Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Buying Vintage Jeans

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Daydreamer Sweatshirt, vintage Levi's, Common Projects sneakers (similar here)

Daydreamer Sweatshirt, vintage Levi's, Common Projects sneakers (similar here)

Everyone in our office seems to have a closet-specific guilty pleasure: Emily loves white dainty blouses, Katie can never have too many shoes, Kelly has a weakness for leather jackets, Leslie loves a chunky knit. My sartorial obsession? Vintage denim.

There's something truly satisfying about knowing my jeans are one-of-a-kind when I throw them on in the morning (and whenever I'm asked about them), and I love the lived-in look of vintage jeans. I wear them with everything from sweatshirts to blazers, and t-shirts. When I discussed my vintage Levi's on the Shop's Instagram and asked if you'd want some takeaway tips, you responded in waves.

First things first: You have to think of this experience as a treasure hunt. It took *months* for me to find the perfect shades of blue, cream, and black I was looking for. Be patient, and persist. I promise it's worth it! Here are my tips for finding—then tailoring—your dream vintage jeans:

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For jeans that won't break the bank: I've had luck at flea markets, vintage fairs, thrift stores and even from my parents' closets. If you're in the L.A. area, I'd recommend hitting up Melrose Trading Post for reasonably priced denim in good condition.

For jeans that may be a bit pricier: Small boutiques (I've had luck at Duo in NYC and the General Store in Venice), Re/Done (especially at their sample sales) and Reformation.

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There are five features you should prioritize. Focus on the color, distressing, quality of the denim, leg length and pocket size. These are the key characteristics that you can't change or undo, even with the greatest tailor on earth. 

First, eliminate by color. The eventual fit won't matter if you don't like the wash of the denim. Next, check for distressing. I don't buy any vintage denim with existing holes or distressing—I want to have control of any ripping and rough patches. Then I tug at and test the condition of the denim. Does the fabric seem thin? Does it have any stretch? These are personal preferences you should determine before your search. Next, I confirm that they're either too long or the exact length I'd eventually want them to be. Finally, I examine the pockets in proportion to my body. If they're too big or too small, I'll pass.

Want a bit more direction? I recommend scouting for a pair of Levi's 501 with a button fly.

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First things first: Unlike traditional jean shopping, you want to buy something that's at least a *bit* too big, never too snug. When you have the denim on, know that the fit is relatively negligible and be sure that there is excess room in at least one area of the jeans (waist, legs, butt). These can all be altered. However, you shouldn't be swimming in them. (For reference, I'm generally a size 25, and I won't go bigger than a waist size of 28.) Focus on the shape, size and placement of the pockets, then check the seams for any ripping. Finally, ensure that the buttons/zipper are in good condition. 

Pro tip: Wear leggings or a dress to a flea market so you can easily try on denim without having to find a place to change!

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Factor in tailoring when it comes to the price. My local tailor will hem and customize my denim for $25, so I always keep that in mind as I shop.

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There is one caveat to my method: You may have to learn to love seams up the back of the legs. It's the simplest way to tailor the legs and butt without destroying the denim. This doesn't bother me, but it might be a nonstarter for you. 

I always bring in a photo of how I'm hoping the denim will fit, and I ask the tailor to seam the fabric to get that look. 

Keep in mind that old denim likely doesn't have much give or stretch, so I allow myself a little bit of breathing room and acknowledge that the jeans will have a more relaxed look and feel. 

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Don't be afraid to ask for more alterations! Once you try on the (almost) finished product, you may notice that the length is too long, or you want to let the fabric out a bit more than you expected. Talk to your tailor and don't leave until you're 100 percent satisfied.

Need more specific guidance? Here's generally what I tell my tailor: I prefer to keep a straight leg, ask to maintain the original, non-frayed hem (the tailor will remove it and reattach it at the length I ask for) and have them hit right above my ankles.

My favorite non-vintage vintage alternative: AGOLDE's Jaime High-Rise Classic

My favorite non-vintage vintage alternative: AGOLDE's Jaime High-Rise Classic

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I completely understand! Some people just want to buy jeans that fit perfectly and be done with it. AGOLDE denim has a variety of styles that fit like vintage—my personal favorite is the Jamie Hi Rise, because they come with the perfect amount of distressing.