There are times when my museum training gets me into trouble in vintage and secondhand shops; I forget that I’ve gone in for a bargain and, instead, start gathering pieces with the zeal of a curator crafting their next exhibition. There was the cream bridesmaid dress in bias-cut silk, for instance, which is still waiting in my wardrobe for the right occasion to be worn. And last week, in Covent Garden, I found a pair of vintage Levi’s 501s.
Why should I care so much about vintage Levi’s when I could go into the shop and buy new ones instead? Well, for starters, they’re half the price and double the quality. Levi’s used to be made in the US; the fabric is stronger, the colour is better and the sewing lines are much cleaner. Then I could go on about reusing clothes and boycotting fast fashion. These jeans were in such good condition that they looked and felt like they had hardly been worn. And this might have been because they were a ridiculously small size.
And that’s the mistake I made. I saw my size on the label, bought the jeans and only when I got home did I listen to all the YouTube thrifters who warn you that vintage Levi’s are much smaller than they are today. I pulled them on, held my breath, thought – mistakenly – that they would stretch. Within hours my organs were aching.
I had 2 choices: pass them on to the next secondhand shop and buy myself a modern pair of 501s or make a few alterations. I was seriously torn; I didn’t want to hack at a good pair of jeans but I couldn’t bear to part with them either. In the end the Levi’s website decided for me: 501s in my size and preferred colour were out of stock, so I took up my scissors.
You have 2 options when making jeans bigger: either cut the outside seams all the way from top to bottom and add a strip of fabric on both sides, or open the outside seams just to your hips and sew a triangular insert instead. I liked the way the jeans fitted on my legs, so I decided just to widen the waistband. I used denim to fit in with the overall structure of the garment but I chose some gold-painted fabric to make the inserts look more like intentional decoration.
Incidentally, I know where I’m going to wear that silk bridesmaid dress. I’ll pair it with a faux fur coat and head to the supermarket with my groceries list.