Update 2008-05-13: Due to the popularity of this article and the helpful discussion in the comments with readers I have posted an updated article with new tips and approaches to achieving the best jeans you’ll ever own. For more on Levi’s 501xx Original Shrink to Fit Jeans, please see my other articles on the subject.
I love Levi’s 501 Shrink to Fit jeans and have done the shrinking thing a bunch of times. Some ways work, others are not so good; here’s the best way:
- Fill your bathtub (or kitchen sink if you don’t have one) with the hottest water that will come out of the tap.
- Put the pants in there and let them marinate for 15-20 minutes
- Drain the water and hang the pants over the tub (they’ll drip. They’ll also make a mess so be prepared to give the tub a scrub down after you are done).
- Optional Step A few hours into drying (when they are no longer actively dripping), put them on and let them dry on your body for a bit.
- After they are dry (overnight) they will be so stiff you may be able to stand them upright. Even so, Try them on and see if they are close to the right size. You can repeat the above steps many times to shrink them down further. I find that after the initial shrinking, the length is less likely to change than the tightness.
- When you think you have the right size, wash them in the washer machine BY THEMSELVES or else they will bleed all over everything. I’ve tried to wear them in without washing first but it doesn’t work as well. After the first wash is when you can go long times between washes to get them really sculpted.
I’d recommend buying them 1″ too big in the waist and 2-3″ too big in the inseam. This will give you a skinny but relaxed fit (classic). Adjust from there if you want a tighter or shorter look.
Mistakes I’ve made that you should not repeat:
- Getting in the tub full of scalding hot water wearing the pants: I thought that they would “mold to my body”, instead all the skin peeled of my legs.
- Washing the pants before the hot water marinating: they shrunk but it took a lot longer for them to start looking good. If you need to take some serious inches off them, this will not work as well as the marinating.
- Buying the wrong size: if you buy the wrong size and they just don’t shrink correctly you are usually just plain out of luck (SOL). I buy my pants at the Levi’s Store and they guarantee my satisfaction. This means even after I shrink them, if I don’t like them, I can still return them.