may have made a 12 hole in another style at one point and they may even now. I personally don't remember seeing a 12 hole boot in this style, but I'm not an expert on their history or anything. My friends all used to wear Docs when I was in college, but I could never afford them. So I'm just going by what I remember seeing then.

    They do make a 14 hole boot in this style - sure you're not thinking of that?

  7. Anonymous5:27 PM

    I don't know if anyone else has this problem, but my China made Docs sqeak when I walk, my made in England ones don't...

  8. My made in England ones do squeak and my Thai ones don't! I should make a recording of this and post it.

    I'm going to update this post again because the comfort issues have really turned out to be a big problem on the English ones. I'm really surprised at that.

  9. Anonymous1:12 AM

    Is this ad for off shore DM's endorsed by anyone

    My old DM's are Made in England but dont state so on the sole because they werent made any where else. My 1984 DM soled brouges are this also. I wear an old pair of black 10 holes now soo comfy and my red Made in England 10 holes with the WHITE tag only come out on ambient temperature days. I had some Chinese boots... they done even look the same and the Taiwanese Limited Edition dont have yellow stiching

  10. Anonymous1:28 AM

    I have a pair of

    "red Made in England 10 holes with the WHITE tag"

    but mine are 14 holes.

  11. Anonymous (2 up):

    This "ad" for "off shore" DM's was written by me, at the request of nobody, as is everything else on this blog, which you'd know with only a cursory glance around here. ("Off shore" is entirely relative, btw - English DM's are just as "off shore" to me as any others.) You're about this close from getting your comment deleted for general wankiness, and the only reason I'm not is that you do at least provide some decent info later in your comment.

  12. Hey thanks for the reply Jeff. I looked into this a bit further and they did in fact, many years ago mak a 12 hole Doc. I'm fairly certain that's what I had back in '87. Apparently now they are down to making the 8, 10, 14 and 20's.

  13. Actually, this is really useful.
    I have a long history of wearing Dr Marten's boots and shoes. Over time, my cherry red shoes became harder and less comfortable and if you don't regularly polish and wear them, bits do crack.

    When I used to by Made In England vintage stuff (current then) I did find it took a while to break them in, but my God the soles and the bounciness was absolute heaven...I don't believe they do the same cushioned soles now as then when they were seen more as an orthopedic workboot rather than a fashion item. They always squeaked when new though. Back then, it was fashionable to wear them without any socks, and in fact, I knew a person, Eddie Tudorpole, who used to draw his own socks on! Sometimes with a floral theme!

  14. I'm going to update this post one more time - yes, I would be surprised if the soles were always like this. I just got back from the 10 day trip to Japan I mentioned up there where the only pair of shoes I wore were my English DM's, and good god, I wanted to cut my toes off by the fourth day - I figured it'd hurt less in the long run. It was torture. I also went through four pairs of insoles trying to find one that would make it feel like walking on something other than bare concrete (with my bare feet). The gel ones don't really work because they're too thick at the toes.

    The soles just can't be right. The Thai DM's have a really nice, comfy sole, but the new English ones just don't.

  15. Mmmmmmmmm Jeff
    I am now confused,what to buy!
    Want to buy the English ones,but really don't know now after reading this,but feel i should buy the English ones because i feel Dr Martens are a English icon.

  16. I won't try to talk you out of buying the English ones. I bought mine for the same reason. But I will say that next time, I will buy Thai DM's.

    I tried on my red ones again a couple days ago and I had forgotten already how much more comfortable they were. I can get used to my English DM's, but the Thai ones just feel a lot more "right".

  17. Anonymous1:09 PM

    Interesting research. One of the benefits of the new Made in England DMs is that they support a system of democracy, a welfare state, legal system and such which the Chinese ones probably never will.

  18. On the other hand, they are not very comfortable.

  19. great post. was wondering about all this. actually tossing up between docs and grinders atm. was stuck on the uk docs....but not so much after reading the testimonies. thanks!

  20. Anonymous1:53 PM

    I have tried on Docs made in Thailand and immediately I noticed that they felt different the cut was off and the leather was visibly different, the right one was soft and pliable while the left shoe was stiffer. The eyelets are made of softer aluminum were original ones are a harder metal. There is so many visible difference in the craftsmanship. I will only buy shoes made from England it's a shame that they have ruined the quality for a buck.

  21. Did you actually read my post or are you just here to rant?

    There's also absolutely no way you can tell me that any Docs made anywhere use "harder metal" than any others for the eyelets. There's no way to feel this in these boots even if you're specifically trying.

  22. Anonymous4:31 AM

    I have had Uk docs and Chinese docs. My Chinese docs lasted 2 years before they fell apart but my uk docs lasted for 5 and a half years the uk's were a bit smaller in width. The Chinese pair interior fell apart and the toungues were sewn in crooked. The new "vintage" docs may very well be made to old specs but I don't care to spend my money on shoes from a company who laid off thier workers to employ Chinese just to improve thier bottom line. I'm looking into White's Boots all leather but pricey I think thier worth it though and thier co
    pletely rebuildable too.

  23. I really don't give a crap about the politics. This is a global economy and to try to deny that is naive. Who do you think is ultimately responsible for DM's being made in China instead of the UK? It's the consumers who want lower prices, and the workers who want to maintain an unsustainable lifestyle through wages that are way out of line with what's paid in the rest of the world.

    Stuff is made in China. You guys need to get over it. All that matters is how good it is.

    And your UK Docs that lasted 5 years are not the same as UK Docs made today.


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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