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May 18, 2011 6:55 AM   Subscribe

I bought a pair of Levi's 501 shrink-to-fit jeans. They didn't shrink and they don't fit. What to do?

How can I get these guys to shrink to a better size? I was hoping to let them fade and wear naturally. I know the answer will be some combination of water and heat, but I'd rather not wash/dry them in such a way as to arrest a natural, attractive wear-in.

I took the manufacturer's advice and ordered up (3" on the waist, 2" on the length). When they arrived I gave them a tub-bath in cold water, about a week later they had a cold gentle wash in the machine after a toddler puking event.

They're too big around the waist (at least I can wear a belt), too baggy in the crotch and the legs feel enormous, compared to my other Gap and Uniqlo jeans.

The length is about right to turn the cuffs up once. I'm willing to sacrifice that to make them fit better.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you followed the manufacturers instructions and they did not behave as advertised, why not return them rather than fight them?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:01 AM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Cold water washing and air drying doesn't shrink things, that's why you wash things you don't want to shrink that way. If you want it to shrink, toss 'em in the washer, followed by tossing them in the dryer!
posted by Grither at 7:03 AM on May 18, 2011 [13 favorites]


Wash them in hot water, dry them on high.
posted by mareli at 7:06 AM on May 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Try a hot water tub soak (possibly while wearing them if it doesn't feel too weird to you), but I will say that even properly shrunk shrink-to-fit 501s are still too baggy around the thighs for me. They end up looking kind of jodhpur-y even once the waist has become very snug. The cut may just be wrong for you. The 514s are really the only ones that look nice on me now.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:19 AM on May 18, 2011


This might help, if you havent seen it already:
http://vimeo.com/7391362
its a guide to the care & feeding of denim, among other things.
posted by modernserf at 7:21 AM on May 18, 2011


The folks at the wonderful Reddit MaleFashionAdvice community generally suggest ignoring Levi's STF guidelines. If you follow their guidelines the fit is going to be more in line with the traditional 501 fit which is probably not at all what you're used to.

Here's a great guide to 501 STF jeans that should give you everything you need to know, including sizing info.
posted by cvp at 7:35 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know the answer will be some combination of water and heat, but I'd rather not wash/dry them in such a way as to arrest a natural, attractive wear-in.

I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of how fabrics work.

Washing in cold water is going to do the following things: keep the fibers the same size they currently are, and keep the dye in the jeans from fading.

If you want them to a) shrink, and b) fade, then hot water is what you want. Putting cotton fibers in hot water will encourage them to shrink. Hot water will also make the color fade faster than cold water will.

So: during the break in period, hot water is your friend. After you've gotten them to the fit and color you want, cold water and minimal washing is your friend.
posted by anastasiav at 7:56 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"When they arrived I gave them a tub-bath in cold water..."

Yeah, you're doing it wrong. Hot water.
posted by BurntHombre at 7:57 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you want them to a) shrink, and b) fade, then hot water is what you want. Putting cotton fibers in hot water will encourage them to shrink. Hot water will also make the color fade faster than cold water will.

I think folks are misunderstanding the poster's desire. The goal, that I'm reading behind the lines, is to have these natural jeans fade unevenly, in ways specific to how he wears them. Natural denim, if most of the color is preserved through carefully avoiding the kind of hot water washes that fade the whole garment, will wear along the creases created through normal use. Those creases, or "whiskers", as well as other random marks, make each pair of jeans unique. A pair of jeans washing in hot water loses dye all over and therefore decreases the contrast between those marks made by wearing and the rest of the color of the jean. (Purists might say that he has already lost this battle because he had to wash the puked upon jeans in the washer.)

The poster understands this quite well, and it trying to find a way to shrink the jeans without fading the jeans. This may, or may not, be impossible, but isn't based on a misunderstanding.
posted by OmieWise at 8:16 AM on May 18, 2011


I get it, OmieWise - and I'm into raw denim too. But one initial hot soak for maximum shrinkage won't noticably fade the jeans. It's agitation as much as heat which makes the jeans lose indigo dye.

OP - one very hot soak is fine. Just stick em in the bathtub and leave em there for an hour or so. Then, wear the hell out of your jeans!

Oh, and even one machine wash after toddler-puking won't ruin a pair of jeans or stop them from ever fading. Just wear your jeans, OP. They'll fade.
posted by Ted Maul at 8:31 AM on May 18, 2011


This link may be of help:

How to Shrink To Fit Your Levi's

If you're serious about wearing your denim in, in terms of getting whiskers & wear patterns, I'd follow his instructions (which mean you needed to soak them before you started wearing them) and then simply don't wash them again. For at least 6 months or so. When/if you need to wash them again, do so by hand, in hot water (if you want them to reshrink a bit because of bagginess) with something like Woolite Dark.

The more general point is that heat shrinks jeans. Soaking takes color away and makes it harder to wear. Only you can decide what balance is best. Good luck!
posted by scdjpowell at 8:33 AM on May 18, 2011


If you can't use hot water to shrink them without ruining the color, maybe a tailor can just take out some of the material and restitch them. I know nothing about it I just googled "denim tailor" and apparently it's a real thing.
posted by cali59 at 8:38 AM on May 18, 2011


I took the manufacturer's advice and ordered up (3" on the waist, 2" on the length).

Levi's says: "We recommend dry cleaning or freezing your jeans instead of washing. If you plan to wash - size up 1" if waist is between 27"- 36", size up 2" if waist is between 38"- 48". Increase length by 3"."
posted by iviken at 8:40 AM on May 18, 2011


For what it's worth, I've "acclimated" two pairs of 501s in the last three years. An initial soak in hot water is not going to make any discernible difference in the color or fade of the jeans, but it will do much to shrink them. It will not prevent a "natural, attractive wear-in."
posted by BurntHombre at 9:33 AM on May 18, 2011


This is the guide I've been following my 501 shrink to fits: http://501xx.info/blog/501_shrink_to_fit/

For sizing, normally I'm a 29x32 in Levis 514's, but went up to 30x34 for the 501STF.

DO SOAK in HOT water if you're looking to shrink to fit. If you are worried about them shrinking too much, you can wear them in the tub, but if you've sized correctly I wouldn't worry about it unless you have huge quads.

I used a plastic rubbermaid storage container and let the denim soak for 3, maybe 4 hours, while adding boiling water every 30 minutes (probably overkill. 1 hour may be OK). Yes, it seems like a lot of the dye is lost, but the fabric will shrink and lose it's "shiny" quality. Don't panic, it's just denim... :)

In my experience, the 501s WILL shrink 3-4 inches in length, and maybe 1 inch in the waist, but after a period of time the fibers at the waist stretch back anyhow.
posted by Giggilituffin at 9:48 AM on May 18, 2011


You went up three inches on the waist? They will never fit right, unless you start eating more donuts.

If you want maximum shrinkage go with a really hot dryer, such as when you put your hand on the exhaust vent it is uncomfortably warm, perhaps even threatening to burn your skin. Not every dryer reaches inferno temps like this.
posted by caddis at 10:06 AM on May 18, 2011


Thanks for all the advice. I transposed my up-sizing in my question, I did go up 2 in waist and 3 in length. Putting them in the dryer still scares me, but I'll start with a tub full of hot water and see how that does.

That reddit link is fantastic, cvp.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:24 AM on May 18, 2011


I wouldn't get too carried away with the selvedge nerd stuff on a $40 pair of 501XXs. I wear them around the house for a few weeks, then put them in a hot bath until the water gets cold.

2" extra in the waist is still too much oversized by a factor of two. You're never going to get that much shrinkage, but hot water might make them a bit more wearable. In future, depending on the fit you're going for, go up no more than 1", and maybe not at all. 3" in the leg is about right though.
posted by caek at 10:33 AM on May 18, 2011


Jeans are cotton. You wash them, they shrink. You wear them, and they stretch to conform to your body. Lather, Rinse, Repeat, and soon they feel like 2nd skin. If the Lather, Rinse, Repeat part includes agitation and hot water, the shrink is accelerated.
posted by theora55 at 1:16 PM on May 18, 2011


So, to check in: Three soaks in hot water, two 30-minute stints in the dryer. They kind-of fit now: they don't actively fall off. They didn't shrink in length too badly, although they are approaching an awkward too-short-to-roll-too-long-not-to state. See no reason to buy another pair of 501s, though, will probably go back to Uniqlo.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:25 PM on May 30, 2011


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