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! A while back, 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 denim. Here’s an expert guide to 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: There are so many sellers and listings on Etsy, but here are a few of my fave shops for vintage denim.
Detour Vintage: prices are higher in the shop but it’s highly curated and the vintage denim is amazing
Shop Future: although a smaller selection, the Levi’s are SO good
Color Me Vintage: specializes in vintage denim, but doesn’t charge an arm and a leg!
Gold Penny Vintage: a highly curated shop for vintage denim
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.
Free People x Rose Bowl Flea Market: Free People is currently offering a curated selection of vintage finds (including Levi’s) from Rose Bowl Flea Market sellers
Urban Outfitters: The “Urban Renewal” collection offers a good selection of vintage Levi’s that are sourced and updated.
EXPERT 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.
A Guide to Vintage Levis:
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.
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.
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.