What Is the Best Way To Shop for Vintage Jeans?

Let’s face it: shopping for vintage jeans can be quite the challenge.

image for article What Is the Best Way To Shop for Vintage Jeans?

Let’s face it: shopping for vintage jeans can be quite the challenge. The sizing never seems to stay consistent, and there are so many to choose from. But shopping for vintage jeans is way easier (and totally more fun), thank you might think. There are a number of ways to find the vintage jeans that work for you; you just have to know where to start. 

Keep reading on for all the hints and hacks on how to score the vintage denim you’ve been dreaming of.

What Makes a Clothing Item Vintage?

Before we can crack the code to shopping for vintage jeans, we have to first establish what can and can’t be classified as “vintage.” Technically, an item becomes vintage when it is 20 years old.

With that being said, though, there is most definitely a distinct difference between purchasing a pair of true vintage jeans and a pair of jeans that meet the vintage age threshold. 

Is the Tag Worth the ‘Tag?

There are several different things you can do to distinguish between a newer pair of jeans from a vintage pair. Most of these tricks involve a thorough inspection of the label, so next time you find yourself vintage shopping, remember to bring along your best pair of reading glasses just in case.

Though these steps may seem pretty involved, they’re the best way to guarantee you’re getting your money’s worth.

Let’s break them down:

Born in the U.S.A.

A great indicator that you’ve just found an undeniably vintage pair of jeans is the presence of the phrase “Made in the USA” on the tag. This sentiment will always be on the front of a vintage tag, whereas a country of production on a modern pair of jeans can be found on the back of a tag.

However, there were some manufacturers back in the day that chose to communicate this message with a simple image of the American flag instead. Either way, the emphasis on American production promises a vintage piece due to the original blue jean’s history in the United States.

If there’s no mention of the red, white, and blue, those jeans might not be for you. 

Copyright or Copycat?

Copyright dates are a key component of vintage shopping. If the copyright date listed is from, say, 1995 or earlier, you can rest assured your vintage is authentic. As mentioned before, an item becomes vintage after 20 years, but a copyright date isn’t the same as a production date.

So try looking for a date that exceeds the 20-year mark by a few years just for safety. Copyright dates can typically be found on the tag of vintage denim, and just like wine, the older, the better!

Or, if you can’t seem to find a copyright date, you can always look up the history of the brand on the Vintage Fashion Guild website to put any suspicions to rest. 

Unfamiliar Number Sizing

If you happen to come across a pair of jeans with an unfamiliar number for a numeric size (i.e., 3, 5, 7, etc.), then you’ve definitely got some vintage denim on your hands. 

Odd numbers were once used as a sizing scale for petite women, but that scale was eliminated sometime in the early 1980s. 

Tough to the Touch

It’s always a good rule of thumb to inspect the quality of denim before purchasing a pair of vintage jeans. You’ll know for sure whether or not a pair is actually vintage just by feeling the denim itself. If the pants feel thick and heavy, they are unquestionably vintage.

Vintage denim is not made with synthetic fibers, unlike modern denim. Synthetic fibers are meant to make jeans much stretchier and lighter. So, if you’re looking for a pair of true vintage jeans with a capital V, it’s crucial that you can tell the difference.

Another way to differentiate vintage jeans from modern jeans is to check the tag for product details. Vintage denim is most likely to be made with 100% cotton, while a newer pair of jeans may contain traces of polyester or spandex.

Remember, denim jeans are only made from denim, so don’t sell yourself short with a knockoff pair of vintage jeans. 

Get To Know Your Body

Now that you know what to look for, the next step in shopping for vintage jeans--or shopping for anything, for that matter--is to have a solid understanding of what style looks best on your body.

If you are someone with a small torso, for example, you might want to stay away from high-waisted jeans. High-rise jeans could make your torso look smaller, but a mid-rise jean is sure to give you that length you so desire.

In fact, mid-rise jeans look great on people of all heights and sizes, so when given a choice between a mid-rise and a low rise, always err on the side of caution and go for mid-rise.

Moreover, when getting to know your body in vintage jeans, make sure you’re taking stock of how tight or loose the denim is around your thighs, where the inseam is hitting your waist, and whether or not they are too baggy for your liking. 

But remember, you always look best in what you feel good in, so at the end of the day, pick what makes you happy. 

The Deal With Sizing

There’s a good chance you’ve probably tried your hand at shopping for vintage denim before but ended up leaving with nothing because the fit wasn’t right.

Here’s a little secret you should know about vintage jeans: their sizes are not like the sizes we know and love today. Experts agree that vintage sizing runs at least two to four sizes smaller, which can make for a confusing shopping experience.

The fact of the matter is, sizing has been gradually increasing for years to adapt to our growing bodies. Clothing sizes have grown about two inches per size in the last 20 years, so depending on how old the jeans are, you could be looking in the completely wrong aisle for your perfect fit. 

Because of this, it is important to remain open-minded when perusing a collection of vintage jeans. Don’t be afraid to try on a range of different sizes to see what works best for you. Of course, you can’t exactly do the same when shopping for vintage denim online. But as long as you check the inseam, length, and width measurements before purchasing, you are sure to be strutting through the streets in the ultimate pair of vintage denim in no time.

Say Yes to the Threads

Don’t be so quick to pass over a pair of denim with some flaws. Flaws are what make jeans look and feel vintage, and they are the only thing tying you to their history as well. 

Rips, loose threads, frayed hems, and faded whisker edges all add their own unique character to your vintage denim. Let your denim tell its story by embracing every little imperfection as if they were intentional. 

DIY Your Denim to Your Needs

On the flip side of that, there’s no need to reject a flawless pair of vintage jeans, either. Just because you prefer intentional distressing on your denim doesn’t mean the look still can’t be achieved.

There are many different ways you can DIY your pants to make them look one-of-one, and who doesn’t want to be able to say “Thanks, I did it myself” when someone compliments your perfectly ripped jeans?

So instead of buying an already-distressed pair of jeans from a retailer, consider DIY distressing your denim yourself. Taking a razor or sandpaper to the legs and rubbing until either the color has faded or the threads turn white is an easy and self-sufficient way to bring your vintage jeans into the new millennium. You can also take a bobby pin to the pants to create as many small, precise holes as you want. 

As previously mentioned, the range of size possibilities that vintage jeans may come in can make it difficult to find the best fitting pair for your body. That’s why you can never go wrong with altering a vintage pair of blue jeans to suit all your modern styling needs. 

For example, you can always crop or hem a pair of jeans that are too long. Cutting the bottoms off your jeans will give them that trendy raw hem look that will only become more frayed with time, whereas hemming will maintain the original integrity of the pants a bit more.

Or, if the fit around the waist is your area of concern, bringing your vintage jeans to a tailor to be resized is absolutely an option. You’ll need to find someone who specializes in denim, though, to make sure your jeans get the most care and attention they require. Specialty denim tailors can even repair awkward holes, so don’t hesitate to add one to your contacts list today. 

Dreaming of Denim

As you can see, shopping for vintage jeans is a skill that takes patience and practice. Whether that means trying on five different pairs of denim in five different sizes or conducting thorough background checks through the Vintage Fashion Guild, finding the perfect pair will be a process.

Don’t get discouraged because your Dream Jean is out there!  


The Origin of Blue Jeans | At the Smithsonian 

Vintage Fashion Guild: Education | History | Community 

The absurdity of women’s clothing sizes, in one chart | Washington Post 

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