Since having Clementine, I’ve really been trying to embrace the idea of a capsule wardrobe. Buying quality over quantity, and nailing down which items are essentials to my wardrobe and my everyday life.
One of these items are vintage Levi’s! I’ve tried on many different styles, many different sizes, and finally found a pair I loved. Then I dumped curry chicken onto them two weeks later and cried when I couldn’t get the stain out. I ended up making them into cutoffs, but had to start another hunt for a pair of perfect vintage Levi’s!
One of the hardest things about purchasing vintage jeans is the difference in sizing from jeans in stores now. Not only were the vintage ones made for men originally, but unfortunately we have what is called “vanity sizing” nowadays. The industry tries to make us all feel better about our waist size as well as boost their sales by making their jeans extra stretchy or sizing them inaccurately which ends up totally confusing us in each new store we try jeans on because you’re suddenly a different size!
Well you guys, vintage jeans can be a bit of a shocker at first. Those labels, although not necessarily always super accurate either (more on that later), show the actual waist measurement you need to be to fit into those bad boys. When I first started to try on vintage jeans it was a bit unnerving. Im a waist 30 in stores! How come I can’t get a vintage jean in a waist 30 over my freaking butt?! Turns out I’m not actually a 30. I’m a 34/36. Typing this out makes me want to cry, but there’s some honesty for you to hopefully help with finding your perfect vintage jeans! And hey, those jeans hold me in very nicely thanks to the minimal stretch they have so, thanks bigger jeans!
Another frustrating aspect when shopping for vintage jeans is that no two pairs will fit the same. If you’re trying them on in a store, always try on multiple pairs. Even of the same size. And if you’re searching online, always always always check those measurements! The same style of jeans made in different years will affect the sizing.
One major fit factor to consider is the shrink to fit fabric or raw denim of the 501s. When they are first put on you would sit in a bathtub full of water, take them off, and then let them air dry. This allows them to mold to a persons body shape, giving you a better fit. If the previous owner did this, the jeans are shaped to their body! It also depends of course on how they were washed (cold vs. warm water, dryer vs. air dry) and taken care of as well. One more thing to remember is that 501s began to be made for women in the 1980s, which means you could potentially be closer to your size in your current jeans if you try those on. This is why those measurements are super important to check, and it’s also super important to measure yourself correctly too.
The 505s, unlike the 501s, do tend to have a bit more of a consistent fit because they were cut from a pre-shrunk material. So those are a different ballgame.
What’s cool about all of this though is that no pair is alike! These jeans have been worn by someone, they have been shaped, molded, and broken in by their body and lifestyle. Each pair of jeans have their own story! And you get to add to it once you purchase them.
I ended up these vintage 501s while in New York this past May. They fit like a glove! I ended up getting them tapered every so slightly, just so there wasn’t so much fabric gathering around my tiny ankles, at a Levi’s store to make sure my denim was properly altered. I didn’t alter the length of them, although I would’ve like a shorter pair, because I didn’t want to ruin the beautiful red line selvedge. I will not be eating any curry type of food in these beauties. And I managed to still squeeze myself into them at 16 weeks pregnant so I could show you photos instead of just posting all these tips.
Looking for your perfect pair of vintage Levi’s takes time, patience, and figuring out which styles work best for your body. Don’t count out any styles when first starting. You never know what could end up being your favourite!
But how do you decide which ones to try on, or even harder – purchase online? Here are some simple guidelines…
- Find Your Style. There are so many options when it comes to vintage jeans in general, but the Levi 501s, 505s, and 517s are the most popular. The 501s have the classic button fly and tend to hug curves better with their fitted higher waist, the 505s have a zipper fly and tend to fit closer on straighter figures, and the 517s are universally flattering. For a more in-depth look at which era to buy from, check out this article. If you’re unsure how a specific style will fit, use this site as a cheatsheet on the different styles, or google it! You’d be surprised how much info is out there for you, such as this article about 501s vs 505s, and this article about the different kinds of 501s.
- Look at the Wash. You can’t change that faded wash of vintage jeans. The way they are worn is how they look and if you aren’t okay with the fading, rips, or colour then pass them up and look for a different pair. You can potentially make them look more worn and distressed though, so do keep that it mind.
- Know Your True Measurements. This isn’t the time to go by the measurements of your current jeans, or go by the measurements you want to be. Measure yourself well, and double check. Vintage jeans do not tend to be very giving (which is great for holding you in, but not great for squeezing into the wrong size) so assuming they will stretch that 1/2 inch could be sad news for you when they arrive in the mail (if shopping online).
- Check the Jeans Measurements. Don’t focus on the label numbers because the sizing will vary greatly depending on when they were produced and how they have been worn/taken care of. You will probably need to go up a size (or four) from your current denim size, which is determined by how you’d like them to fit and where you want them to sit on you. If you’re purchasing online and not able to try on before buying (and you’re unsure of how the certain styles will fit you) make sure to check the waist measurement (and where it would sit on you), hip measurement, back rise, front rise, leg opening, thighs, and inseam measurement to be sure they will fit how you want them to. If those measurements aren’t available, ask! People selling vintage are usually very willing to help you find your perfect pair of vintage jeans. It’s also usually final sale as well, so you want to be sure your money isn’t being wasted.
- Try the Neck Test (if trying on in stores). If the ends meet around your neck, they should fit over your hips. I used this trick when searching for my pairs, and it helped eliminate many pairs right away that would have failed in the dressing room.
- Alterations are an Option. If you like the button fly look of the 501s but aren’t a fan of how baggy they are through the leg, get them taken in! If you’ve found that perfectly worn pair but they’re way too long, hem those guys! There are other adjustments that can be made as well, such as bringing in the pocket for a tighter fit across the front, so be aware of your options (those types could get pricey though). Try to take them to a Levi’s store that has a in-house tailor to make sure your jeans get treated with the proper care they deserve. Finding your perfect pair and making them your own is one of the great things about vintage Levi’s, and you don’t want someone to ruin your sought after and coveted vintage jeans.
- Wear Them. Now that the hunt is over, wear them and get some good use out of them! Dress your jeans up with heels, a tucked in blouse, and a cute little purse or keep them casual with a tee, flats, and day bag. They’re so versatile!
Please feel free to leave comments on any other suggestions/tips you have! I’m sure there are more, and I’d love to here your ideas and experiences!