Spotting the perfect pair of vintage jeans can kind of feel a little…mission impossible. But, after years of thrifting the east coast, I think I’ve figured out a shortcut or two to denim heaven…
I have quite a history of disappointing denim purchases from thrift shops. Too many trips ended with overstretched Forever21 jeans or oversized bootcut bottoms that I deluded myself into calling “boyfriend jeans.” Every visit would end with a sense of deep, unplaceable frustration (who is to blame??). This was, of course, before I figured out the tell-tale signs of swoon-worthy vintage jeans. Ultimately, there is quite the laundry list of requirements for the perfect pair. They must not look like those forgotten in your childhood closet with an Abercrombie moose embroidered on the pocket. They must show fringe and fade so authentic friends will question your day job. They must be comfy and cut in a semi-modern way (JNKO jeans need not apply) and above all they must be capital B badass. So how to find vintage jeans on your next thrifting adventure? Let’s start here:
Don’t Look At Size
First thing’s first: vintage sizes rarely align with modern sizes. I once did know this. I once could not fit jeans 4 sizes above my normal number over my hips. I once essentially had a mini-breakdown in a Goodwill dressing room. So please keep this thing called “vanity sizing” in mind. Many manufacturers have added wiggle room to traditional sizing (I suppose for our egos??) making it so that a 2017 size 2 is typically bigger tan a 1970s size 2. In many cases, I’ve seen a 6-size difference between jeans I bought recently and vintage pairs. So, please, blissfully bypass those sizing signs on the racks.
But D0 Check The Tag
Although size doesn’t matter, a pair of jeans’ tag has some other vital info on it. Before you actually start yanking pairs out from overstuffed racks, take a peek at the branded leather patch stitched on the rear waistline. If it reads Levi’s, Wranglers, Jordache or any other classic vintage brands, you’ve probably got a gem. However, these emblems aren’t always signs of perfect vintage jeans as these labels still produce denim today – and often the paper-thin kind that can’t hold in my winter muffin top better than, say, generic saran wrap. But there’s still another tag to check!
The size and care tag (typically the white little tab inside the waistline) will tell you where the jeans were made. Made-in-USA tags are instant winners as, for the most part, jeans haven’t been massed produced in America in decades. So ya know you’re getting a well-worn pair. On the other hand, China tags typically signal that the jeans were manufactured more recently and are not super vintage.
Feel The Fabric
I won’t buy jeans based on the fact that their tag tells me they’re vintage. They gotta feel vintage. Like the knees endured countless encounters with some solid pavement. Good vintage jeans should feel soft, not stiff. But unlike jeggings, they should feel thick and not give much stretch when tugged. Durable denim like this will distress better – no scrunched up fraying that looks like silly string hanging off the holes.
Watch For Weave
This is more of a personal preference, but I’ve found that jeans with noticeably vertical lines are often unflattering (just doesn’t lay right) and never fade away to that perfect shade of vintage blue. Above are some prize vintage Levi’s cutoffs of mine. They have a pretty even weave horizontally and vertically, so they’ve weathered in a way that’s juuuust right.
Stick To Slim Silhouettes
After I’ve scrutinized the jeans for all of the above requirements, I’ll finally take them off the rack for a good once-over. I typically look for a high waist and a tapered leg. This leaves room for rolling the hem and hacking ’em off at the ankle for a frayed finish a la Vetements. Remember that most vintage denim has little to no stretch, so what you see is what you get.
Don’t Knock Wildcards
Although all of the above little tricks are my method for quickly thrifting vintage jeans, sometimes ya just gotta throw rules to the wind and vibe things out on your own. Try on everything. Even the Apple Bottom jeans with the rhinestones. My current favorite pair of vintage jeans are some ’90s Riders (pictured at the top of this post) that looked like hopeless mom jeans on the hanger. But one snip of the ankles and I started wearing them everyday (especially when consuming large Buddha belly-inducing weekend brunches).
Ultimately, finding the vintage denim of your dreams might take a little time, but it is soo worth it (especially when you see what brands like re/done and Urban Outfitters charge for pre-loved pairs you can easily nab at a Sal Val with a lil patience). And there’s nothing better than adding your own wear and tear to an already-weathered piece. What are your go-to denim tactics? Do you have a prized pair? Let me know!