Admittedly, buying the right size of 501xx Shrink to Fit jeans is not the easiest task since they change so drastically when they shrink. However, with a bit of practice and help a lot of the mystery and variability can be eliminated. Of course, like in many things, experience is king; luckily a pair of 501′s won’t break the bank if you mess up (usually about $35) so experimentation is always recommended. Getting the exact right size can make the difference between a pair that is ok and a pair that you love.
Personally, I haven’t found the official Levi’s recommendations (printed on the back pocket tag on a new pair) to be very helpful. Even after extended wear they never quite get to the right proportions for me. To make things more confusing, denim is fluid and changes slowly with age almost as dramatically as the first quick change. Continued wear and wash not only fades the jeans but inperceptively changes how they fit and change to shape your body.
So how can you possibly know what size to buy to get the perfect jean? Well, thanks to the experiences that people have shared here (and my own personal experience with 501′s), there are some guidelines that can be given. I’ve even written a tool to help you find the perfect firt before you purchase: check it out!
First, I recommend using your true waist size when you size a new pair of shrink to fits. Yes they will shrink a bit in the waist but they also stretch easily with very little wear. They may feel a bit tight when they first come out of the dryer after a wash but in just a couple hours will feel comfortable again. If you add inches to the waist, when they stretch they will get quite baggy.
Second with the length, I recommend +3 inches. They will seem quite long when you first buy them and try them on, but most of the shrinking occurs in the length. Three inches will ensure that they will be the correct length after shrinking them and you won’t have to tug on the inseam while they are wet to get the right length.
Another thing to remember is that 501 Shrink to Fits notoriously look slimmer than they feel. Keep this in mind, and try using a mirror or a trusted friend to judge how they look rather than just going on how they feel. They will also get slimmer with age so don’t give up on them too soon. Initial reports suggest that the new cut of the jean (since about summer 2008) is quite a bit slimmer even at the start; so if you haven’t tried the 501′s for a couple years, now may be a good time to try them again.
So check out the 501xx Sizing Tool and enjoy a new pair of perfectly fitted jeans!