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To shrink or not to shrink?
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...