Just as Birkenstocks were a staple in my wardrobe in the 1990s-2000s, so were my Dr. Martens. Docs might be the only other shoe, besides Birkenstocks, to which I have had an (un)healthy attachment. I got my first pair of Docs when I was 15 years old, one year prior to stepping into my first pair of Birkenstocks.
I drooled over Doc Martens for months before my mother reluctantly bought them for me. She thought they were “unfeminine” and did not understand my desire to own a pair. In fact, as I stated in my first ever blog, the only reason my mom ever purchased me a pair of Birkenstocks, was to see me wear something besides black combat boots.
Combat boots were everything in 1990s. They were fashion for the Goth scene, Punk rockers, Grunge rockers, and just about any other movement that dabbled in rebellion. Robert Smith, of The Cure, wore Doc Martens, therefore I needed a pair too. Anyone and everyone that followed The Cure needed a pair of black combat boots.
I was finally able to convince my mom to buy me a pair of Docs, only after Kelly and Donna, on Beverly Hills 90210, rocked their Docs with pretty flowery dresses. Kelly and Donna looked super stylish with their big combat boots and their baby doll dresses. I promised my mother that I would make the Docs feminine anyway I could, just to own a pair. Plus, I agreed to do extra household chores, in order to earn a trip to Bancroft Clothing in Berkeley. It was at Bancroft Clothing that I purchased my Docs.
Of course, once I got the shoes, I refused to wear a dress for ages. I was too busy styling my Docs with baggy jeans, flannel shirts, and homemade cut off jeans. Don’t worry, I never went fully Goth, like many of the other Cure followers.
Instead, I transitioned into the Grunge rock era of style and I made it my own. Just like I do with my Birkenstocks nowadays. In the 90s, I wore my Docs with anything and everything. I wore my combat boots everywhere and I wore them for years.
When I was not wearing my Birkenstocks in high school, I was wearing my Docs. I vividly remember wearing my Docs on the day I left home and drove down to college with my friend. I wore them throughout college; to classes, to parties, to the library, to study, and even to the beach. My Docs were the only pair of shoes that kept my feet dry during the 1995 Santa Barbara floods. I was wearing my Docs, in 1996, the day I shook President Clinton’s hand at a rally.
My docs were on my feet, with thick wool socks, whenever I traveled to Tahoe during winter breaks. Docs were my snow boots because they were waterproof and had superb grip. My Docs were the only shoes that I brought on a road trip from Colorado to California. I proudly sported my Docs while I interned at Live 105 in San Francisco in the mid 90s. I wore Docs in 1998 when I started dating my now husband. He hated them and I did not care. I wore them anyway. I wore my Docs to grad school orientation. I wore them throughout my internships, dressed up, of course. I wore my Docs until I got my first real job and then I put the Docs in the back of my closet, alongside my Birkenstocks.
I never donated my well loved combat boots. How could I? They held so many special memories and traveled all over the US. I stuck them in the back of my closet and could never let go. I even moved twice, never did I consider donating this staple of my wardrobe.
My Birkenstocks eventually wore out before my Dr. Martens. The Docs sat in my closet for over 10 years. Every once and a while I would take them out of the box and dust them off. Yes, I kept them in their original yellow box, with the original plastic baggie, and alternate yellow laces inside.
One winter day, two years ago I pulled them out of my closet because I decided it was time to add some funk to my minimalist wardrobe. I had the biggest smile on my face as I began to slip my foot into my broken-in Docs. Much to my dismay, my boots no longer fit me!! I jammed my foot in the boot like one of Cinderella’s evil step sisters, but the boot still did not fit. I even tried a thin pair of socks, then no socks, nothing worked.
After having two kids, my size 7 Doc Martens were too small. I was devastated. These boots held so many memories and were already broken-in. I would never get my foot to be a size 7 again, and yet, I STILL could not let the boots go. Back in the closet they went for another year.
Then, one day, when I did a massive declutter of my closet, I placed the Docs in a donation bag. Original box and all. A cobbler would not be able to stretch them out to accommodate my new foot size. Even though I realized that I could never wear them again, donating my Docs was an incredibly emotional process. Releasing these boots from my ownership upset me because of all the fond memories that I created while wearing them. The only thing that helped me get over my sadness, was knowing that they would bring someone else as much joy as they brought me.
Once I donated my Dr. Martens, I thought about getting a new pair. But, I was not ready to go through the break-in process, I was too busy chasing around toddlers. Besides, I was on my Birkenstock kick and only wearing my Birks at the time.
It was not until Christmas Eve 2017 that I decided I needed a new pair of Docs in my life. I was in the mist of a chocolate chip cookie baking frenzy when this Dr. Marten light bulb went off in my head. I was literally baking in my Birks and decided that I needed to wear something besides Birks. The first thought that popped in my head were my old combat boots and how comfy they were for well over a decade.
While the cookies were in the oven baking, I jumped on my computer and headed over to Zappos. They had a fine selection of Dr. Martens, just as they have a fine selection of Birks. As I was adding a pair of Docs to my cart, my husband walked into the room. He said, “Aren’t those so 1990s? You don’t need these.”. Mind you, this is the same person who hated them when we started dating. I did not care what he thought about my shoe selection in 1998 and I certainly don’t care now. He left the room and I added two more pair to my cart!!
Tell me not to do something, gosh darn it, I am going to do it. Remember, this is Brehm’s (1966) Reactance Theory that I talked about in a previous blog. I am going to wear whatever shoe brand is comfortable and whatever brand that makes me happy. I don’t care what anyone thinks about it!!
Why did I order three pairs of Dr. Martens? Simple, with kids, I cannot go to the store to try on shoes. Doing so would be like banging my head on the wall, repeatedly, while someone is yelling at me. Online shoe shopping is the only way to go when you have kids.
I knew that all three Doc styles would fit differently and wanted to compare them. I needed to do so in the comfort of my own home, in silence (no head banging, no screaming). Thankfully, Zappos offers speedy shipping and makes returns easy. I love Zappos.
After I ordered my Docs, my dear friend stopped by for some afternoon wine and cookies on Christmas Eve. The same friend that I drove down to College with in 1993. Ironically, she was wearing her Docs. They looked brand spanking new, but she has had them since 1999. After a few glasses of some incredible Napa Valley wine, we talked about how Docs have been part of our lives for decades. We were friends before either of us ever owned a pair of Docs. She knows how I wore the hell of out of my original pair of combat boots.
My original boots were made in England. None of the Docs that I purchased from Zappos were made in England. Although I would prefer my Docs to be made in the country in which they originated, I could turn a blind eye if they fit.
Fit they did. All three fit, but in very different ways. If you wear Birkenstocks, think of having only worn Arizonas and then you decide to try the Gizeh style. Same, but different. I ended up keeping the Pascals in Cherry Red Temperley. My first pair were the 1460s in the black. I decided to up the ante and try a new style in a beautiful color.
Even though the boots fit, they were stiff as could be. They were most definitely going to need to be broken-in, just like any new pair of Birks would need to be. If I can break-in Birkenstocks, I can break-in anything!! Besides, I successfully broke-in Dr. Martens once before, 27 years ago. I could do it again.
Thankfully, I am an expert at breaking-in Birks. I figure that the tips and techniques that I used in two previous blog posts (here and here) will help me break-in my new Docs.
I am going to document the process of breaking-in my Docs and report back in a future blog. I will compare and contrast breaking-in Docs versus breaking-in Birkenstocks.
Dr. Martens are the only other brand of shoes, besides Birkenstocks, that actually get MORE comfortable over time. I am confident that my commitment and dedication to the break-in process will be well rewarded. In the end, I should have a perfectly conformed Dr. Martens boot. Instead of contoured cork footbed, as I would get with Birkenstocks, I will have an Air Wair footbed that will be perfectly molded, along with leather uppers that have taken the shape of my entire foot.
Wish me luck. I am going to need it. Have you broken-in a pair of Dr. Martens? If so, what techniques do you suggest that may differ from breaking-in Birkenstocks. Send me an email.
Birkenstock blogger since 2016.