Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year or two, you are probably well aware that vintage Levis, particularly 501s, have re-emerged as a bonafide wardrobe staple. From a young age, I loved the look of 501s, especially because 1. I am from San Francisco (the city where Levis was founded) where Levis are practically a religion and 2. my dad who is my best bud and the ultimate cool guy used to wear them all the time during his teen years in the 70s and early 80s. To me, they are the classic jean and I do not think that I will ever be without them in my wardrobe. Levis' still makes 501s both for men and women, and while they retain the classic shape of the style and the heavy denim feel, I think that vintage 501s reign supreme. Despite vintage Levis being ubiquitous in the fashion discourse nowadays, they are not always the easiest items to get ahold of, so I thought that I'd give you some of my top tips on how to find the perfect vintage Levis.
Decide Whether or Not You Like the Feel of Heavy Denim ~ I think it's safe to assume that the majority of use have become accustomed to pretty stretchy and comfy jeans. However, stretchy and comfy vintage Levis are not. Because they are 100% cotton and have absolutely no elastane in them, vintage Levis have a very structured and rigid feel, which can take some getting used to if you don't wear heavy denim already. I personally do not mind at all the feeling of vintage Levis and am willing to make some concessions on comfort (not to say that they aren't comfortable at all, they just aren't as comfortable as some of my stretchier skinny jeans) for the look of that very structured denim. Before you invest in a pair, make sure you will be ok with that more rigid feel and be comfortable enough to wear them.
Know Your Budget ~ The good thing about vintage Levis is that they really can be bought at any price point. The cheapest I have found are around $45-50, but they can run up to as much as $350 a pair. The main difference in price point isn't so much based around quality (because at the end of the day they are all the same kind of jean made by the same manufacturer) as it is based on accessibility and rarity. It is very easy to get ahold of a pair of vintage Levis on Shop Re/Done, which retail for around $250 and are reworked for a more modern fit. However, if your price range is lower than that you will have to do more hunting around in vintage shops to find a pair that suits your needs. It definitely is not necessary to spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of vintage Levis but if you want ease of access and an older, rarer pair you will most likely have to spend more.
Look for Vintage Stores That Specialize in Vintage Denim ~ While vintage stores will often have vintage jeans, it is even better to go to a vintage store that specializes in vintage denim and particularly vintage Levis because they know their stuff in terms of style and fit (which can be tricky and counterintuitive). My go-to store whenever I want a pair of vintage Levis is Slash Denim in Berkeley because they are practically a Levis-only vintage store and they have a higher quantity of vintage jeans than I have ever seen in any other vintage store (not to mention the fact that their staff is absolutely incredible and its a 35 year-old business).
Give It Time ~ I remember when I started my hunt for the perfect vintage Levi 501s it took me a long time to find the perfect pair and often it was a very frustrating process. If you are trying to do the same, give yourself time to find the perfect pair. It can be difficult to find vintage Levis, because they are just that: vintage, and therefore one-of-a-kind. Not all 501s are cut the exact same (because they have been around for decades and the style has been altered throughout the years) so it can take some time to find a pair that fit your stylistic criteria. Sizing can also be an issue when it comes to vintage Levis because they do not follow the same sizing that jeans do now. For example I am usually a 27" waist and a 32" leg, however in vintage Levis I am often a 29" waist and a 30" leg. So give it time to find your perfect pair, I promise the wait will be worth it.
Don't Be Afraid to Go to the Tailor ~ Going off the topic of fit and sizing, once you find a pair of vintage Levis do not be afraid to take them to a good tailor if you need to make some adjustments to make them fit exactly the way you want. The first pair of vintage Levis I bought were a pair of 505s that I absolutely loved the fit of but they were a couple inches too long, so I took them to my tailor and had them hemmed to the exact length I needed to make them fit the way I wanted. If you do hem your jeans though make sure to tell your tailor to keep the original hem! Its almost impossible to find a pair of vintage jeans that fit the exact way you want or need them to so don't be afraid to get them hemmed, tapered, or taken in where needed, just make sure you go to a good tailor who is experienced at tailoring denim.
Happy denim shopping!