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Levi’s Vintage Clothing 1944-1966 Shrink-to-Fits: Finding Your Size

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On May 1st 2012 we officially launched our Levi’s Vintage Clothing Wear & Tear Project. To bring the project to a close, this article acts as a guide to denim lovers and Levi’s fans alike in finding the correct fit and the right size of these tricky shrink-to-fits. We’ve had a painter, a motorcycle mechanic, a world ranking 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. This is what we learned.

There’s something alluring about the originality and history of the shrink-to-fit; many regard it as the original jean. However, it can be quite tricky finding your size, especially when you have to take shrinkage into consideration. The idea of creating a point of reference for Levi’s Vintage Clothing shrink-to-fits is not unique; for instance Paul Trynka’s guide gives a general overview of the differing fits, but with this guide we go further into detail with the sizing of each jean to help you find your right size on the first try.

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 do have to buy online, the general rule of thumb is that you should not look at the tagged size, instead use the measurements of your best fitting pair of jeans as a reference. Still, throughout this guide we compare the waist sizes of each fit to the general size. For example; if you are waist 30 in Edwin, Nudie etc. you should size up 2-3 inches in waist for the 1947. All shrink-to-fits should be bought at least 2 inches longer than what you normally buy as they shrink up to 10% in length.

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 of the soak is to soften the fabric and thus prolong the lifetime of the jeans, and naturally get some shrinkage out of the fabric. You should be aware that most of the post-soak shrink-to-fit Cone denims tend to wear in rather slowly – if you’re looking for high contrast fades we recommend you to look elsewhere. Let’s have a closer look at the five fits.

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1944 S501XX
The 1944 is generously sized and it has a relatively high rise. We recommend you to buy your regular waist size.

1944-01Made from 10 oz. Cone Mills denim, the 1944 S501XX feature 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 and the cinch along with its two rivets. 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.

1944-02Pre and post-wash measurements (in centimeters) of a 34×36 1944 S501XX:

19441947 501XX
The 1947 is a slim straight leg with a rather tight fitting thigh and a leg that doesn’t taper. On some wearers this gives a feeling of a slight boot cut. The 1947 is also the smallest of all the shrink-to-fits, we recommend you to size up 2 or 3 inches in waist.

1947-01After 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 with no extra details like the cinch or suspender buttons. The 1947 is a jean that’s ready to rock and roll. Compared to the 1944, the watch pocket rivets are back along with the stitched arcuate, which is sewn with double needle creating the famous diamond.

1947-02Pre amd post-wash measurements (in centimeters) of a 36×36 1947 501XX:

19471954 501ZXX
The zippered 1954 is one of the most controversial and popular fits of the Levi’s Vintage Clothing range. It’s a tapered slim cut with a high rise. Size up 1 or 2 inches in waist.

1954-01The story of the zipper dates back to the mid-50s and Levi’s’ move into the East coast markets where customers were used to wearing zippered jeans. The jean has everything that long time wearers love including the silhouette, the tough but flexible fabrics, rivets, the Two Horse leather patch, hidden rivets; but with the slimmer cut it’s a good place to start for first time wearers.

1954-02Pre and post-wash measurements (in centimeters) of a 32×34 1954 501ZXX:

19541955 501XX
The 1955 runs big in the sizes and if you follow the guideline and size up you’ll get a relaxed fit. This fit can be wore either way. We recommend you to buy your regular size or size up 1 inch.

1955-01The 1955 has a quintessential 1950s shape, like the classic cars of the day; the silhouette is boxy but tough. The zinc button fly and copper rivets remained standard issue. Like all 501s since the 1944, 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 the 1955 is the first 501 to bear the leather-like Two Horse label and double sided Big E Red Tab.

1955-02Pre and post-wash measurements (in centimeters) of a 32×34 1955 501XX:

19551966 501
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.

1966-01The 1966 represents a snapshot in time; the 501 with bartack instead of hidden rivets and the Big E Red Tab only existed for 5 years from 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 selvage denim and it has the Two Horse leather-like patch.

1966-02Pre and post-wash measurements (in centimeters) of a 34×34 1966 501:

1966Pictures: Mikkel H. Pedersen.