The Normal Girl’s Guide to Buying Vintage Denim Online


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It’s Vintage Week at Yahoo Style! In honor of our favorite environmentally-friendly way to make sure you’re never wearing the same outfit as anyone else, we’re bringing you insider intel on the best vintage — what to look for, where to find it, and how to make the most money when selling yours. Stay tuned all week for more.

In a denim age cluttered with four-way stretch and non-ironic jeggings, it’s logical that we would start craving something a little (or a lot) more lo-fi. This year, scoring a pair of vintage Levi’s 501s from the early 1990s — in all their high-waisted, non-stretch, mom-jean glory — feels like the only way to move your denim wardrobe forward.

But here’s the thing: Unless you’re an obsessive, vintage shopping gets old as you get old. At 32, I simply don’t have the patience to rummage around most thrift shops looking for that one pair of perfect-fitting jeans in just the right wash. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to shop for vintage denim online, where shops like Re/Done, Denim Refinery, and even Urban Outfitters offer plenty of old-school styles, sans the musty smell of the vintage store. The bad news is that it’s still hard to find a pair that fits, especially if you’re not model-skinny. As a size 10, I’ve spent the last three months searching the web for just the right pair of vintage 501s. Here are my tips for finding yours, no matter your body type:

Get over the fact that you’re going to have to size up. A lot. I have jeans that are a size 28, I have jeans that are a size 32. At my current weight, I average a denim size 30. My actual waist measures 31 or 32 inches, depending on how many cookies I ate yesterday. The Levi’s I ended up buying are marked 34, and while I do have a little room to breathe, they aren’t huge on me. Every site handles the sizing of vintage jeans differently: Some go by your actual waist size, some go by modern sizing, some go by the original sizing. Your best bet is to read their size chart and pay more attention to it than to whatever size you think you’re supposed to be.

You’ll probably have to buy more than one pair. Even if the waist size is right, there may be other things that you don’t love about the pair you’ve ordered. I bought and returned five pairs of jeans before finding the right $140 style on Denim Refinery. This can get pricey when you factor in shipping fees. (And many of these retailers don’t offer full refunds, just exchanges.) If you’re worried about incurring costs but still want to try buying jeans online, I would start with Urban Outfitters. Their vintage Levi’s 501s and 505s are $59 a pair, and they come in S-XL. I suggest ordering two “sizes” — I did L and XL — and seeing what you get. While neither pair was quite right, they were super easy to return. I simply dropped them off at my local Urban, and my credit card was refunded within a day.

Consider taking them to a tailor. In fashion, it’s sacrilegious to tailor selvage denim. I say, who cares? If you find a pair that gapes a bit at the waist but makes your butt look great, have them taken in. After all, the real reason we love these jeans is that they do wonders for the derrière. So forget about silly sartorial rules.

If you’re really broke, look to Etsy or eBay. Searching eBay for a pair of vintage Levi’s is nearly as laborious as tracking down a pair in real life, but you can get some great deals that make it worth a look for those with patience. I’d also suggest searching Etsy, where stores like HeathersHandss offer all sizes and colors of vintage Levi’s for $50 a pop.

Let Levi’s do the work for you. If you’re into the vintage look but the guidelines I’ve just outlined sound exhausting and not worth your time, Levi’s 501 CT jeans might be your best option. For 98 bucks, you can get a pair of 501s that have been tapered, for a more modern twist.

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