10 Tips for Shopping Vintage Jeans

10 Tips for Shopping Vintage Jeans


To continue with the Denim Series, I wanted to talk about a question I get all the time: how do you find all these great jeans thrifting? I know it seems like the easiest thing to go pick up a pair of vintage Levi’s or Rider’s, especially since it seems like everyone on Instagram has a pair or three. The truth is, it’s a lot more work than you’d expect. Jeans in particular are much more strenuous to find because it’s such a gem to find a pair that actually fits you properly and has the wash you’re looking for AND is a combination of everything you’ve been wanting in one well-worn pair. Although it’s a lot of work, vintage shopping is just like treasure hunting. It can be tiring, long, and frustrating, but when you score that piece you’ve been dreaming of, it makes the hunt absolutely worth it. So, how do I find such great jeans while thrifting? Keep reading for my top 10 tips.

  1. Go several times a week

Above anything else, I say you need to go thrifting several times a week. I myself go about twice a week. Not for long, maybe just an hour on my way home from work and a few hours Saturday morning. The more often you go, the better chance you have of finding something you like. Many businesses go sourcing for denim from the same thrift stores the public goes to, so making sure you beat them to it during a time when most people wouldn’t go (like 7PM on a Tuesday) is your best bet of scoring a pair.

  1. Do a pre-scan of the rack10-tips-for-shopping-vintage-jeans

Before the denim-packed rack scares you away, do a pre-screening of the labels. Most stores hang their denims by one of the pant legs, leaving the top of the jeans with the labels peeking out. Scan the rack and see if you automatically see any brands that you love. A Levi’s label is synonymous with a good fit and good quality, so those are obviously the first ones I go for. Other labels like Calvin Klein, Rider’s, Lee and Tommy Hilfiger are some favorites of mine as well. Through this process, you’ll learn to spot the ones that work best for your needs.

  1. Learn your sizing before you shop

Although in pants you might be either a Medium or a size 8, jeans are labeled differently. They use the measurement in inches to dictate the sizing and will usually include the waist size and the pant length in the same label. A good cheat sheet for knowing your waist size is adding 20 to your usual size. For example, if you’re a 9 in other pants/dresses, then add 20, becoming 29 in jeans. The pant length usually depends on what you’re going for, but I would suggest to start at around 29, regardless of your waist size. So, if you’re usually a 7, start looking for 27 x 29 and experiment from there.


      4. Don’t pay attention to sizing

Now that you know your size, ignore it. Sometimes your measured size is a good indicator for your fit, but most times with vintage jeans, it’s completely off. Remember that bodies and sizing have changed dramatically since the 80’s and 90’s. What used to be size 30 could now fit more like a size 28 or 26, I see it all the time. Also, some designers put a smaller size number on the label that actually fit larger women so it could make the shopper feel better and in turn, encourage them to buy the jeans. The psychology behind clothes goes deep, people. Be open to trying on a few pairs at a time to gauge just how different certain brands fit on you.

  1. Shop around

If you’re serious about finding some of your favorite denim pieces from vintage stores, then you’re going to have to shop around. Places like Goodwill and The Salvation Army are solid choices and will usually have several stores per city. Take some time, go to a different one each week and soon you’ll start to get a sense of how each store usually stocks their supply. TIP: Salvation Army and Goodwill will be your cheapest options to find vintage goods because the clothes are donated for free. Other vintage shops usually have their merchandise on consignment or will markup the price to make up for the lack of traffic places like Goodwill commonly gets.

  1. DIY is your best friend

Most of the jeans I find have such an awkward length or are those bootleg cuts from the early 90’s that don’t really flatter the majority of women. In most cases, as long as the pants fit well around your waist, you can DIY (do it yourself) the rest of the look. Cut raw hems are HUGE right now, especially step hems (crooked hems)-so no excuses for not trying yourself! Also, ripped knees and distressed denim is always a great look. Add patchwork to cover stains, trimming to widen seams, and just go crazy with making them the best jeans for you. Let me know if you want to see how I cut and distress my jeans.

  1. Take your time

After all the shortcuts, this is the true key to finding what you want: patience. I know, it sucks hearing that word, but it’s true. Just like any great thing earned in life, patience will get you there. While you’re browsing the racks, take time and go one by one through each pair, paying close attention to the wash, the possible fit, and even the details like the stitching and the buttons. Once you start trying on pairs, you’ll learn to start searching for characteristics like a high waisted fit and what those look like on the rack so you don’t waist time trying it on. It’s better to take your time and walk out the store with three good pairs than rushing through it all and walking out frustrated, tired, and empty-handed.

  1. Focus on wash, not cut

This one took some time for me to grasp, but it can drastically change the look you’re going for. The wash, or the color and fade of the denim, is the key to a good looking pair of jeans. Notice on the example below how slight the difference is in the wash but what a difference it makes to the vibe of the outfit. Find a wash that speaks to you, anything else like tapering the ankle or cropping the hem can all be fixed by a tailor.


  1. Shop from stores that curate vintage jeans

Now a days, many vintage shop owners understand the demand for great vintage jeans, so they do the work for you and source jeans from across the country to sell to you in lieu of a stress-free hunt. While these will cost more than finding your own pair for next to nothing, the hassle-free ease of shopping a clear and concise selection makes it absolutely worth while. One of my favorite places in Miami to find vintage distressed jeans is a shop in Wynwood called Spin Gallery, but the best shops online are Shop Redone, Shopbop, and Denim Refinery.

  1. The Power of Negotiating

The great thing about shopping vintage is that most of these pieces cost the shop owner much less than retail. If you found something you love, don’t be afraid to bargain a bit with the price. Some places are more inclined to, others not so much, but it’s always worth a shot. You never know what a deal you could be making unless you ask, so go for it.

Any tips I should know about? Leave them in the comments below!

Xx, Kat B