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.

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? 

Levi’s 501 – 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.

Because we’re all obsessed, Fairseason Vintage and I have partnered to giveaway a pair of vintage Levi’s on Instagram! Get all the details here!

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8 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!

  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!

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