Guide to Vintage Denim

Navigating between artfully distressed, high-waisted vintage Levi’s and flat out mom jeans is a fine line. We consulted with Kate Brien, stylist and vintage denim shopper extraordinaire, for her expert tips. From what to look for, where to find it, and how to style it, LR presents the ultimate guide to vintage denim.

What’s the difference between Levi’s 501, 517, 510’s?
How do I know which style I should get?

The two most popular styles of vintage Levi’s for women are 501s and 517s.


The 501 is the classic Levi’s denim cutit has a mid-rise and a slightly tapered leg with a more relaxed fit. The smaller the size you get, the more high-waisted they become. These look great if you have a little bit of a booty.


The 517 is a bootcut stylethese tend to look great on girls with longer, leaner legs, as they are tighter on the thighs and are slightly flared at the hem.

How do you interpret vintage sizes?

Figuring out your size in vintage denim can be difficult, since a lot of the pairs out there have been worn to the point that you can’t even see the size. But there are a few rules of thumb for determining your size. First off, you have to decide how you want the denim to fit. If you’re looking for a pair that fits snug around the waist, you will most likely need to go up two to three sizes from what you’d normally wear. If you’re looking for a more relaxed boyfriend fit, you want to go up closer to four to five sizes. Don’t let the size get you down, as these were originally made for men without hips, so it’s not comparable at all to the sizing we’re used to seeing on denim.


Another easy way to determine your size is to measure a pair of jeans that you already have and love—both waist + hips. When you’re shopping for vintage denim, bring a measuring tape along and find a few pair that has similar measurements.


I get most of my jeans hemmed and slightly tapered so that they’re a bit more flattering, since I’m on the shorter side. Just make sure to tell the tailor to use the original hem and not to remove any original tags!

What are your favorite vintage stores?

The Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, California

General Store in Venice & San Francisco, California

Animal House in Venice, California

Collection in Echo Park, California

Foxhole in Silverlake, California

Mixed Business in Silverlake, California

Mister Freedom in Los Angeles, California

Scout in West Hollywood, California

The Painted Bird in Silverlake, California

What Goes Around Comes Around in LA & NY

Star Struck in NY

Beacon’s Closet in NY

Grand Street Bakery in NY

Melet Mercantile in NY

10 ft Single in Brooklyn

Feathers in Austin, Texas

Santa Fe Vintage in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Can you tell us about finding your most treasured pair?

My favorite pair of vintage denim is actually a pair of JCPenney jeans from the 1960s. I bought them from a French lady who sells vintage at a stand on Abbot Kinney in Venice. I spotted them on the mannequin and asked if I could try them on, and she said that they had never fit anyone and that I shouldn’t bother even trying. Still, I had a feeling, so I tried them on and they were perfect. She was shocked and told me I HAD to buy them, and I couldn’t have agreed more. I think I get asked about these jeans more than anything else I own. If you look closely you can see light pen drawings on the legs that someone must have done years and years ago. I love imagining who wore my vintage denim before me—perhaps a kid who was bored and was drawing in class…I’ll never know.

How are you styling your jeans this season? Any tricks of the trade?

You can never go wrong with denim on denim, or a classic white tee. I’ll usually throw on a button down or chunky knit and a pair of heels to dress them up a bit.

Which LR shoes are you excited to wear with your denim?

The clogs!

FOLLOW: @viewfromthetopp



Related Posts