If you’ve ever owned a pair of new Dr. Martens, then you know the blood, sweat, and tears that go into breaking them in. The subject of many Tumblr-era blood-stained sock aesthetics and current TikTok memes, breaking in Docs is sacred. It’s akin to ritual: All must go through it, if you want to wear them. That’s why it’s good to know how to break in Doc Martens if you want to add them to your regular shoe repertoire.
The old adage that style and pain go hand in hand is dated by now, and we’ve mostly moved away (thankfully) from accepting that putting up with uncomfortable shoes is just a part of fashion — except for, it seems, when it comes to the tough leather of Dr. Martens. However, the pain is brief and temporary if you take the right steps to break in your shoes and boots properly.
The best workaround for breaking in Dr. Martens is to avoid the process altogether by shopping for a pre-worn pair. It’s an incredibly sustainable option and you don’t need to worry about the lengthy break-in process whatsoever. But if you can’t get your hands on a secondhand pair of Docs from a thrift shop or on a resale app like Depop, or you just want a pair straight out of the box, then you’ll just have to do the dirty work yourself.
As someone who has experienced both secondhand and brand new Dr. Martens, I know what it’s like from both vantage points. My first (and favorite) Docs came to me from my mom, a pair of red and blue fish patterned boots she bought in Ireland in the ‘80s, and the leather was perfectly broken in and soft by the time I got them. My second pair, some new black Mary Janes, were a different story, and I underestimated the amount of bandages I would end up needing to stick on my heels as a result of not taking my time breaking them in.
The process of breaking in Docs might require some painstaking patience as you wait for them to stretch out and conform to your feet, but it’s worth it in the end. Dr. Martens are some of the most versatile and durable boots out there, and owners who take care of their Docs will have them for years — re: my mom’s ‘80s pair. And not every style of Dr. Martens footwear requires the same amount of break-in straight out of the box. Vegan styles, in particular, are known for immediately being easier to wear.
If and when it comes time for you to add a pair of the iconic shoe to your collection, you’ll want to be prepped and ready. Below, you’ll find a few different tips and tricks for how to break in Dr. Martens.
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Layer Up On Socks
This is arguably the most important step when it comes to breaking in Dr. Martens. Thin little ankle socks are your enemy here. Opt for thick wooly and wintery socks or even doubling up on socks that cover your entire ankle while you wear your Docs for the first handful of times in order to prevent your feet from rubbing against the tough leather. Going the thick or layering route will also help stretch out the footwear, which is the ultimate goal.
Wear Your Doc Martens In Intervals
To fully break in your Dr. Martens, take it slow and build up to being able to wear them comfortably for as long as you want. Start wearing your brand new Docs inside your house for 10- to 20-minute intervals a few times a day, and take them off once they begin to ache, as you want to avoid any blisters. You can then work up to walking outside with them on short trips to the store or walks around a local park. The most important step is to take them off and swap them for something else the moment they start to make your feet hurt.
The more you move while wearing them, the faster they’ll break in. Eventually, the leather will stretch out and soften on its own with time and as it contours to your foot. The important thing here is that you don’t just dive right into wearing them all day — that's a recipe for blisters and bloodied sock nightmares.
Put On Preventative Bandages
This one might be a no-brainer, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, so slap some bandages or moleskin patches on the back of your heel and anywhere else you are prone to getting blisters to prevent pain before it happens. Your heel is the area that is most likely to get irritated, so adding some extra padding, even if you’re already doubling up on socks, is never a bad idea as you break in the boots.
Eventually, your Docs will be at a point that doesn’t require you to be fearful of blisters, but until then, bandage up.
Stretch Your Docs When Not Wearing Them
What you’re ultimately trying to do by breaking in your Dr. Martens is soften up the stiff leather. When you’re in the early process of wearing them in intervals, you can help the boots stretch while they’re sitting in the hallway or on the shoe rack.
When you take off your Docs, loosen all the laces and stuff socks or paper in them to help them stretch out. You can also buy wooden shoe stretchers to do this job, but at-home supplies work as well. Take a tip from avid Docs wearer Sophie Seddon on TikTok and spend some time manually bending the heel once you take them off. This will help loosen up the area that will likely be the most uncomfortable as you’re breaking in your Dr. Martens.
Use A Hairdryer For The Break-In Process
You can speed up the break-in process by heating up your boots with a hairdryer while you’re wearing them in the house. On medium or high heat, hold a hairdryer about six inches away from your boots (with your feet inside) for 30 seconds, then move on to a new spot on the shoe. Once you’ve heated up all or almost all of your Docs, pace around in them until they cool back down to room temperature, as fashion stylist Christie Moeller recommends. The thought process for this trick is that the heat is basically quickening the process that conforms the shoe to your foot.
Apply Leather Conditioner To Your Docs
Using a waxy leather conditioner, such as the Dr. Martens Wonder Balsam, on your new boots will also help break them in. Just knead and massage in the product to soften up the leather, like breaking in a baseball glove. Leather conditioners help hydrate and protect the leather from natural elements, too.
There are plenty of ways to help break in a pair of Dr. Martens to avoid the dreaded heel catastrophe. Even if you’re excited to wear them ASAP — and who wouldn’t be? — try to plan ahead and have some patience in the process. Breaking in your Docs properly will ensure that you can throw them on with basically any outfit whenever you want without hassle.