How to find the perfect pair of Vintage Levis? That is the question isn’t it? If you were like me, you had a pair you loved and they fit you to perfection. You wore them over and over again. Then your love grew cold and you parted ways. And now you live with the sure knowledge: that was the one that got away. I have several pair of vintage Levis, and almost every time I wear them someone will stop and ask me where I got them and how to shop for them. This post will cover the main things to look for and where to look.I am here to tell you I can release you from that guilt and regret. With these tips and a little perseverance you can find the perfect pair of vintage Levis.
The History of Levis 501’s
The Levis 501 is 146 years old and is considered the gold standard of vintage denim. It was the very first garment that the Levi Strauss & Co. produced. The 501 has gone through close to 20 makeovers since its inception in 1873, and bears no resemblance to the original waist overall which was referred to by the original lot number 501. Due to an earthquake and fire in 1906 which destroyed the Levi Strauss & Co. headquarters and factories, it is unknown today why this number ‘5’ was first given to the core range of Levi’s products, but most people have grown accustomed to the number 501.
The two horse brand patch on the back of every pair of Levis was implemented 16 years after production started as a way to differentiate the product from other competitors.
Capital “E” Levis Red Tab
The little reg tag was created in 1936, and today the tab is one of the most iconic parts of a pair of 501s. There are certain characteristics associated with each of the 19 makeovers throughout the years, and if you’re a collector then these nuance will matter to help determine the actual value of the jeans. But the rest of us really just care about the fit and to some extent the quality. So, to keep us out of the weeds the main delineation is the 1971 switch from the red tag “LEVIS” with a big “E” to the reg tag “LeVIS” with a little “e” and the addition of a care label sometime in the 1970″s. If you come across a pair with the big “E” and no care instruction label then they were made before 1971, not mass produced, and are considered a collector pair and the price will most likely reflect this.
One last tie bit of information that I’ve discovered over the years: the red labels have the best overall fit. Stay away from the orange label. They were a weird transitional model in my opinion. If you want to read more in depth about all things vintage 501s read this article.
3 Things to Keep In Mind When You are Shopping For Your Vintage 501s
Now the journey begins. Honestly, when I’m shopping for vintage 501s I just look at the over all condition and size of the jean. And there are 3 things I’ve learned over the years to always keep in mind.
Don’t Pay Attention To The Size On The Label
The label size on vintage jeans is really irrelevant. The fibers in denim will shrink over time if they are not worn. When I say shrink ,I’m not talking about that too snug feeling you get after you wash your jeans. I am talking about shrinkage of 1-3 inches! I normally wear a 27 in jeans and I always look at 32 or 33 waist vintage jeans. So, if you’re buying on line keep that in mind.
Don’t Buy Jeans With Patch Repairs
At first it seems like a great find when you stumble across a pair of distressed 501s that have been stitched or patched to prolong the life cycle. Move away from the rack! I learned this lesson the hard way–take my word for it. They simply don’t hang correctly and look stiff wherever the patch or stitching is. Does not give off that cool girl vibe for sure.
Do Not Buy 501s With Crotch Repair
Again, seems like it shouldn’t matter to the fit and longevity of the jean if they’ve been repaired. But the crotch is an area I’m not willing to gamble on. The fabric around the tear is usually pretty thin and the repair will mostly rip or a hole will open up right next to the repair. Again, I pass these nuggets on to you from experience. Even if you the repair holds you still have the same problem of it not really looking right. Just move on.
Where to Buy Vintage Levis
The best selection I’ve ever come across is at The House of Vintage in Portland, Oregon. I know! It’s totally random and most likely not accessible, but you can start looking for vintage stores when you travel. You’ll be surprised at what you discover.
Short of planning a trip to Portland, the next best place to shop is on Etsy or Ebay. I always shop on the Etsy site but not for any good reason other than I am used to it. Below is the link to get you started and happy hunting!