Everything You Need to Know About Shopping for Vintage Denim

There’s nothing like the thrill of the hunt, but when you find exactly what you’ve been looking for? It’s soooo much better. Which is why we went to the experts to get some advice on what to do when shopping for vintage denim. A pair of battered Wranglers or Levi’s 501 jeans have become just as essential to a good wardrobe as any Glove shoe or bucket bag. Our favorite cool girls make it look easy, but the rest of us need a little extra help to bolster the confidence to comb through our local thrift store. The good news? You can also buy these things online, which we really love. Whether you’re a thrifting pro or have yet to pop your vintage denim cherry, the words of wisdom that follow are key to finding that perfect pair of vintage jeans.

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START WITH A FITTING ROOM “Our top tip for shopping vintage denim would be to try an assortment of sizes. Fit really varies between style numbers and years produced so you really need to try a range and see what works best with your body type!” say Lauren Clark and Lyndsey Chow, founders of Hey Jude, a purveyor of contemporary vintage based in Vancouver, BC. “It takes a bit more effort but when you find the style that is best for you it’s worth the extra work.” Once you’ve narrowed down your size range, cut and fit preference, you’ll have all the info you need to shop for vintage jeans offline or online.

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LOOK FOR EXTRA TREATMENTS “If you can, try to find vintage Levi’s that have been silicone washed,” advises Andi Bakos, who curates a regular rotation of vintage denim for her boutique West End Select Shop in Portland. “We send all our jeans to a wash house and they come back feeling lighter, softer and more supple. It’s like putting them into a time machine that makes them 20 years older and better.” Look for curated vintage stores where this kind of vintage TLC is more likely.

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THEY SHOULD BE PERFECTLY IMPERFECT “We love denim for its sustainability and forever getting better with age. Jeans are effortlessly classic, and unexpectedly sentimental,” explain Stacy Daily and Claire Lampert, creators of B Sides. “Vintage jeans fit like no other piece of clothing you’ve ever worn. They are best when they’re broken in, heavy, imperfect, with color variation.” So look for things that make that pair extra special and personal to you. If your perfect fit has too many holes for your liking, there’s nothing a good tailor can’t help with to make them exactly how you want them.

TRADITIONAL SHOPPING RULES DO NOT APPLY

“Look in the men’s and boy’s jean sections too!” enthuses Amanda Vega, owner of KALEIDOSWendy and LaRae Kangas, the founders of DUO NYC, are on the same page. “We recommend shopping the men’s section. We’ve found some of our favorite pairs in the men’s rack, aka score a perfect boyfriend jean. Also, don’t get hung up with sizing on the label. Old denim tends to run much smaller than modern sizing. Our rule of thumb is size up two to three sizes.”

Merl Kinzie and Rachael Glasder, founder and online shop manager of The Shudio respectively, completely agree on both counts. “I have lately been going to the boys section of thrift and resale shops as some of the sizes are better for modern women, plus they have that grass-stained and worn-in quality that a lot of women look for,” Rachael says. Try on everything!” Merl adds. “I tell every person who comes into The Shudio looking for vintage denim that you have to carve out a solid hour when hunting for the perfect pair because depending on the year the jeans were constructed and how the first owner wore them, the sizes can widely fluctuate and a pair you never would’ve picked up could be your denim soul mate. It also doesn’t hurt to do some research prior to hitting the racks so you know what styles and fits best suit you… but again, try on EVERYTHING.”

“If you’re in a shop somewhere, try them on,” continues Katie May, owner of BLACKSHEEP. “Try them all on. The ones you thought wouldn’t fit may be the ones that make your butt look better than it ever has before! It’s so tough to know your size with all the inconsistencies and vanity sizing over the years. If you’re shopping online it’s important to know your measurements. I also tend to be pretty brand loyal so you can have idea of what to expect.” 

Remember: you are not a number, you’re a person. Hopefully after this, a person with the perfect pair of vintage jeans.

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