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.

9 ways to wear novelty denim

Blue jeans, jean jacket, denim shirt and even denim dresses are pretty ubiquitous in the denim department by now, so it’s not surprising that in this season’s celebration of all things blue jeans designers have used the time-tested fabric in novel ways. There’s novelty denim pieces that make an offbeat statement and then there are the pieces you never knew you needed in denim. We could literally wear it head to toe with hats from R/H Studio and Brother Vellies babouches. But don’t. Unless you’re Kanye. Or Beyoncé. They can do whatever they want. For the rest of us, here’s nine unexpected ways to amp up your denim game.

How 5 of our favorite cool girls found their favorite jeans

We’ve all been there: scrolling and screen capturing through Instagram, in search of outfit inspiration. Losing track of time, but gaining fashion advice by the second. A few taps can take you through most outfit details, but what about those jeans the woman you love wear over and over? The ones that are never tagged? To get a little extra inspiration for our constant hunt for the perfect pair of jeans, we caught up with five of our favorite cool girls to follow to find out where, how and when they scored their favorite pair of jeans.

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MARI GIUDICELLI, SHOE DESIGNER AND MODEL, BROOKLYN, NY

“I found these at a shitty thrift store in Brooklyn, and love how unique they are. I wonder if they are juniors. I love the texture of it, the faded line on the legs and the fit which is just perfect.” @marigiudicelli

 

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ELISE JOSEPH, FREELANCE CREATIVE DIRECTOR, NASHVILLE, TN

“I inherited this pair of old men’s APC jeans from a much-shorter friend of mine, but I love how they’ve broken in to fit me just right, and the cropped length doesn’t bother me. What were once a pair of stiff, rigid denim now feel like a worn-in dream.” @pennyweight (Photo by Arden Wray for Boots & Pine)

 

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BRITTANY BATHGATE, BLOGGER, NORWICH, UK

“My favorite pair of denim is a vintage pair of Levis 501s. Before finding these jeans I had gone through so much trial and error with denim, 501s in particular, before finding ‘the one’. It wasn’t until my pal Sophie at Finch came along and answered my denim prayers. She had been collecting vintage 501s for some time, and just so happened to have a smaller pair in her collection which fit me perfectly. They’ve broken in perfectly and have this dreamy wash and feel to them that you can’t find in new denim. I cut them myself for a cropped frayed look. I reach for them so often that they’ve become almost like a faithful best friend.” @brittanybathgate

 

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HELEN LEVI, CERAMICIST, BROOKLYN, NY

“I love the 1969 606 jeans from Levi’s. I have two pairs. They’re pretty spendy but if you wait for a sale online they’re so worth it. And no, they didn’t come with a rip in the knee! They’re worth it to me because they reference all the vintage jeans I’ve been searching for, but they actually fit my body and have just a tiny bit of stretch which helps them be comfortable all day without getting too loose. And the rise is high so I don’t have plumber butt, but it’s not too high that it’s not comfy. Can you tell I’m all about comfort?!” @helen_levi (Photo by Backyard Bill)

 

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VIRGINIA CALDERON, MARKETING/SOCIAL MEDIA AT OBJECTS WITHOUT MEANING, LOS ANGELES, CA

“I love denim. I’m kind of denim hoarder/collector. Nothing gets me more excited than finding a beautiful pair of vintage jeans. Pure bliss. I love how all the washes are uniquely different. My favorite pair would have to be my orange tab 517 Levi’s that I scored for $5.” @_chicadeoro

An ode to the Canadian tuxedo

Let’s face it: Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake didn’t do this look any favors when they hit the red carpet in matching denim on denim outfits back in 2001. But ironically, they kind of revived it. Ever since then the Canadian tuxedo went from being mocked to being adored. Much of that, luckily, is due to style stars doing it better. From the runway to the street, the denim on denim trend just keeps building. Now? We’re pretty much sold on the fact that it’s a look that won’t ever go out of style. The fable goes that Bing Crosby was the first to sport one after getting trouble for wearing all denim at a fancy Canadian establishment in 1951. So of course Levi Strauss & Co. made him an actual denim tuxedo. While we don’t necessarily condone the literal take on this (although Caron Callahan makes something that’s pretty close and pretty amazing), we do recommend wearing the denim on denim style that feels right for you. Canadian tuxedos can involve skirts, t-shirts, crop tops, whatever feels right for your personal style really. Of course, we thought you might heed the expertise of a few people doing it so right below.

Everything but skinny jeans

After all that time it took getting used to skinny jeans, it’s hard to let them go. We get it! They’re comfy and you know yourself in them now! You know what shoes to wear, what kind of shirt works best for the kind of mood you’re in. But isn’t it time for a little leg room? Mom jeans, dad jeans, flares, wide leg, sailor pants… whatever you choose there’s a whole wide (pun intended) world of jeans out there. If there was ever a time to embrace denim’s new silhouette, it would be this season. Whether you’re ready to dip your toe in with a slightly relaxed version of your skinny jeans or looking for a denim wardrobe makeover, we’ve got you. Here are nine of our favorite jeans that are anything but skinny.

The 5 denim essentials every woman needs

Okay, so 17 pairs of jeans can sometimes feel pretty effin’ essential. Sometimes they REALLY are (when you stumble on a vintage Levi’s goldmine, for example). But for that capsule kind of wardrobe, the one with all those versatile pieces working overtime and stowing neatly away in a compact closet or suitcase, you’re going to need to narrow things down. Not a denim collector? Then it’s time to update your jean dreams with staple silhouettes that will stand the test of trends. Don’t worry, we’ve got you. Here’s the complete edited list of timeless denim essentials every single woman should have in her closet.

 

THE DENIM SHIRT

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Let’s start from the top down. Whether you go chambray or heavy-duty denim, a jean shirt is a staple that will work for 9-to-5, off-duty and everything in between. Dress it up with a midi skirt and heels, or down with slightly darker denim for a classic Canadian tuxedo. Originating from workwear, just like the classic 5-pocket jean, a denim button-up is a wardrobe workhorse that you’ll find yourself reaching for over and over again. We’re partial to a longer version, hitting mid-thigh, for extra versatility and an updated silhouette. Above: Micaela Greg Light Denim Button Up

 

THE JEAN JACKET

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Borrowed from the boys is a classic take on the denim jacket – oversized, rolled sleeves – which is natural considering the workwear beginnings of Levi Strauss and James Dean’s signature style. But it was Marilyn Monroe’s fitted version that brought the jean jacket into a whole new world of fashion icon status. Whether you like the boyfriend fit or a more feminine tailoring version, there’s something that will work for everyone now (proof here) making this wear-with-everything jacket even more versatile. The denim jacket puts a cool-girl spin on pretty much anything: elegant dresses, office skirts and shirts, we could go on. But we’d rather you try it for yourself. Above: Alexander Wang Daze Oversize Denim Jacket

 

STRAIGHT LEG JEANS

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Mom jeans, dad jeans or cropped, the timeless lines of a fitted straight leg jean will look great no matter the trends. Go for a flattering high-waisted silhouette and find a pair that falls straight down from the hip for the longest leg line. Put your own personal style on the fit with a cool wash, patchwork treatment or chopped hem. With a basic straight leg jean, it’s all in the details. We love them ankle length, the best cut for showing off your shoes. Above: Carleen Two-Tone Jeans

 

BLACK SKINNY JEANS

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There’s a reason why black pants have been a forever piece in women’s closets for decades: they always work. Audrey Hepburn new it, Alexa Chung knows it. Which is why the black skinny jean will be the one left standing in the fight over the future of skinny jeans. And why they’re worth an investment. Pick a mid-rise or high waist, go for premium denim that fits just right, wash sparingly, and the calculate your cost per wear. Above: 3×1 NYC W3 High Rise Crop Skinny

 

FLARED DENIM

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Flared jeans and wide leg denim keep coming back into style for a simple reason: they’re flattering. They give you an hourglass waist, make your legs look longer and balance proportions like nobody’s business. So give in, it’s not just a fad. They’re perfect for those days you want an outfit that makes you feel bold, fashion-forward and excudes confidence. Okay, so that’s all the time.  Above: Kohzo Flare Cut Jean

The new jean jacket you need for Spring

Jean jackets are a lot like blue jeans. The original, or the 5 pocket button fly, will always be a closet staple. We all have that one we scored at the vintage store, or from our dad’s closet in the basement. Pop the collar, roll the sleeves, and you’re good to go. But this spring, like all things in denim, designers have revamped and reworked denim jacket styles for a serious update that is making us rethink our approach to denim outerwear. The new jean jacket is a style, cut and silhouette all its own. There’s riffs on bombers, longer lengths, kimonos, zipped up and more. It’s time to give your boyfriend’s denim jacket a break and embrace one that’s all you. We’ve rounded up nine of the best.

7 under the radar denim lines we love

The best thing about buying a pair of jeans in an indie boutique is the curation of labels you probably have never heard of. Alongside mega brands and standby vintage jeans, each season there’s something and someone new to discover.  Here are seven denim designers that are poised to take over in a big way.

SIMON MILLER

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When it comes to cropped, wide leg and novel washes, this is the new guarde in designer denim. Daniel Corrigan launched Simon Miller as a men’s denim brand first in 2008 and later developed into a full-fledged lifestyle brand with men and women’s ready to wear clothing and bags. The American designer left his hometown of Seattle to study at the California Institute of the Arts before settling in Santa Barbara. His partner Chelsea Hansford joined Simon Miller as Brand Director before later becoming a Creative Director in 2015. Chelsea has been a catalyst in pushing the brand forward and played a major role in launching the women’s wear and accessories collections. The label focuses on quality American craftsmanship combined with Japanese garment dyeing techniques. Shop Simon Miller >

69

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“This industry is the worst. It’s so dictated by a specific type of person who chooses what people want to look like. I hope that I’m at least part of the movement for change.” Since the first collection flew off the shelves at Assembly in New York, 69’s collection of unisex, non-demographic clothing has kept us wanting more. The designer of the brand is anonymous and chooses to remain so, shunning the typical, public expectations of social media. Femininity and masculinity are brought together with loose, oversized silhouettes, fashion-forward washes and billowy tops and jumpsuits. Shop 69 >

3×1 NYC

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Whether it’s novelty denim or staple jeans, this New York City-based line masters it all. Launched in 2011, 3×1 was Scott Morrison’s third denim venture (named for this fact and because of the brand’s weaving construction, the “3×1 Right Hand Twill”). Scott is the man behind Paper Denim & Cloth (founded in 1999) and Earnest Sewn (launched in 2004), so he was already a pioneer in the industry before launching 3×1. His love of Japanese and Turkish raw selvedge denim has inspired it all since day one. No one does luxury denim quite like Morrison and limited edition, custom and bespoke jeans are this brand’s specialty. The price range varies drastically from $295 for a pair of limited edition jeans to $1,200 and up for the bespoke service. For 3×1’s growing fan base, the luxurious quality and unbeatable fit makes each pair worth every single dime. Shop 3×1 >

B-SIDES

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It all began in New York when a mutual friend introduced founders Stacy Daily and Claire Lampert. They had both moved east – Claire grew up in Minnesota and Stacy in Michigan – so they were fast friends, bonding over a love of vintage clothing, upcycling and denim. First came friendship, then came business as the pair founded the influential vintage store Where I Was From. It wasn’t long before they decided to launch B-Sides, a denim label which transforms vintage jeans from the southwest into something totally new, all in their Brooklyn studio. Since they went into business together, they have collaborated with rad brands like Assembly, Ace & Jig and No.6. As far as we’re concerned everything they touch turns to gold, so consider this denim with the midas touch. Shop B-Sides >

NAKED & FAMOUS

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We’re willing to bet you know at least two guys who swear by this Canadian denim line. Naked & Famous was created by Brandon Svarc when he decided bring something to the designer denim table that didn’t involve a celebrity and celebrated the raw denim. One thing you will never find in a Naked & Famous collection is distressed denim – Brandon hates it. Sleek and simple styles are a constant in every collection with five main fits for men and three for women. Innovative fabrics and unusual treatments and washes are where this brand goes all out. Naked & Famous prides itself on unique, novelty fabrics such as selvedge and Kevlar denim, cashmere denim, multicolor nep fabrics and even scratch and sniff denim. As if we needed any more reasons to love this growing label, every pair of jeans is manufactured in Canada using high quality Japanese denim. Shop Naked & Famous >

STONED IMMACULATE

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This California-based line of denim is the answer to all of our ’70s love child dreams. Chloe Chippendale created Stoned Immaculate with her partner Chace after first building a career in the fashion industry as a stylist. The raw, inhibited culture of the 1970s and 1960s constantly influence the vibe of each collection – think fitted flares, patchwork denim and pastel suede. They officially launched in 2014 with their selvedge denim and reworked vintage jeans and have already garnered a cult following with denim heads and fashion editors alike. Bonus points: they produce collections in small batches in California so sustainability is also a constant. Perfectly imperfect is also the brand’s MO. All flaws are treasured by Chloe and Chace, considered part of the denim’s story. We can’t wait to make them part of ours. Shop Stoned Immaculate >

WOOD WOOD

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“Wood Wood is much more than a brand. It’s about style and attitude. We were raised with the desire to constantly evolve and we’ll keep on taking the brand even further by combining elements of underground and high-end into our very own aesthetic.” It was love at first sight when we were first introduced to this Danish label by Karl-Oskar and Brian SS Jensen. Founded in Copenhagen in 2002, Wood Wood is a comprehensive lifestyle brand, but with ’90s art, graffiti and street culture inspiring them, they apply their aesthetic to denim for a totally unique perspective. They mix high-fashion with urban streetwear, sophistication with sport. Look for tailored denim with cool-girl silhouettes and details. Shop Wood Wood >

Need a few new rules to go with the new denim labels to love? Sissy Sainte-Marie is at your service.

Photos (from the top) courtesy: Arcade Original, Stand Up Comedy, Assembly, Colleen Eversman, @nakedandfamous, B-Sides, Rider for Life, and Arcade Original. 

Anabela Piersol on fashion’s enduring love of blue jeans

To help kick off Denim Month, our contributing editor Anabela Piersol of Fieldguided gathered her favorite inspiration in an ode to blue jeans.

“Is there any fabric in fashion that is more classic, more enduring, or more versatile? Available in deep indigo hues to the palest of blues, it’s easy to see why jeans have become iconic. From high fashion to work-wear, from Hollywood to the runway to the street, denim will continue to endure forever.”

Street style inspiration for our favorite Spring denim trends

We may never fully let go of our skinny jeans, but as editors call for their demise and we embrace the mom jean, there are way too many rad new ways to wear denim this Spring that we can’t ignore. Plus, wearing a more relaxed silhouette is kind of liberating. This season we love our jeans cropped above the ankle, straight leg, wide leg and flared. Keep rolling the cuffs of your boyfriend jeans and overalls aren’t going anywhere just yet. And the Canadian Tuxedo? Denim on denim just keeps getting better. Head to toe is just how we like it. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite street style inspiration for keeping things fresh in blue jeans.

We want to know: how are you wearing yours this Spring?