on September 25, 2009
If you're looking for the old-fashioned style Levi 501 jeans like the ones you bought in the 1970's or 80's, that are made of heavy denim and you bought them oversize and washed them hot to shrink them to size, at least one of the ones listed on this page is the right one: the Color: Rigid STF (at the moment it is the color at the far left).
It took many hours of searching and researching (researching blue jeans!) at several online stores and non-store websites to determine whether equivalents to my old ones were even made anymore, and if so, which ones they were. Levi calls countless styles Classic or Classic Fit, and countless others Original, and the 501 number was apparently successful, so they call a lot of them 501, too, to the point where these adjectives and style number have no meaning anymore. Classic and Original probably just mean they're Levi-Strauss, and 501 is meant to catch your eye. Maybe they hope you'll make lots of mistakes and have to buy lots of jeans while hoping to find the right ones. If it sounds like I'm joking about that, I'm not.
So it was with some relief that I got these, saw that they're the right style, shrank them down, and they're fine. There is even an improvement over the old ones: the button-fly holes are now are reinforced with stitching, which they didn't used to be. Mine say Made in Haiti; quality seems just fine. The denim is heavy-weight.
If you're looking for the type of old-fashioned plain style jeans that I described, the keywords to look for are: Rigid, Indigo, Shrink-To-Fit/STF, Straight Leg, Button-Fly, Rivets, and 501 (even though it can mean almost anything). When you're looking at an item description, the more of these keywords are omitted, the more suspicious you can be that you may be looking at an "impostor", possibly even an impostor style made by Levi itself.
Shop carefully. It wasn't an accident that I ended up with the ones I set out to buy. It took more than a day of traversing the Levi-Strauss style minefield.
These are still made from the original indigo-dyed rigid denim manufactured Cone mills in North Carolina, and are of good quality. The trick with these is to buy a bigger size then you ordinarily would, as they shrink considerably. Especially if you want to be able to roll up the cuffs, you need to buy either 2 or 4 inches longer in the inseam, i.e. if you normally wear a 32, by a thirty-four or 36, because it will shrink almost 3 inches after a couple of washes. If you want to wear them over boots, definitely go up 4 inches. I have found that the waist shrinks about an inch and half, so if you normally buy a 36, buy 38. The other thing is that if you want to avoid whitish streaking down the leg, turn them inside out when you wash them. To avoid spotting from the starch used in new shrink-to-fit fabric, wash then in hot water the first few time. Basically they will shrink through the first three washes and and pretty much stay where they are. After that, when you get them to the color you want, wash them as infrequently as possible and they will get a nice natural fading, which will look much better than any of the "hand finished" jeans they charge so much for nowadays. It will always look better if you do it yourself through natural wear.
on November 10, 2011
I've worn Levi's 505's (zipper fly) from when I was a teenager up until last year, when Levi's changed them from "regular fit" to "straight fit". I am very slim with narrow hips, and the straight fit 505's kept sliding down over my hips. So I tried a pair of prewashed 501's. I wasn't thrilled about the button fly, but I got used to it. The fit was great; very much like the older style 505's.
About 6 months ago, I decided to give shrink-to-fit 501's a try. My "true" size is 30x30. I got my STF's in size 32x31. I wasn't up for the shrinking-them-in-the-bathtub routine. Instead, I put them in the washing machine with hot water, gave them a spin dry, put them in the dryer for just a few minutes, and hung them until dry. The result fit me perfectly, much better than the prewashed 501's. These 501's have been in the washer and dryer many times, and now look like a prewashed pair. They are starting to get a lot of fade over the knees. The fit is still perfect!
I really like the 501 STF's and highly recommend them. The denim fabric feels much stronger and more substantial than the prewashed jeans. If you have the patience to deal with the shrinking, you get much more control over the fit.
I decided I really like the look of the unwashed Denim, so I recently ordered and received 2 pair of 501 STFs from Amazon, one size 32x31 and the other size 30x30. I shrunk the 32x31's, but I am wearing the 30x30's unwashed and unshrunk. I am going to try to wash both pairs as little as possible, using cold water, Dr. Bonner's soap, and vinegar, as described on Levi's web site (and many other blogs), and compare how the 2 pairs age. I'll update this review as things progress.
I got both pair in the "Rigid" color, which is the traditional Levi's dark indigo. Prior to washing, the indigo dye does not fully penetrate into the intersections of the threads in the denim fabric. The un-dyed parts of the fabric form a pattern of white dots, which makes the overall color look much lighter than prewashed indigo jeans.
I shrunk the 32x31 jeans in my front-loading washer, inside out, in hot water, no soap, on the gentle cycle. I skipped over the rinse cycle, gave them a gentle spin for a minute, wore them for a couple of hours, then hung them up to complete drying. I did not use the clothes dryer. I got a perfect fit, just like my last pair. The indigo dye bled on to the un-dyed part of the fabric. This made the shrunk jeans look darker than the un-shrunk pair. The shrunk pair retained the rigid feel. So for now I like the look of the shrunk pair more. But the real test will be how they age later.
In the past 2 months, I've worn each pair about 1/3 of the time, and other pants the remaining time. So each pair has been worn about 20 days. Neither pair has been washed yet.
The pair that I shrunk have softened up quite a bit, and look almost like pre-washed jeans. They are just starting to show some fading on the knees and around the objects I keep in the front pockets.
The non-shrunk pair still maintain most of their rigid feel, and aside from some creasing, look pretty much the same as they did when they arrived from Amazon.
I like to keep my new jeans fade-free for use as "dress jeans" for as long as possible. So at this point, I prefer the pair that I did NOT shrink.
It was finally time to wash these jeans. I used cold water, Dr. Bronner's soap, and vinegar, followed by a cold water rinse, as described on Levi's web site. The non-shrunk pair now have a beautiful color, about half way between the original color and that of the pre-shrunk pair. The non-shrunk pair also have most of their original rigidity, and their leather tag looks perfect (the lettering on the tag on the pre-washed pair faded in the hot water).
The fading on the pre-shrunk pair has progressed a bit more, while there is still no visible fading anywhere on the other pair.
Unfortunately I did get some shrinkage in the non-shrunk pair, which were getting wet for the first time. The waist shrunk 1/2" and the inseam shrunk 1". The waist shrinkage isn't a problem, as it stretched out while wearing the jeans. The inseam is more of an issue. I tried to stretch the legs several times while drying, but that didn't work; the fabric shrunk back as soon as I let go.
For my next pair of jeans, I plan to buy them in my actual waist size, but with 1" extra length, and wait as long as possible before washing them in cold water.
After their first wash, the non-shrunk pair were too short to use. So I recently purchased a new pair in my actual waist size and 1" extra length. I wore these for several days, then washed them. This time I washed them in the bath tub with Dr. Bronner's soap and vinegar. I am hoping that keeping them flat during the wash will reduce fading around the creases that occurred when my other pairs were machine washed. So far the results are fantastic. I plan to use this method from now on.
Hope that helps...
on May 10, 2015
These are the worst quality fabric jeans/pants by far. I washed them once and they look all stained. They were also wrinkled up, which I thought was a temporary situation. After washing and drying them a couple of times they still look horribly wrinkled. I will return these poor quality jeans right away!
I have found that these shrink a bit less than what Levi's says. In the waist, they shrink about an inch as opposed to the tho inches that Levi's says. The leg shrinks about 2 3/4 inches, rather than 4. So don't buy them too oversized, unless you are going to be washing many times in hot water and a hot drier. Since most people like these dark nowadays, that is unlikely. Also, these are very well made. While much negative commentary concerning Levi Strauss's move away from domestic manufacturing has focused on the button-fly 501s, the bigger problem I have seen is with the old 1970's standby, the 505, which has a zipper as opposed to button fly. The variability on sizing and sew quality with the 505s means you really have to try them on to see how they fit. The 501 are much easier to buy online or by mail order because the sizing is much less critical on the waist, which is the so-called "anti-fit" waist, meaning there is no curve to the rise (the distance between the crotch and the top of the waist), because the original 501s were merely cut down bib overalls which were made to hang, rather than be fitted to the waist. The biggest problem I have noted on the 505's is the variability in size in the thigh area, meaning that some fit baggy and some seem rather tight, even though they are theoretically the same size of a label. The 501s are pretty safe as far as sizing.
on January 29, 2016
Others have covered these jeans in detail and advised us to order the 501 shrink to fit Rigid Indigo, amazon labels it "Rigid STF".... I am here to tell you these are now down to 9oz denim and are in no resemblance to quality 501 STF from yesteryear.
I once was in a Levi's store and asked them why they still mark the red tags with "XX" on shrink to fit when this was historically the mark of the weight of the denim, so 20oz denim when you convert the Roman Numerals to denim weight. They looked confused and had never heard of that before. I was confused they were confused, I wasn't the one working at the Levi's store. The inside pocket now states to look for the "XX" to ensure you are getting authentic Levi's top quality denim.... but it is only 9oz. They are also running TERRIBLY smaller and I wish I ordered a longer inseam, but again as others have noted the sizing depends on where they are made, mine were made in Mexico.
The red label was not stitched on correctly, or the tag is so cheaply made (feels like paper) that it tore out of the stitching within 3 days with a belt on. See picture.
I ordered size 32 x 34. I measured the new NEVER shrunk inseam because it seemed way to short, it was only 32", maybe 32.5" if I was being generous with the tape measure... it should be at least 34" minimum! I posted a picture next to my old STF 32x34s (they are black and behind the new jeans and have been shrunk) you can clearly see if I shrink the new ones I will lose about 2+ inches and have high water pants as they are only about .5 inches longer than the shrunk jeans.See second Picture.
Terrible quality control
Here is what I am frustrated about. Levi's knows how to make fantastic denim, they just aren't anymore. Levi's knows how to make consistent, uniform sized, reliable jeans with far and above the best materials, they just aren't anymore.... why? The pricing hasn't changed, so why has everything else.
In my search for quality denim at lower cost (it is not hard to spend $100+ on raw denim jeans) I found something in my local Kmart that may help some of you out. They are NOT shrink to fit but are likely the most inexpensive unwashed denim you can find. They are Rustler Indigo jeans (only the Indigo appear to be raw unwashed, I have only found them at Kmart). They are at least 13-14oz denim. There is only one cut (boot cut).
Their cut is actually fairly similar to the 501 if it had a zipper, a little too wide at the bottom though, buy the size you actually need, maybe even a little smaller, not like the Shrink To Fit sizing. They stretch out over time a little bit assuming you aren't washing them. For the price if the fit isn't right have someone tailor it, still cheaper than Levi's and you can feel the difference in the quality of denim Rustler is using.
Now for the best part.....they are only $12 and go on sale for $10!!! Also they have a 1 year warranty where they will send you a new pair if it fails. They age VERY well and show nice wear marks (again assuming you are buying what they label as "Indigo" which are unwashed and stiff raw denim). Don't wash them, treat them like shrink to fit or raw denim. Once they are nice and worn in you can do a soak, freeze them, etc... lookup how to take care of raw denim. Not nearly as cool as Levi's, I know, but Levi's is forgetting their entire history as an American icon and really loosing reputation. No I do not work for kmart or rustler, just a guy who likes jeans that don't fall apart in a month.
on April 27, 2015
the jeans would be great, but this particular pair came without tags, button fly completely unbuttoned and are clearly a used pair that was returned, and have been laundered. as "shrink to fit" jeans, this makes them useless. they even still smell and feel like fabric softener. these jeans as new "shrink to fits" should be nearly rigid enough to stand up on their own. wtf Amazon. points deducted.
on September 7, 2014
I have been wearing Levi 501 shrink-to-fit jeans for almost 35 years. They have been an old standby, always predictable and superbly constructed. I ended up buying two pair from Amazon after my local brick and mortar only had one pair in my size. It turns out the local store had a pair from last year and the ones that came from Amazon are the new version. The two new pair from Amazon were absolutely depressing. Beyond the obvious lack of double stitching in the inseam, the weight and quality of the denim was noticeably lower. The cuff hems are half the height and don't hold the cuffs down. There is a weird dart at the waist button that looks like it is addressing some problem with the denim weight. The stitching on the rear pockets and crotch is much wider. I am returning both pair, after multiple washings only made the issues more obvious. They are a long way from classic 501 shrink-to-fits, other than in visual appearance. I am saddened to think I may have bought my last pair of 501s.
If you want to try to find some "new old stock" 501 shrink-to-fits locally while they may still be out there, there are three things to look for. First is a double stitched inseam, second is a detailed rear patch graphic rather than the new more simplistic one (look at your old ones), third is a white stitched 501 label on the rear waistband.
on August 26, 2015
I've been wearing STF 501 jeans for years, purchasing 2-3 jeans at a time either from Amazon or directly from the manufacturer and saw no difference in quality. With my last order of two jeans, one had the full set of tags and the other had no tags at all. I'm assuming the pair without tags was a returned, unwashed item.
I'll still be purchasing STF 501 jeans but not from Amazon.
on May 7, 2016
The photos shows 2 pair of shrink-to-fit 501's that are 38x34 (I normally wear 36x30 or 36x32). In both photos the bottom pair haven't been treated yet.
For the top pair, I wore them in a tub of hot water for 30 minutes, let them line dry until damp, and then wore them until they were dry (did some housework and walked 2 miles). The length shrank ~3".
The second photo shows the waist shrinkage, ~1" so far (both top buttons are aligned-notice the difference between the labels) and from past experience the waist will probably shrink another .5-1" over time.
I don't plan on washing them again for about 6 months, probably longer.