Menswear

A New Pair of Levi’s 501 Shrink-to-Fit Selvedge Jeans

It’s always good to join the mailing list of brands you like. That way, whenever they have a sale, you can get a heads-up on something you need for a nice discount.

I’ve been in the mood for a new pair of Levi’s 501s for a while, but the selvedge raw denim Shrink-to-Fits I prefer cost $128. Since I’m one of only three people left on the planet who didn’t take the blue pill that puts me in the “denim is precious” matrix, It’s really hard for me to justify three figures on a pair of pants originally designed as a cheap garment for laborers. But an email blast from Levi’s alerted me to a sweet sale. The 501 Original Shrink-to-Fit Selvedge Jeans were reduced to $79. On top of that, there was a promo code offering an additional 25% off. Essentially, I got a new pair of $128 jeans for $67.

As with all Shrink-to-Fits, the first thing to do with them is wear them new and unwashed for as long as you can stand it so that the raw denim can get to know your body’s shape and movement. Brand new Shrink-to-Fits are ridiculously large before they’re washed, and I wear them only around the house while I’m writing, doing chores or whatever. I don’t wear them out in public because, again, they’re ridiculously large and I’m a little old to pull off street chic with any conviction.

The great thing about these jeans is that you “earn” the fit. You don’t buy it. Once you start wearing them, they take on the character and fade marks that you give to them as opposed to the artificial ones assigned to you by certain washes created by the brand. Even if you prefer pre-shrunk jeans with a different fit, go for the unwashed ones with real denim (NOT stretch) so that you can truly make them your own.

The big question for guys who buy Shrink-to-Fits is about size. Since they shrink somewhat in the waist and a lot in the length and width of the leg, you don’t want to buy something too small or they’ll be useless after a series of washings. The best size to buy depends on how you plan to break them in and launder them, particularly for their first few washes. According to the Levi’s website (with which I agree), the suggestions are as follows:

  • Method 1: Wear in the bathtub and keep them on while they dry. Buy denim true to size in the waist and two sizes up in the length so they shrink for a custom fit. This process was widely popularized up until the 1960s.
  • Method 2: Line dry them. Buy two sizes larger in the waist and the length. Machine wash in warm water and line dry for a classic, rigid feel.
  • Method 3: Don’t wash them. For denim purists who prefer an unwashed feel, purchase true-to-size in waist and in length. Hang them outside in the sun to keep them fresh.

I like clean clothes, which means I won’t be doing Method 3. I’ve done Method 2 and it works well. For this new pair, I’m going to try Method 1, which means I bought 30×34. (My waist in shrunk Levi’s jeans is 30, and my length is 32.) In the interest of health, I would only recommend the wear-in-the-tub method when the weather is warm, since wearing wet jeans in the winter is probably a great way to court pneumonia.

My new Levi’s 501 Shrink-to-Fit Selvedge Jeans in the “Long Day” (unwashed) color.

The coming days here in Cleveland are promising warm temperatures. After living in these jeans indoors for the past few days, my plan is to soak in a hot tub wearing the new pair, catching up on the latest issue of The New Yorker or Vanity Fair because I’m deep. After about thirty or forty minutes, I’ll drain the tub and stand in it for a bit with a warm towel until most of the water has dripped out of the denim. From there, I’ll wrap my lower half in an old beach towel (so I don’t get indigo dye on a good bath towel), blot off remaining excess water, and head out to my mother’s garage to make some minor fixes on my bike and give it a good clean. If the jeans are still wet, then I’ll take the dogs for a long walk. That should do it for the first Shrink-to-Fit wash.

Depending on how much they shrink, I may or may not do another bathtub soak. But once they’ve shrunk to where I want them to be, subsequent washings will be in cold water. I never put my jeans in the dryer. Instead, I hang them over my shower curtain rod to air dry. It uses less energy and extends the life of the jeans. Better for the environment and a bigger bang for the buck. Double win.

I’ll let you know how it all goes.

9 Comments

  1. Stephen Lacey Reply

    George, Selevege jeans are a scam, hoisted on us by 20-something hipsters. They are the most UNCOMFORTABLE things you will EVER wear. By our age, comfort is just as important as style.

    • Selvedge denim isn’t new. It was a regular thing until the ’50s when companies started cutting costs and turning toward a cheaper method of production. The recent resurgence is a return to a more original quality. Selvedge denim fabric doesn’t unravel, where non-selvedge denim can, extending the life of the garment. And selvedge denim is no less comfortable than non-selvedge denim (unless you’re incorrectly equating “selvedge” with “raw,” which are two different things).

  2. You said: As with all Shrink-to-Fits, the first thing to do with them is wear them new and unwashed for as long as you can stand it so that the raw denim can get to know your body’s shape and movement. Brand new Shrink-to-Fits are ridiculously large before they’re washed, and I wear them only around the house while I’m writing, doing chores or whatever. I don’t wear them out in public because, again, they’re ridiculously large and I’m a little old to pull off street chic with any conviction.
    This is totally untrue. This is not how the nature of this type of fabric functions!

  3. Hey George, how did these shrink for you? I just bought a pair in 30×34 as well. My size is 30×32 so I’m hoping any waist shrink will be minimal. What was your experience?

    • They worked out well. I haven’t washed them too often, and I’ve never put them in the dryer. They look good and they’re extremely comfortable. My experience with these dictates that they’ll continue to shrink in the width of the leg and a bit in the length with a few more washes in lukewarm water.

    • They worked out well. I haven’t washed them too often, and I’ve never put them in the dryer. They look good and they’re extremely comfortable. My experience with these dictates that they’ll continue to shrink in the width of the leg and a bit in the length with a few more washes in lukewarm water.

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