I’ll be honest with you. With the resurgence of 501s, and then the boyfriend jean, and then a modified version of 501s for ladies, I just wasn’t sure if I could do it.
501s are tricky for women because for some of us, the jeans will swallow us whole. You know, like I could fit two of me in a pair. Granted, they came out with a skinny 501 now. But, somehow they aren’t the same thing. At all.
And I’m one of those women; one of those who swore I’d never wear mom jeans. Again. I lived through that decade; it was bad then and even worse now the second time around. I also didn’t want to do the 501 thing because big hair and Saved by the Bell may have been fine then but, not so much now.
I’m being melodramatic. I realize fashion is cyclical. I know this. I sell vintage. I live vintage. I love vintage. The return of the high waisted denim is actually a throwback to the 1930s and 40s, which is undeniably awesome. But the bad taste of the 80s and 90s is still in my blood. (Although, I do love me some Michael Jackson and I still want a Trans Am.)
However, with age comes wisdom (hopefully) and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this: “Never say never.” Actually, there are two things. “Never say never” and “timing is everything.” And after years of looking for vintage selvedge 501s, I finally found a pair. Yep. One single pair.
There’s a moment in every vintage treasure hunter’s life when they find that Holy Grail piece and the heart rate accelerates, and almost-hyperventilated words begin flowing from the mouth in disbelief: these can’t be them!
But they are, and they were.
And here’s where things got crazy. I found not one but two pair of selvedge denim Levi’s, within a two week period, that fit me (which was total icing on the cake). Now, because 501s have been made since roughly 1873, there was some research and investigation that had to be done to date these babies. But before I dive into that, two quick questions: Are you interested in vintage Levi’s (or any other brand) denim? Have that itch to get some vintage selvedge denim of your own? Here’s a few tips to finding them.
I can’t stress this enough. After years, I mean like ten years, of looking, I finally found some. Sure, I’ve found countless non selvedge vintage Levi’s, tons of 80s and 90s Levi’s in other sizes and cuts (505s, 550s, 517s, etc), but the selvedge 501s are the holy grails. I found some, but I paid my dues in time. Ten years time. So patience is your friend, here. (and assuming you’ll be thrifting like I did.)
Research like crazy. Look at every feature and every facet in whatever vintage denim you’re looking for. Knowing the market, knowing what you’re looking for, and knowing how 501s from the 1930s look compared to 501s from 1970 is priceless. Know exactly what you desire and that desire will come to know you. If you haven’t researched denim it can be overwhelming, to say the least. And with Levi’s because of the long history, there is almost too much information out there. But, one site that is probably the most thorough and organized of all of them is Heddel’s. Fantastic site and the research that went into their Levi’s posts are insane.
Garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores. Even antique stores. All these places may or may not have what you’re looking for. Sometimes, you will have the right time to hunt, but not find what you’re looking for. Maybe you’ll find the perfect vintage Levi’s but they’re not in your size. Not to worry! Why? Because it’s only a matter of time when you do. And second, you can sell them on eBay! Whether you have five minutes or five hours, look! Make your quest a true quest and hunt for them. Really hunt for them, even if it takes a decade.
Did I mention patience? Because honestly, you have got to take this as a legitimate tool in your “vintage denim tool belt” to finding the perfect vintage denim.
I sell on Etsy, so I’m naturally going to tell you to go to Etsy to find your vintage Levi’s there. But, selvedge Levi’s aren’t common. So, check Etsy and eBay both, but be willing to pay dearly for your denim. We sellers all know how valuable and rare they are, and people are quite happy to pay a bundle to get a pair in their size. While ebay or Etsy isn’t nearly as fun as in-the-store treasure hunting for them, it’s a whole lot faster. But, fare warning: it’s also a whole lot more expensive.
I was able to date my first pair of selvedge Levi’s from 1978-80. I know this because of Heddel’s stellar encyclopedic-like article.
The biggest tips to date them were the back pocket stitching. Single lock stitch was pre-1978. This pair had a double lock stitch, so I knew it was after ’78 but before ’81 with its “small e” tag.
My second pair is from 1971-ish or so. And I was able to tell this just by the care label. Instead of a fabric care label, the wash instructions label was stamped onto the inside right pocket. These also have a single lock stitch on the back pocket.
So, after seriously falling in love with the 501s and realizing I should embrace 501s for me, and not just for the guys I sell them to, I can wear these in my own way. Even though I could get lost trying them on and end up in 1990, when it comes to vintage and embracing the vintage lifestyle, I need only two words: who cares.
Remember, “Never say never” and “Timing is everything.”
I said I’d never wear high-waisted denim again. I was wrong. And timing? My friends, a decade was worth it. You’ll find your vintage selvedge, too.
With a little right timing, a positive attitude, and a couple of handy new mottos in your vocabulary, those perfect selvedge denim jeans are all yours.
About the Author
Heather Spiva is a freelance writer from Sacramento, CA. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s hunting for vintage clothing to sell (or keep and wear) at her Etsy shop. She is married and her two boys and golden doodle dog keep her beyond busy. Denim and coffee are two of her dearest friends. Check her out on Etsy, Instagram, and at her blogs HeatherSpiva.com and PerennialVintage.com.