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Denim Guide

 

One of my goals for 2024 is to consistently offer a really well curated selection of vintage jeans. I have always sold jeans throughout my ten years of slinging vintage, but I was always a little intimidated by the robust knowledge of history vintage denim requires. But this year, I'm moving past my fears to bring all of you my #1 favorite article of clothing: the perfect pair of vintage jeans.

 

Finding the perfect pair of vintage jeans can feel as daunting as finding your soul mate. How can one find a pair that perfectly matches your unique self? It can be difficult, I won't lie, but with a bit of measuring and knowledge, we can help get you there.

 

First and foremost: there are no rules. I am a strong believer in wearing what makes you feel good. Feeling good = confidence, and confidence = looking your best. So the following are just suggestions. Always go with your gut.

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LEVI'S 

501's & 505's

 

The reigning champion of vintage jeans, and still made by the brand today. Why are these so coveted? Levis 501's are the classic original silhouette from Levis that go way, way back (like late 1800's back). Since then, A LOT of modifications have been made, but they always kept their rugged, butt hugging, straight leg style. It wasn't until 1981, did Levis introduce the 501's for women, which are essentially the same thing but with a roomier hip. This is why this style is perfect for those with a curvier hip. (And 505's are almost identical to the 501's, just with a zipper fly instead of the button fly).

Levi's 512's, 701's, 517's...

 

What about all the other numbered jeans, what's the difference? The 3 digit numbers reflect the different silhouettes.

  • 701 student fit, are a narrow straight leg fit originally intended for older boys/young men who did not fit the adult size yet.

  • 512's have a more tapered leg silhouette

  • 517's refer to a bootcut leg silhouette

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What about the W and L? Whats with all the numbers.

 

The numbers on the waist label, beside the W and L refer to the 'waist' and 'leg length'. Word of warning though: these numbers are often inaccurate, especially for vintage denim. Never depend on the back waist label measurements for sizing. Always refer to the measurements on the listing.

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Wranglers

 

Another all American denim company that dates as far back as the late 1800's, but didn't adopt its brand name until the 1940's. These jeans were originally endorsed by professional rodeo cowboys, but now they make for an excellent and durable pair of high waisted jeans with a straight leg. Vintage Wranglers can sometimes have a bit of stretch, making them especially good if you want a hip hugging silhouette.

Lee

 

Lastly, we won't forget the often overlooked American brand, Lee. This brand gets little love, mainly because it's been associated with discount stores for the last many decades, but vintage USA made Lee can be truly golden (and not to mention: Lee's roots also go back to the late 1800's). Plus, I love the large font simple label on the back waist. Lee jeans are thick, durable and high waisted, with different leg silhouettes. Look for the vintage bootcut for a little kick flair look.

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Measuring for Vintage Jeans

The first thing that everyone needs to know when finding the right pair of vintage jeans: never rely on the tag size. Sizing and fit varies so much across decades and brands that the tag size is usually unreliable and it is best to rely solely on measurements. 

That being said, how do you measure for vintage jeans? There are six important measurements we recommend using: Waist, Hip, Length, Rise, Thigh Width and Inseam. 

Waist - This is the top edge of the jeans.  It is important to remember that the waist on jeans doesn't always sit on your natural waist. Everyone's body is different, including torso length. The way you know where the waist of a pair of jeans falls on your unique body is with the rise measurement.

Hip - Taken at the widest part of jeans (often at the base of the fly).

Length - This is a measurement taken from the waist to the hem. This is the least important of all the measurements, but we include it as a helpful guide to compare with the inseam.

Rise - This measurement is taken from the crotch seam, along the fly to the top edge of the waist. When measuring on yourself, its helpful to measure over a pair of jeans you already have to compare. 

Thigh Width - This measurement is taken an inch or two below the crotch seam around the thigh of the leg.

Inseam - This measurement is taken from the crotch seam to the hem of a pant leg. 

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Tips for measuring:

 

  • Use a fabric measuring tape if possible. This makes things way easier and more reliable. If you only have a standard ruler, measure a pair of jeans you feel fit well on you and lay flat. You will need to double the measurement number for the waist, hip and thigh width to get an accurate measurement.

  • To get the most accurate measurement on yourself, it is best to get the help from someone else. Trying to get your accurate waist, hip and inseam measurement (for example) are really difficult when you are bending and twisting.

  •  Remember that vintage jeans don't have a lot of stretch. If you fall mid inch (lets say 28.5 inches) at the waist, then your waist size would best be at 29 inches. You can always wear a belt or get your jeans altered for the perfect fit. It is much harder to make jeans bigger.

  • As mentioned in our previous email, vintage jeans were originally made for mens bodies. Since mens bodies are typically straighter (meaning: a narrower hip to waist ratio) this can be challenging for women with curvier measurements to find a perfect pair of vintage jeans. If you fall in this category, your best bet is to look for vintage jeans made in 1980's or 1990's. Levi's did not start making 501's for women until 1981, and other brands soon followed suit - therefore it will be difficult to find vintage jeans with more give in the hip before these decades. If this is still challenging to find the right pair for you, try altering denim. There are some really great denim alteration specialists out there. Just find a pair of jeans that fit you well in the hip, and they can be altered to fit your exact measurements. 

 

Need help with measuring?

 

We just added a short video on our Instagram reels with the basic 'how to's' of measuring for the right pair of jeans. And for any questions, just email me at sara@shopbarnabyjack.com, or dm me on our Instagram page.

 

Check it out on our Instagram Reels

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