On the forums, I have been chronicling the progress of a pair of Levi’s Shrink to Fit jeans that I’ve been wearing for about a year. In this article I hope to share as much of my experience with these jeans as possible, so I can answer some questions, give you real life details and perhaps some idea of what you can expect from your own pair of 501xx. I’ll cover the progress along the way with the steps I took, the wear and tear, and the washing process–with tips I’ve learned from all you.
A Year in the Making
I bought a pair of 31×38 501xx’s from Langstons and started wearing them on 1/29/09. I knew they would shrink vertically 2-3 inches — ending at 35-36″ — which would give me an about an inch or two for a cuff at the bottom. Here’s a picture of them before soaking with light wear, you can see that the cuff is quite long before the shrinking:
I decided I wanted to soak them on my honeymoon in Jamaica; my wife actually bought a pair as well and shrunk them with me. I got about two months of wear in them before the day of soaking 3/4/2009. Since I can’t wear jeans at work everyday, this was under 300 hours of wear. Here they are right before soaking, you can see they already look much more fitted and comfortable then the first picture:
Here they are right after soaking. We soaked for about 20 minutes in a private hot tub (which was really nice, btw):
I let them dry on me which didn’t take very long since we were outside in warm weather with the hot sun (maybe 5 hours max).
After that there hasn’t been much excitement in these jeans life for the last eleven months or so. I wore them on nights and weekends and DIDN’T wash them ever. For those keeping track, that means for over a year the only water that has touched my jeans has been the soak in Jamaica.
If this sounds gross to you, I really do understand. My original plan was to wear them without washing for maybe a month or two figuring that after that the smell would drive me to wash them. Carrying out this experiment really challenged my perceptions of this.
As long as you don’t get dirt on them, don’t do a lot of strenuous activity in them and — sorry if this is a bit vulgar — be sure to always wear underwear you can really go a very long time between washing. Even towards the end they were not offensive unless you held them close to your nose. If you have a partner, be sure to listen to them if they tell you enough is enough!
But more on washing later. Here are some progress photos taken at random intervals over the last year. First, about a month after soaking:
6/20/09 – about four months after soaking:
11/7/09 – About 8 months after initial soaking:
Like I said earlier since I’m just a nights and weekends jeans wearer we’re only talking like 230 hours per month. You can do your own quick calculation to get an idea of how to compare apples to apples with my pictures. Thirteen months is about 3000 hours which us to the pictures below which were taken before washing them for the first time (click for full size):
Wear and Tear
Since Levi’s switched to lighter weight denim the most common complaint I hear is the wear in the crotch. Without washing your clothes will wear quicker as well because of the grit you’re carrying around and rubbing into the fibers. Between the two you’re likely going to see some wear and tear and my pair was no exception but I have to say it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.
Cuffs have the disadvantage of a weak “hem” at the end of the pant leg. The hem the jeans come with is double or triple thickness makes it stronger and less prone to wear. The cuff doesn’t give you that kind of protection so I did see a couple holes right on the crease of the cuff.
I did also have a couple points of noticeable wear in the crotch, one of which will likely need to be repaired within a few months of more wear. The top layer of jean on the inseam wore off in two places and there is one crease that looks like it will become a hole pretty soon. From my experience and reading about other’s, I think this is to be expected and is just an unfortunate reality of the decrease in workmanship and quality of materials we’ve seen across the entire brand. Here’s a detail of some of the damage, as you can see i got lucky and it will be relatively easy to repair especially with Denim Therapy‘s crotch and hem repair services:
Why wash ever? If you’ve gone this long why not continue wearing and getting a deeper fade and higher contrasts. First, as mentioned earlier, there is a balance between wearing out your clothes by washing too much, and having them wear out faster due to neglect. Also by this point, they were bagging in the seat and knees to a point where they were no longer looking that great — it was getting difficult to justify wearing them to casual Friday at work. There was also the smell and the general dingy appearance that comes with long wear. I held out but also knew when it was time.
Here was my approach to washing:
- Inside out
- Cold water (not extremely cold but not warm)
- Hand wash in the bathtub
- 1/4 Cup Dr. Bronners Classic Liquid Castile soap (peppermint)
- 1 Cup white vinegar
- 1 hour soak agitating every 20 minutes or so
- Rinse cold (not too much!)
- Air dry flat (remember to flip every now and then)
The theory behind this approach was to minimize fading (cold water, vinegar, minimum of mild soap, hand wash) while getting full benefits of washing (removing dirt, reshaping the clothes). There are many many different approaches that also work well, here are some additional tips that have been reported to me:
- You can also substitute WOOLITE Dark as the soap
- If you use the washing machine, wash them alone, inside out, on cold and remove before the spin cycle for air drying
- Water, vinegar, and salt is another combination that will get good effects
- Washing in the (clean) ocean and rinsing with clear water will get the job done as well
For a review of jean care and achieving different fades see the Levi’s 501XX Shrink to Fit FAQ.
The End Results
After wash and thorough air dry, here were my results (click for full size):
Here they are on (with my new Fred Perry Kingston Mid Prince of Wales sneakers):
Honestly I couldn’t be more pleased with how they are coming along.
The critical steps are done so from here on out my plan is:
- Repair the damage by getting Denim Therapy to close the holes
- I’m going to put them in the regular rotation of jeans, so they will get less regular wear and last longer
- I will not wash often but also not wait another year for washing. Once they start sagging a lot in the knees and seat it will be time for a wash
I hope this was helpful experience. Going through this process and documenting it has only reinforced that this m is the choice for achieving the best fit and best fade possible. Please respond in the comments and on the forums with your own experiences so we can all learn and improve.