4.08.2011

Dr. Martens For Life

***Update March 1, 2014***

"For Life" Guarantee Activated

Well, it's been almost three years since I bought my first pair of Dr. Martens "For Life" shoes and in January 2014 it was finally time to send them on back to the good folks at Dr. Martens USA for either a fixup or replacement. The treads were totally shot, the air cushion was not much of a cushion any longer, and the leather was starting to develop some cracks. Living in Vermont in the middle of winter, you can't walk around in shoes with no treads, so it was time.


The return process for a pair of For Life Docs is relatively straightforward. This page on their site has all the details.  I emailed them to ask about making a claim, and they responded about a day later with full instructions on where to send them, etc. I UPS'd them to their location in Oregon (for USA customers) and was told I would hear from them in a few weeks to get my credit card info for the $35 administration fee they charge each time you make a claim. About four weeks went by and I finally heard from them, which was longer than expected. I gave them my credit card number over the phone and within a couple days they dispatched me a brand new pair. I had them about a week later. No questions were asked at all about returning them or the condition of the old shoes. Total time was about seven weeks.


In late February, I received the brand new pair of For Life Docs and now I get to start the breaking in process all over again. A couple of thoughts about the For Life program: First, it took much longer than I would have liked. In less than the amount of time it took for me to send them a garbage pair of Docs and them to send me out a brand new pair, I also sent back a pair of 20+ year old Allen Edmonds brogues and had them completely recrafted - the soles, heels, welting, and cork layer were replaced and the upper refinished - and received them back before the new pair of Docs. Second, I've decided I am just not a fan of the type of leather that is used on the For Life line. They call this "Hardlife" leather which I guess is meant to be more sturdy, but it gives the shoes a matte appearance which I don't particularly care for, and they leather does not take a shine very well. Not a deal breaker, and I will wear the new 1461s until they die, but I'm not sure I would get another pair of For Life shoes now that the higher cost of the first pair plus the return fee has already paid for itself with one free pair. Next time, I will probably purchase a pair of Made in England Docs and hope they last a little longer than the Asian-made versions.

Have you had any experience with returning your Docs for the For Life guarantee? Feel free to comment below ... Thanks for reading.

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Original post from April 8, 2011

The other day as I contemplated a slight tear in the upper and a small crack in the sole of my beloved, worn, comfortable, 1461 Dr. Martens shoes, I thought, "Well, that time again. Gotta get a new pair." Seems to happen every four or five years. I wear these shoes nearly every day of my life, and have always had at least one pair, if not more, of Dr. Martens shoes and boots since I was 14 years old.


My very first pair or Dr. Martens were the classic 1460 eight hole boots. Given the model number 1460 because they are based on the first style of boot Dr. Martens ever produced - the first pair rolled off the production line of their factory in Wollaston, England on April 1, 1960 (1.4.60 in European date style). I remember being a very shy and intimidated 14 year old as I went into the punk store in town called Two Tone which was staffed by 20-somethings with foot-high spiked mohawks who smelled like patchouli. This was in the late 80s - before every jock in school was wearing Docs when Nirvana hit (and as a good friend of mine would say, "ruined [his] life"); before you could walk into any mall, head for the nearest Hot Topic shop and buy a pair in any color of the rainbow. Scared of the older punks who ran the shop, I tried them on quickly (they were probably a size too big - I don't think I grasped the fact that the UK had different sizes back then), paid for them, got them home and wore them to school the next day.

Let's just say that at first, these boots weren't made for walking.

I remember literally hobbling home from school the first week, in dire pain. Doc Martens give you an initiation in pain, which in the end, makes you love the boots or shoes all the more. You work for those boots; you earn them. And they become part of you.

After many years of wear, I finally parted with those beloved boots I bought when I was 14 about 20 years later at age 34. The soles were worn flat and were bald, the air had long since seeped out of the Air Wear soles, both soles had gaping cracks that let in water - it was their time to go. In the meantime, I'd gone through a few pairs of different 1461s - some black, some oxblood, one steel toe pair. And the other day I found myself online looking to replace my trusty 1461s yet again, not looking forward to the pain I would need to endure for weeks to break them in.


I checked out the Dr. Martens USA site, and came across a few new interesting options. In the early 2000s, Dr. Martens apparently moved production of most of their shoes from their factory in Wollaston, England to Southeast Asia, and most every pair of Docs nowadays is made in either China or Thailand. If you're willing to pay a premium (nearly double) you can still buy a pair of "Made in England" Docs (their "Originals" line). I wondered if dropping the extra cash for some "Made in England" cache and perhaps higher quality craftsmanship might be worth it, and perhaps they would last longer. But that price is a difficult pill to swallow, especially if I can't be sure they'd last any longer, and honestly the last few pairs of Asian-made Docs I've owned were made just as well as their English counterparts.


Then I happened across another line of shoes and boots on their site - the "For Life" collection. For about an extra $30, you can purchase a pair of (Asian-made) Docs (either the 1460 boot or 1461 shoe, in various colors) that are guaranteed for life. All normal wear and tear is covered by this guarantee. That means that when, in four or five years the sole of my shoes develops a crack, or a grommet pops off, or the leather cracks, I can mail them back to Dr. Martens and they will either repair or replace the shoes - nearly for free (they do charge a nominal administration fee, and I will have to pay for postage). Still, much cheaper than shelling out $100 for a new pair every five years. The higher price gets you not only the lifetime guarantee, but they also come with a tub of Dr. Martens Wonder Balsam and an extra pair of laces. They're made out of "Hardlife" leather (which looks the same as regular Docs, but is meant to last longer), and there is additional weight and thickness added to the core of the sole.


And when will I ever stop wearing Docs? They are a classic that will never go out of style. Beloved through the years by policemen, garbage men, factory workers, mods, skinheads, punks, rude boys and girls, goths, and grungers, they have been a classic for over 50 years and will remain so for another 50.

My "For Life" 1461s just arrived the other day, and it's time again to break out the thick socks and band-aids. But of course, it's worth it.

18 comments:

  1. great post...very informative and fun...gotta love docs!

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  2. Hi lulu - thanks for checking out Vermodernist and for your comment. Hope all is well.

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  3. Ha! Ha! You beat me to the punch on that one. Great read!

    I have a pair of 1460s "Made in England" and I can see a difference in the quality, mainly in the leather. It seems a bit thicker and more rigid. If you have two pairs side by side, you can feel the difference. Personally I think it's worth paying extra, especially when you receive them as a Christmas present. :p

    For more great Doc pics, check out the Bouncing Soles group on Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/groups/bouncingsoles/

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  4. Thanks Patrick! I'll be sure Jen reads this - December is right around the corner ;)

    Thanks for the tip re: the flickr group - Going to check it out now!

    Hope all is well.

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  5. I might contemplate the "For Life" idea, cheers for posting it. The stitching is going on my black, 9 year old English made DM 1461 Gibsons but the leather is still keeping up. Luckily my 18 year old Oxblood DM 1461 Gibsons are still holding up. My 4 year old Chinese 8 hole boots are already cracking above the instep despite constant polishing and cleaning.....

    Great blog, keep up the good work!

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  6. I've got a couple of pairs of Dr Martens For Life boots (a black pair and a brown pair), and I couldn't be happier with them. They were instantly comfortable, and there was no problem with breaking them in.

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  7. I haven't been able to find any "for life" boots in any color other than black, including on the website. I just got a pair of Monkey Boots in oxblood, smooth shiny leather but they already got scuffed by the carpet, totally took off a couple of pieces of the shiny part in the toe. Cheap ass boolshite if you ask me. Going to the DM store downtown where I got them tomorrow to try to get a refund or exchange as I've had them for less than a month!

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  8. On the dmusastore.com, they're offering Black SMOOTH HARDLIFE; Black HARDLIFE; Dark Brown HARDLIFE, which I ordered.

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  9. Great post Eric,
    I've today noticed the sole of my 4 year old 1461's have finally split, they've have literally been worn every (working) day.
    I'm am toying with a pair of "For Life" to replace them. It a huge jump in price mind £120 Vs £45 on amazon for standard Asian ones. Decisions decisions!
    I'm with most people that own DMs having many pairs including a RAF Symons black patent leather ones that I wore to a black tie function!

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  10. Aidan,

    Thanks for reading and for your comment.

    I'm surprised at the huge gap in price in the UK between the "for life" and "normal" models. In the US the price gap is fairly negligible - About USD $90 for normal Asian made Docs vs. about USD $120 for the "for life" ones - which are also Asian-made. I've yet to turn my first pair of for life Docs in - they are still going strong a bit over a year later. And I'm quite happy with them, overall. One thing I will note: the leather doesn't take a shine as well as other Docs I've had. I think this is perhaps due to them using a slightly different type of leather (the "hard life" leather they talk about). It's a little bit more matte. It does shine nicely but it seems to wear off and go matte a little faster than other Docs I've owned.

    For my next pair (my oxblood 1461s are looking pretty pathetic) I think I might shell out the money and go with the "made in england" line.

    Good luck and thanks again for writing.

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  11. i recently purchased my doc martens (chinese) and ive had no problems but im gonna get the MIE's when my feet are to bigand when they stop growing m 15) just because their cooler

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  12. I purchased a pair this month in Boston. Usually Dr. Martens will last me about 6 weeks before I wear out the sole.

    ( walk with a limp which wears down the toe of my left shoe. )

    Hopefully they'll repair these at least once when the time comes. At $30 for the handling + Plus shipping I'll at least break even compared to buying a new pair.

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  13. Does anybody know how much the "nominal administration fee" is going to be?

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    1. Hi Charles --

      I actually just sent these in for repair/replacement this month. The fee is $25, apparently. I will update this post when I get the new pair back. Thanks for reading.

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  14. The Made in England line doesn't seem to have a lifetime warranty. I was just looking at the For Life line. Are they that painful to break in?

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    1. You're right Dave, the MIE line does not come with a lifetime warranty. One might hope that the craftsmanship is a bit better than the mass produced in Asia versions, but who knows. I haven't yet gotten a pair of the MIE, other than the ones I had years ago when they were all made in England.

      To be honest, the For Life version seems to be a less painful break in (for the 1461 shoes). I suspect it's due to the different type of leather used (a bit softer, less shiny, more of a matte finish).

      Thanks for reading!

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  15. Found this looking up what other people thought of their for life docs because the tread on my soles is already getting worn out after a year. They're my first pair of docs- always loved them but could never afford them, but I kept busting out the sides of my other combat boots or wearing through the sole in a few months. I walk everywhere (college) and wear them pretty much everyday, so I think it's just me that wears them super hard. I'm pretty impressed with them overall.

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