Vintage Levi’s 501 jeans have a cult following in the world of second-hand shopping. Here’s how to spot the right pair for you, every time.
Every thrift shopper knows the feeling of a good find. There’s an unparalleled triumph in uncovering the perfect pick after fishing inside bins, combing through racks or painstakingly perusing the aisles of a second-hand shop. And no vintage garment feels more like a prize than a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans.
In the thrifting world, Levi’s 501 jeans are their own kind of currency. As the blueprint for modern denim (since 1873!), their legacy lives on, well, everywhere—but especially in second-hand spaces. Known for its timeless styles and high-quality craftsmanship, Levi’s 501 jeans have become a fixture of circular fashion: only getting better with age and always ready to be revitalized by a new wearer.
Through the decades, 501 jeans have become the ultimate hidden treasure of thrift stores. Just ask self-proclaimed denim collector Emma Chamberlain. With Levi’s 501 jeans being her favourite cut, the Gen Z star has her own set of tricks for sourcing second-hand. “A lot of it is a gut feeling,” she told Levi’s in January. “You know, you see a pair and you’re like, ‘That’s just the one.’” So, how exactly do you find the ideal pair of vintage Levi’s 501 jeans? Read on for our top thrifting tips.
Know what you’re looking for
Low-waisted and baggy? Straight leg and snug? Medium or light wash? These are the questions to consider before embarking on your 501 denim expedition. Thrift stores are brimming with racks of mismatched garments and packed with eager shoppers, but if you come armed with a plan, they shouldn’t feel overwhelming. Whether you pin some inspirational photos on a mood board or jot down a list of the style components you’re looking for, shopping with intention will help you cut through the clothing clutter and zero in on what you want. That being said, you likely won’t find exactly what you’re looking for right away. But believe it or not, that could actually be a blessing in disguise. This brings us to our next point.
Don’t be afraid to try different sizes
Allow us to turn your attention to Drew Barrymore. Decades ago, the ‘90s icon famously posed in a pair of low-slung Levi’s so long and loose-fitting that her rolled-up cuffs sat halfway up her calves. The image has lived on as a source of inspiration for low-waisted denim (look no further than Levi’s latest styles), but also, for the delightful disregard of sizing. Say it with us: sizes are just suggestions! You probably know your perfect fit when purchasing 501 denim brand new, but thrifting is different. Through years of reliable wear, pre-loved jeans grow and shrink, and the size on the label versus the fit on your body might surprise you. So don’t let the rules of sticking to a strict size hold you back. What might seem ill-fitting at first could be a style risk that majorly pays off, à la Barrymore.
Always check the men’s section
Loyal thrifters know that women’s sections tend to get the most foot traffic. In comparison, the racks dubbed “men’s” are usually quieter—even though they have just as many 501 denim washes and styles. For instance, boyfriend jeans, with their hip-hugging fit and relaxed slouchy silhouette, are a timeless wardrobe staple. So why not source them yourself?
On your next thrifting outing, think of the men’s section as an untapped market; a gold mine waiting to be explored. After all, Levi’s 501 jeans are a canvas of self-expression because of its gender-transcending wearability. This is where the aforementioned mindset of sizing suggestibility comes back into play. Base your selects on what feels right, not necessarily a number. However, if you don’t know where to start when it comes to men’s sizes, a general rule of thumb is to take your size in women’s jeans and add between 2 to 3 inches, depending on the fullness of your hips.
Be open to a fixer-upper
Say you find the ideal style of 501 jeans, but they’re a touch too long. Or perhaps they fit well but don’t have the flare you want. That isn’t a sign of defeat, it’s an opportunity for transformation. Denim is made to be personalized, and throughout history, Levi’s 501 bottoms have been endlessly embellished, patched up, and distressed to reflect the person wearing them. This ability to be reinvented is what makes them so sustainable. After all, the Levi’s mantra “Buy Better, Wear Longer” goes hand in hand with the fundamental thrifting ethos of longevity and minimal waste. In fact, it’s the raison d’être for Levi’s Tailor Shop. The Canadian in-person locations offer size alterations, repairs, and complete customization—from a simple button swap to an intricate chain-stitch embroidery. Ultimately, where vintage 501 jeans are concerned, know that you can always get thrifty (pun intended) to perfect the right pair.
Most importantly? Have fun with your search. It’s the beloved thrift store rummaging that makes finding the right pair of jeans, particularly special. As Emma Chamberlain put it, “It’s like falling in love.” And you never know when denim serendipity is just around the corner.