Dr. Marten’s is known the world over for its lineup of durable shoes. With a handful of iconic designs, the UK-based brand has origins that stretch back to 1901 and its revolutionary AirWare cushioned sole design have been making steps since the 1940s. Now, you can’t walk more than a few feet without seeing its eye-grabbing yellow stitching.
For decades, Solovair was the producer of Dr. Marten’s famous shoes. Known for sometime as Solovair by Dr. Marten’s, the brand still produces all of its shoes in its Northamptonshire, England factory using Goodyear-welted construction. It even makes Dr. Marten’s ‘Made in England’ line of footwear. The brand has yet to find a solid footing here in the States, but can be found online as well as in-store at New York-based label Noah.
If you find yourself waffling between the two air-powered shoes, we’ve gotten our hands (or feet) on both and compared the two styles side by side.
Dr. Martens 1461 Smooth Leather Oxford Shoes
Upper: The upper uses a black leather with a waxy matte finish that’s built to take a beating. It’s stiffer than the Solovair’s, but certainly not tough to break in.
Sizing: The 1461 is noticeably larger overall compared with the Solovair 3 Eye Gibson. It’s both wider and a bit longer.
Insole: Here you’ll find a single piece foam insole which is comfortably squishy at the outset.
Sole: The sole features ridges along the perimeter of the sole and also is green-yellow tint that contrasts with the welt and upper.
Solovair 3 Eye Gibson Shoe
Upper: The uppers are more glossy than matte and slightly more pliable than Dr. Marten’s.
Laces: Solovair’s laces are basically indistinguishable from Dr. Marten’s other than the shorter aglet.
Sizing: The 3 Eye Gibson is significantly smaller compared to the 1461. While the size 8 in the Dr. Marten’s seemed like the correct size for me, the Solovair’s were too narrow and too short. I’d need to go to a size 8.5 here, perhaps even a size 9.
Insole: The insole uses leather but also adds foam at the heels which results in more arch support.
Sole: Solovair’s soles aren’t uncomfortable by any means. But, they are a bit more rigid in comparison to the Dr. Marten’s.
Which One Is Right for You?
Dr. Martens 1461: As far as cultural cachet is concerned, Dr. Martens has it in spades. As the UK’s mods and punks pushed against societal norms, they unknowingly pushed the 1461 (and its taller sibling, the 1460) from cult classic to cultural phenomenon. The yellow welt stitching is almost as iconic as the Levi’s red tab and if you want ‘the real thing’, this is the shoe to get, even if today’s models are (for the most part) produced outside of England.
The 1461 has a less formal feel than the 3 Eye Gibson. The chunkier silhouette, the matte finish, grooved soles and contrast yellow stitching give the shoe an impression closer to a work shoe than a dress shoe. You can still have the shoes resoled, but the heat-sealed sole means that a cobbler will have to cut off the sole from the welt and attach a different sole to it. In some cases, you might even lose the yellow stitching (and cachet). If having the telltale stitching and famous AirWair soles is important, grabbing another pair for $120 is maybe more cost-effective than a resole you might not be happy with.
Solovair 3 Eye Gibson: Solovair’s English-made style can blend well in situations that have a tightened-up dress code. The sculpted silhouette, tonal welt stitching and tonal soles impart the shoe with a certain sleekness that the 1461 doesn’t quite have. That’s not to say you couldn’t wear the Solovair’s in casual situations, but if you find yourself in need of a shoe to go with a suit, these could pass.
While the soles themselves are ever so slightly more rigid, it feels like a moot point in comparison to the rounded sole and arch support which make for a more natural feeling stride. Over time, as well, the leather insole will eventually mold to your feet more than the foam insole of the Dr. Martens. And once it’s time for a resole, you can purchase one of Solovair’s soles to take to your local cobbler.
Noah and Dr. Martens provided these products for review.