A Guide to Vintage Levi’s

how to shop for vintage levis tips

Did you know that vintage Levi’s are a thing? I kid, I kid. I mean, they are the classic wardrobe staple and have been for almost 150 years so I’m not sure if they were ever out of style! Last year, I put together a guide to buying vintage Levi’s and it’s one of the most visited posts I have on the blog. As a follow up, I met up with Toni, the gal behind my go-to shop for vintage Levi’s, Fairseason, to get her tips on our our favorite denim. Both Toni and I are frequently asked about sizing and the various styles, so she’s sharing everything you ever wanted to know about buying vintage Levis.

WHERE TO BUY VINTAGE LEVI’S:

Hands down the best place to shop for vintage Levi’s is at the flea market.  You’ll pay as little as $8 for a great pair of jeans, but you should know your sizing as you may not be able to try them on before you buy. A handy tip is to wrap the waist of the jeans around your neck. If it wraps around, then it should fit. It’s a random tip, but it hasn’t failed me yet!

If you can’t swing by the flea market or prefer a more structured shopping experience, then try one of these spots:

Etsy:  Fairseason specializes in vintage denim, but doesn’t charge an arm and a leg!

RE/DONE: This is where you’ll find repurposed vintage denim. The pieces are hand cut and sewn for a perfect, modern fit but they are pricier than other options.

Urban Outfitters: The “Urban Renewal” collection offers a good selection of vintage Levi’s that are sourced and updated.

TIPS FOR BUYING VINTAGE LEVI’S:

Old School tags: Authentic vintage Levi’s jeans are those manufactured before 1970. You can easily verify the true vintage of the jeans with this easy trick: find the red tab and check for a capital “E” in LEVi’s. Styles from the 80s and 90s are great too, so don’t limit yourself to the big “E”.

Borrowed from the boys:  Don’t ignore men’s jeans while on the hunt for your perfect vintage Levi’s. Most vintage Levi’s are men’s styles and sizing! Again, fit and wash are most important so venture beyond the women’s jeans and find something from the boys.

Mom jean versus dad jeans: If you’re looking for super high-waist jeans then shop women’s jeans, but if you want loose and casual then shop men’s jeans. 501s and 505s offer a straight and relaxed fit and they are great for cutting into shorts and crops, or hemming and rocking a seriously awesome pair of boyfriend jeans. Note the 501s have a button fly, while the 505s have a zip fly. 551s offer a looser and tapered fit for a serious mom jean.  It’s perfect for the petite gal since it’s a vintage women’s jean and will fit a smaller frame better than the 501s.  701s are similar to the 551s, but run smaller and narrower!

Sizing: Don’t get bogged down by vanity sizing and pay attention to the measured size of jeans. If you’re shopping at the flea, try them on. If you’re buying online, follow the measurements guide and make sure you can return. Vintage Levi’s runs much smaller than modern denim. Expect to size up 2-4 sizes when shopping vintage. Always asked for the measured waist size (as opposed to marked size) when you shop online. For reference, I’m a modern 26 and buy vintage 28 – 30.

Alterations:  I have found great long length Levi’s which I cut into shorts and crops (like pictured). The most important things are fit and wash.  Find a pair that fits you well and has a great wash and you can transform them from tapered jeans to shorts or crops in less than 20 minutes.  If the fit around the thighs is too baggy, take them to a good tailor and get them sewn in. Getting a baggier pair of jeans is better, as that gives your tailor more denim to work with and really give you that hugged around the thighs look.

fairseason vintage

A Guide to Vintage Levis with Fairseason Vintage:

Sizing is very tricky and very different from modern sizing. What are three pieces of advice or tips you can give us when we’re shopping online or at the flea market?

1) Always know your measurements when you’re shopping in person or online. This is the best way to know what will actually fit you. If you have a sewing tape measure at home measure your waist at the smallest point & your hips at the largest point. If you’re at the flea market you can bring a tape measure with you to take flat measurements of jeans that you can’t try on. If your waist is 28″ look for jeans that measure about 14″ flat at the waist.

vintage levis and striped tee

2) Don’t rely on your modern size. Current brands often employ a strategy called ‘vanity sizing,’ which means that if your waist measures 28″, your modern size off the rack will be a 26 or 27. This system is insidious for a few reasons. It tells women that we should be smaller than we actually are. It also creates overall confusion because each brand has a different sizing strategy that doesn’t address our real bodies. It drives me nuts!  Me too, girl, me too.

3) When you’re shopping for vintage Levi’s and the back or inside tag is still legible take a look at the waist measurement. If the jeans you’re looking at are marked size 30, they’ll most likely fit a 28″ waist. The rule of thumb is to subtract two inches from the marked size to figure out the actual size. This may seem weird, but there’s a reason why vintage Levi’s don’t measure according to the size that they are marked. Simply put, denim shrinks. I’m sure a lot of you have seen ‘shrink to fit’ on a Levi’s label and that’s what it means. When you wash and dry your Levi’s they shrink. Vintage Levi’s have already been worn, washed, & shrunk so that work is out of the way for you.

We all know that 501s are a fabulous fit. What makes them so great and what are the different styles we should check out? 

Vintage 501 Levi’s – The quintessential pair of Levi’s. Personally I think this fit is flattering on every size and it does wonders for the booty. This is a button fly, straight leg, mid rise fit. I think some of the butt magic comes from the fact that the back panel of fabric on a 501 is cut wider than the front panel. That means that the fabric from the back panel wraps around your rear to give it a hug & lift. The waistline of the 501 also takes a flattering dive down from back to front nipping the waist at just the right angle & giving you curves all around.

where to buy vintage levis

Levi’s 517 – This is a style that has a subtle flare, which we love. Depending on the era of your 517 it can be high waist or more of a mid-rise. 517s from the 70s, which often have an orange tab on the back pocket, have more of a high waist look, while 90s 517s are more of a mid-rise. All 517s have a zipper fly. We photographed a pair from the 90s. The flare on the 517 is slight, so it gives you a chance to create the illusion of longer legs with a heel peeking out of that little bell.

Levi’s 505 – This is a straight leg, mid rise cut with a zipper fly. The hip on the 505 tends to run narrow. The 505 is cut very straight. The back and front panels are equal width, unlike the 501. This gives you a crisp, tailored look. Like the 517, a 505 from the 70s will have a higher waist than a pair from the 80s or 90s.

37 Comments

  1. Elisa Hall
    July 13, 2018 / 8:30 pm

    Do you have any knowledge about orange tab Levi’s? I have a pair, looks legit vintage, but all I see online are posts about 501s

    • July 18, 2018 / 9:04 am

      Hi Elisa. The orange tab was used for the fashion line items such as bell bottoms, boot cut jeans, denim jackets, etc. It’s definitely legit!

      • Max
        April 19, 2019 / 9:36 pm

        Hi! So I came across some very old Levi’s kids jeans with suspenders
        Has the white Tag red letters capital E
        The Levi Tag is a 361 2617
        Brand New with Marshall Field sales Tag on it still $1.50
        All the buttons, stitching pockets and all that people talk about are on these Pants
        Anyone know how much they worth?
        Email me or reply on here
        max.diaz@yahoo.com

        • April 23, 2019 / 9:31 am

          Hi Max
          I can’t speak to the value of the jeans, but Levi’s jeans where the tag has a capital “E” are considered vintage and highly sought after. I hope this helps!

  2. Marc
    September 4, 2018 / 11:59 am

    Hi. I have a pair of mens orange tab early 1970’s bell bottom jeans.
    They are basically 2 pairs of Levis but 1 pair was cut up and sewn on top of the other pair.
    They’re completely unique.
    Are they worth much?

    • September 5, 2018 / 11:52 am

      I’m not sure since they’ve been altered. You may try to take to a local vintage consignment shop to get an opinion since they’ll take a look at the jeans close up.

  3. Maggie
    September 20, 2018 / 4:00 pm

    How are vintage Levi’s different from the Levi’s that the brand sells now? They still sell 501’s for men and women, can I buy those and expect them to look similar to vintage?

    • September 21, 2018 / 5:48 pm

      Hi Maggie, the original 501s have no stretch and offer a looser fit in the hips with a skinnier waist. The new 501s are cut slimmer and now use a stretch fabric. You can buy the new style and can get a similar look to the vintage Levi’s, but it won’t look and feel vintage as it won’t have the wear and worn in look and feel. Also, if you love the high waist look and don’t want stretch, then you definitely want vintage. The pair of new Levi’s that I own and love as much as my vintage 501s are the wedgie fit style (these are no stretch and look great on): http://bit.ly/2I8crWo

  4. JokeV
    October 2, 2018 / 2:44 am

    Hi, i have orange tab Levi’s and i’m not sure if they are vintage or not.
    They’re 550 relaxed fit student, made in Guatemala.

    • October 2, 2018 / 9:16 pm

      Hi! The Orange Tab was used starting in the 60s for more fashion items such as bell bottoms, denim jackets, etc and it’s still used today for select vintage styles. They could be vintage, but it’s hard to give you a concrete answer without seeing the jeans in person!

  5. Cheryl Womack
    October 16, 2018 / 7:42 am

    Hi…I just bought a pair of levis.. white tab.. tag says made in canada.. very small leather patch… looks like a kick flare capri… can’t find any information online about them… could you help?
    Thanks

  6. Mike Broyles
    November 8, 2018 / 5:22 pm

    hey Annette…. can you help or direct me to someone that can on a two front pockets only Type III truckers jacket I purchased last weekend at the estate sale of a well known Kansas City writer? It’s a fantastic jacket and it fits me perfectly. I’ve been on Heddel’s and Rope Dye and many more and every time I think I have it figured out, I find something that just doesn’t line up with what they say the steps are to tell the age, or if it’s actual vintage or from the LVC line. I even contacted Levi’s customer service figuring they could at least tell me what jackets were issued and when in their LVC line and if they had an easy identifier- no dice. Hopefully you can shed some light on this for me. If you want to give it a go, let me know and I’ll send you pics and all the details I think matter, that I’ve found so far.
    thanks

  7. Dorothy Degaetani
    December 6, 2018 / 1:59 pm

    I have a pair of high waisted with the label on the left posterior waist .the label is white blue and tan,it has a flower a skier the san Francisco bridge,a flag,a compass with a N on it and a map and levi strauss&co on bottom are they of any value? There still in pretty good shape

  8. Jennis Blanchard
    March 5, 2019 / 10:33 am

    I have a pair of high waisted Levi jeans that are stir- ups. Only identify feature is the inside back waist line embroider Levi’s in white and 28 with symbol ? In red also embroided. They are dark in color, rivets are black/ copper. Any info on these jeans? Love these for boots!

  9. David Hamilton
    March 28, 2019 / 5:21 pm

    I have a Levis 557 XX Jacket I believe from 1965. The odd thing is the red LEVIS is upside down. Is this just a factory mistake and/or does it add any value to the jacket?

    • April 2, 2019 / 2:44 pm

      Hi David. I’m guessing it’s probably a factory mistake. I don’t believe it adds or reduces value to the jacket.

    • jordan
      January 31, 2020 / 1:29 pm

      Do you still have this jacket? I’d be interested in buying it.

  10. James DuPriest
    April 6, 2019 / 4:09 pm

    Have pair of white flare or bell bottom levis from approximately 1970. In very good condition, but not pristine. Any particular value? Just kept them for the memories.

    • April 15, 2019 / 9:32 am

      I’m not sure about the value of this particular style. Right now vintage 501s are on trend so they are selling for more than other styles. Hope that helps!

  11. Rudy
    May 11, 2019 / 8:26 pm

    I recently found a pair of 517 Levi’s with a black tab on the back pocket. Any idea about them?

  12. Reese
    May 30, 2019 / 12:08 pm

    Do some women wear men’s Levi vintage jeans? Is it a complete different fit than the women’s?

    • May 31, 2019 / 2:05 pm

      All vintage Levi’s 501 jeans are a men’s style so most of the vintage Levi’s that women wear are in fact a men’s jean. The modern styles are design in men’s and women’s cuts. I hope that helps!

  13. Kate
    June 3, 2019 / 11:17 am

    Hi! I’m trying to find another pair of a beloved vintage pair of orange tab bootcut Levi’s that I have but I can’t identify what they are and have searched endlessly for more information, so if you know anything more from the following I would love to know! They have a leather patch on the back left pocket that says Levi’s, the card stock waistband label is nearly illegible but it doesn’t pass the stitching on the waistband (it’s smaller than other Levi’s sizing patches), the ink used on the patch is black not red, the numbers on the bottom of the patch start with 857 -, and end on the other side with x76cm (assuming the measurements were also provided in cm on this pair). Any leads you have would be greatly appreciated!!

  14. Kim
    June 9, 2019 / 8:23 pm

    I’ve been looking for a pair of 518’s for 15 years. They are woman’s. I called the Levi company and they said they no longer made that type. If anyone has any info on finding a pair-feel free to let me know!

    • Deanie
      August 31, 2019 / 4:44 pm

      Hi Kim!
      Just came across your question and wanted to let you know that many thrift stores, resell shops, vintage stores and consignment shops sell the 518 Levis.
      I go to Goodwill stores and Salvation Army stores too and look and ALWAYS find Levis, new & old! They usually run about $5-$10!
      I’ve seen many 518’s where I live in Illinois and they are usually in very good shape!
      You may have to just do some thrifting some day and see what you can find! 😃

  15. Heather
    July 9, 2019 / 11:12 am

    Hi! Can’t seem to find any info on Levi shorts with a white tab and small ‘e’ . Any idea which decade they may be from? They also have a high elastic waist in the back. Perhaps juniors?

  16. reynol fernandez
    September 25, 2019 / 3:01 am

    were can I buy vintage levis for men online?

    • October 9, 2019 / 11:11 am

      check etsy and ebay. the original 501 jeans are a men’s style so even though items are listed for women, it’s actually a men’s style! i hope that helps.

  17. October 28, 2019 / 3:03 pm

    I have a mens Levi’s Travel Salesman Waller. It has the Orange Levi’s Label, jean material exterior, leather interior, with a notepad, pen, change holder, and expense report pad. It is actually brand new. The copyright on the expense pad is 1970. I cant find anything on it. Can you shed some light?

  18. Shauna
    November 7, 2019 / 10:29 am

    Hey, I thrifted a pair of Levi’s 551, they look great and in amazing condition. Do you know if these are sought after at all?

  19. Tom Meyer
    November 10, 2019 / 3:02 am

    I remember back in the late 80’s , Levi’s made women’s jeans with the white patch on the right side rear pocket. Those were the best women’s Levi’s besides the 501’s. What were they called. Think they had orange or white Levi’s tag ??

  20. chris
    November 10, 2019 / 1:14 pm

    I have a pair of white tab women’s flared jeans which I purchased in Ireland in 1977. The tab has a lower case e and it says Levi’s on both sides. They have no front pockets, and the back pockets have a snap. The tag says 537 and the button and snaps all say Levi Strauss & Co SF CAL. The laundry tab is white with a red Levis logo and “made in Great Britain”. I cannot find any identification online . How do I determine if they are really Levis?

  21. Cathi Glanz
    November 10, 2019 / 1:45 pm

    Hi I have a white denim Levi jacket and inside tag says Levi’s for gals. It has all the Levi snaps and it does have a Levi tag sewn into the left breast pocket. It has two brass pockets and the stitching is in black. Is this a real Levi jacket?

  22. Barbara O'Neil
    November 16, 2019 / 1:23 pm

    Hi! I have a pair of men’s 505s from approximately 1980. Can you help me with what these are worth? Looking to sell. Thank you! 34×30, never used.

  23. Lisa
    December 13, 2019 / 7:02 pm

    Hello 🙂 I am tall with a long torso, so the 505 and 501 come up just below my belly button. Do you have a suggestion for a similar fit bit higher rise? Still prefer vintage with no stretch. Thank you!

    • January 16, 2020 / 10:34 am

      Hi! Sorry just seeing your comment. The Levi’s Ribcage jean which is a newer style would be great for you. It’s super high waist and very flattering fit similar to vintage 501s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *