In the Olympics of trend comebacks, vintage high-waisted jeans are killing it right now.
It’s why brands are pimping out modern versions, but the real real vintage high-waisted denim is the most authentically beat up, and they’re one of a kind. These “mom jeans,” look scorchingly hot on curvier megababes. Typically, they fit loose in the hips and they’re tapered at the leg. Plus, the waist on a pair of vintage Levis 501s style jeans is higher than all the people within a one-mile radius of Seth Rogen COMBINED. You can wear them as fitted or as baggy as you’d like, and the whole relaxed fit package is a dream for crop tops, vintage rock or hip-hop tees, and bodysuits.
But when you’re combing through stacks on stacks on stacks of vintage, how to find the right fit when you’re on the curvier side? We talked to Nicole Song, What Goes Around Comes Around’s publicist, a venerated go-to denim source that scours the earth for the best vintage Levi’s, Wrangler, and Lee denim. They’ve got the world’s largest selection of Levi’s denim so we hit them up to provide this handy buyer’s guide to finding denim jeans when you’re curiver.
Don’t trust the number on the label. Expect vintage denim to run far smaller than the new denim you find in stores so be prepared to go up more than one size — it all depends on the decade (’80s, ’70s, ’90s etc.) At What Goes Around Comes Around, all their denim is unsanforized. (Unsanforized, in jean-speak means “loomstate” or “shrink-to-fit,” so they don’t stretch, fix, and shrink the jeans in length at the mill in order to cut down on shrinkage.) “So all the jeans have shrunken naturally over time,” Nicole explains. When they wash it at their archive in Jersey, they measure the waistband in inches and then double that number to come up with the size. Nicole recommends going up 1-2 inches from their initial waist measurement. If you’re scouring the bargain bin or garage sale without a dressing room, bring some measuring tape. (Wrap it around wherever you want the jeans to sit on you.)
How Can You Tell When They Came Out?
If you bone up on jeans, you’ll know that there are certain telltale signs that’ll clue you in on when each of these bad boys was released. “All eras of Levi’s have unique details that allow us to authenticate and date them,” Nicole says. “One key is the capital E vintage red tab on pre-70’s jeans.”
What’s Up With the Different Washes?
If it’s acid wash or light and faded you’re interested in, decide first and move in with a plan because there are countless different lieuwks, and they’re all snowflakes. Some have interesting detailing, some have more wear and tear, and some are stiffer. Nicole says: “Vintage dead stock denim was most likely never worn so it tends to be stiffer. The distressing and stiffness of the pair depends on the original owner.” It depends on its former life. “Vintage jeans truly have their own individual looks depending on how the original owner washed and wore them. Also, Levi’s of different eras have unique variance within both the fabric and dye used,” Nicole explains. (The single-stitch Levi’s were dyed with a natural indigo dye, but all the other jeans were actually dyed with a synthetic, according to Nicole. Pro tip: “The less you wash them, the longer they last,” Nicole says. You already knew chores were overrated and here we are.
What If They Fit, But Not Everywhere?
Definitely make friends with a reliable tailor who can hem your jeans for you or take the waist in. If you want them to switch up the way they rise on you, the most important part is how it feels in the waist — and make sure the tailor doesn’t mess with the construction so much that the pockets look weird. “Any hem or taper will not ruin the integrity of the denim if the original hem and fabric is kept and used by your tailor,” Nicole says.
Where Should You Start?
You’ll find that you can score vintage denim for a few bucks, but also up to $250 for the really high-quality, well-preserved jeans that are rare finds.
At What Goes Around Comes Around, you can let denim specialist, Conner Stenson, be your guide.
Other sources: Goodwill, eBay, Etsy, Re/Done, Grand Street Bakery, and Reformation.