Learn How the Different LVC 501 Jeans Shrink
There’s something alluring about the originality and history of the 501 shrink-to-fit jean. The catch is that finding the right size can be tricky. Based on a year of wearing and tearing through the ‘big five’ 501 iterations, this comprehensive LVC 501 fit guide helps you find the correct fit and size.
The idea of creating an LVC 501 fit guide is not unique; Paul Trynka’s guide gives a great overview of the differing fits. We take it further by going into detail with the sizing and shrinkage of each jean.
On May 1st 2012, we launched a LVC Wear & Tear Project. We’ve had a painter, a motorcycle mechanic, a badminton player, a Swedish hockey player, and the father of a Danish denim enthusiast wear the ‘big five’ of Levi’s Vintage Clothing 501 line up ranging from the 1944 S501XX through the 1966 501. We learned a lot about how the different jeans shrink.
Size Up: They Shrink!
The best way to find your perfect size is to try on the jeans. Unfortunately, not all of us have a well stocked local retailer nearby with all fits available. If you have to buy online, the general rule of thumb is that you should not look at tagged size. Instead, use the measurements of your best fitting pair of jeans as a reference. You should also remember that all shrink-to-fits should be bought at least 2 inches longer than what you normally buy; they shrink up to 10% in length.
Soak Before You Wear Your Shrink-to-Fit Jeans
When picking up a new pair of 501 shrink-to-fits we recommend you to give them a soak before you start wearing them. The main purpose is to soften the fabric, which prolongs the lifetime of the jean, and naturally to get some shrinkage out of the fabric. You should be aware that most shrink-to-fit Cone denims tend to wear in rather slowly once they’ve been soaked. If you’re looking for high contrast fades we recommend you to look elsewhere. Let’s have a closer look at the five fits.
1944 S501XX: Buy Your Regular Size
Made from 10 oz. Cone Mills denim, the 1944 S501XX features some interesting details that result from textile rationing enforced by the US government during WWII. For instance, the watch pocket rivets are missing along with the crotch rivet – the cinch and its two rivets were scrapped too. Yet it still has the Two Horse leather patch, single sided Big E red tab, and the hidden back pocket rivets. The most interesting detail is the painted arcuate. The paint will eventually wear off.
The 1944 is generously sized and it has a relatively high rise. We recommend you to buy your regular waist size.
Pre and post-wash measurements (in centimeters) of a 34×36 1944 S501XX:
1947 501XX: Size Up 2 or 3 Inches
After WWII, raw materials once again became readily available. Levi Strauss & Co. leaped back into heavy production to meet the growing post-war consumer demand for slimmer fitting jeans. The 1947’s are made from 12 oz. Cone denim without details like the cinch or suspender buttons. Compared to the 1944, the watch pocket rivets are back and for the first time we see the double needle arcuate with its famous ‘diamond.’
The 1947 is a slim straight leg with a rather tight fitting thigh and a leg that doesn’t taper. The 1947 is also the smallest of all the shrink-to-fits, we recommend you to size up 2 or 3 inches in the waist.
Pre and post-wash measurements (in centimeters) of a 36×36 1947 501XX:
1954 501ZXX: Size Up 1 or 2 Inches
The story of the zipper in Levi’s jeans dates back to the mid-50s when the company moved into the East coast market. Here customers were used to wearing zippered jeans. The 501ZXX has a tapered silhouette, a high rise, a tough but flexible denim, the Two Horse leather patch, and hidden rivets. With its slimmer cut the 501ZXX is a good place to start for first-time wearers.
The zippered 1954 is one of the most popular fits of the Levi’s Vintage Clothing range. Size up 1 or 2 inches in the waist.
Pre and post-wash measurements (in centimeters) of a 32×34 1954 501ZXX:
1955 501XX: Buy Your Regular Size or Size 1 Up
The 1955 has a quintessential 1950s shape; the silhouette is boxy but tough. The zinc button fly and copper rivets remained standard issue. The 1955 has belt loops as the only method of waist adjustment, and the hidden rivets are still there. It’s made of 12 oz. Cone denim and it’s the first 501 to bear the leather-like Two Horse label and double sided Big E red tab.
The 1955 501XX runs big in the sizes and if you follow the guideline and size up you’ll get a relaxed fit. Depending on what you’re looking for, we recommend you to buy your regular size or size up 1 inch in the waist.
Pre and post-wash measurements (in centimeters) of a 32×34 1955 501XX:
1966 501: Buy Your Regular Size For a Snug Fit
The 1966 represents a snapshot in time; a 501 with bartacks instead of hidden rivets and the Big E red tab – something that only existed for 5 years between 1966 to 1971. The bartacks solved the furniture-scratching issues of the hidden rivets that wore through the denim. The 1966 is made of 12 oz. Cone Mills red selvedge denim and it has the Two Horse leather-like patch.
The 1966 is a reflection of the tendency of tighter fitting jeans of the 1960s. Buy your regular waist size for a snug fit or size up 1-2 inches for a more classic fit.
Pre and post-wash measurements (in centimeters) of a 34×34 1966 501:
Photography: Mikkel H. Pedersen.