Buying second-hand US-made Levi’s

Friday, August 25th 2023
||- Begin Content -||

Getting good mid-blue jeans can be tricky, given the prevalence of raw denim among most high-end makers we cover. Several do offer washes - like Orslow and Full Count - but the range and therefore the choice is usually less. 

Plus of course that’s the very top quality, which isn’t what everyone wants or can afford. The mid-market for jeans can often be a bit more confusing in terms of quality and service. 

For both those reasons, I thought it was worth highlighting another option, which is nineties Levi’s bought second-hand, on eBay or elsewhere. 

This era of Levi’s jean was usually made in the US, and used rather better quality denim than modern ones. Not better than the high-end repro brands, or the Levi’s sub-label LVC (Levi’s Vintage Clothing). But they’re much cheaper, and LVC looks like it won’t be around much longer anyway. 

It’s the price, and therefore the value, that’s the kicker. A pair of nineties Levi’s in a good vintage store might be £80 or £100 - around the same as modern Levi’s, but better quality. 

However, if you’re prepared to spend a bit of time (and go through some trial and error) on eBay, then you can pick them up for £30 or £40. 

Here’s how to find them and how to identify them.

How to search, with eBay as the example:

  • Search for Levi’s Made in USA and the style, eg 501
  • Refine for just men's, then by your waist size and colour
  • Refine by condition to ‘Used’ assuming you don’t want new-old stock
  • Refine to ‘Buy it now’ unless you don’t mind going through an auction. In which case, good to sort by ‘Ending soonest’ so you prioritise those
  • Compare the provided measurements with what you need (based off measuring your own jeans) 
  • Find the fade you like best with decent measurements, and give them a go

Bear in mind that:

  • Some of these were usually shrink to fit, so the marked size and the actual dimensions will differ, and not by the same amount each time. Go off the measurements provided, and keep in mind with searching that they might have been tagged with either the marked or the actual size
  • 501s don’t vary too much in the cut in this period (close hips, straight leg) but they do vary in the rise, so keep an eye on that
  • Most sellers offer returns, but not all. Worth making sure they do given you’re trying jeans sight unseen
  • Some sellers sell jeans with an ‘example’ wash, because they have a whole load and don’t want to shoot each one. It’s a minority, but again keep an eye out
  • If there are other styles you prefer, eg 505 for a bigger size through the hips, use that instead
  • People listing sometimes make mistakes, sometimes just include things in a variety of categories to try and catch as many eyeballs as possible. These need to be weeded out

Some general tips:

  • It cuts down time enormously when you find a seller on eBay that has a lot of what you’re after. Eg ‘Holdwest’ in the UK is good for this era of jeans
  • Searches can be very text specific, eg ‘Made in US’ brings up a lot less than ‘Made in USA’. It can take some time to work out the wording people mostly use
  • Watch out for typos. Sometimes searching ‘Lewis’ rather than Levi’s brings up something interesting. Although it happens more for obvious typos, like ‘Loro Piano’
  • Save your search so you can go back to it easily, and you can set up alerts if there’s nothing that hits what you want exactly

How to identify the jeans:

Once you find a pair of 501s, these are the kinds of things to look for in the images (or when you receive them) to make sure you’re getting the real thing. So look at:

  • The label inside, which will say whether they were made in the USA
    • The red 'bat wing' also shows they were made after 1986, which is all of what we're looking at
  • The other side of the label, which has a whole lot of numbers and information. These can help identify lots of different things about the jeans, and can help pin down the rise. But then you can tell that from the measurements - the one you can’t see otherwise is the date:
    • This is expressed as two, three or four numbers, representing the month and the year. See image below. 
    • Most of these will run from the nineties into the early 2000s. Anything before that gets a bit nicer but probably more expensive
  • The patch on the waistband, purely for the ‘XX’ that indicates the denim. They usually are, but the XX indicates a better denim and was usually shrink to fit. 
  • Don’t worry about the selvedge, as the quality for made in the USA was pretty consistent
  • Equally the stamp on the back of the button can tell you where they're made, but you only really need this if the label is unreadable

I’ve bought one pair of nice 501s through this method, for £39, and have another I bought in Japan for twice that, featured recently here

They’re not as nice as any of my older vintage Levi’s (60s, 70s). They’re not as nice quality denim as my washed Full Count jeans. But they’re a better cut that the Full Count, a better wash than most mid-blue jeans out there, a better fit (for me) than pretty much all of them, and cheap enough that I won’t mind if I find a better-quality pair in a year or two. 

Also, I’m happy spending that amount again on getting them altered, somewhere like Blackhorse Lane. Usually I find I need to be a little bit big on the waist in order to get the best fit through the hips and thighs, so I have them taken in by an inch or so.

I spoke to both denim experts and serial eBay shoppers for this piece, but I’m sure there are still things I’ve missed or even got wrong. In either case please leave a comment below and I’ll update accordingly. For everyone else, happy hunting. 

A couple of more in-depth articles, should you want to dive deeper:

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Reading the labels carefully oneBay is essential.
My bargain “Waterford” crystal vase turned out to be “Watford” crystal!


Amazing article.

I would be grateful if you and/or readers could help me to identify whether this is legitimate 70s Levis…

Peter Hall

Label knowledge is vital as it is still possible to find a bargain on sites (Vinted for example) where sellers might not have the knowledge of the ebay commercial communities.

Peter Hall

What would you say your EBay ‘success ‘rate was Simon?

I have quite short legs, so not physically seeing them is always a risk.

My son,who is lean and tall, is much better sourcing denim-although he prefers the baggy,skater look where fit is not quite as important.

Robert M

“Although it happens more for obvious typos, liked ‘Loro Piano’” – is this a little joke hidden in there? 🙂

Robert M

I was referring to ‘liked’, but I guess it wasn’t intentional!


I recently picked up a 90s Burberry trench coat on eBay and I wish I had a comprehensive guide on one place like this one, as I spent a lot of time researching labels and materials to be sure I wasn’t getting some kind of ripoff.
I would agree with all of the tips that apply to generic eBay purchases like having returns, big store with good (and recent!!!!) ratings, or the shop having a lot of what you are looking for.


So how would you rate the current Levi 501s in the shops? There seems to be a lot “worn in”, ripped and patched versions across the range, even the “vintage” 54s. I bought the dark indigo rinse 54s as the light indigo were too “worn in” and had a few holes on the front.

John-Bryan Hopkins

Like minds. I spent some time just yesterday looking for a good worn pair of blue 501’s on eBay. I also like vintage white 501s stf jeans. They have become one of my favorite basics to wear.

John-Bryan Hopkins

I would love to read what your experience with tailoring vintage worn 501’s. I know personally that if done right you get a real worn look and a feel like none other if done right.


I’ve picked up a couple of cracking pairs over the past few months exactly this way. Hope it doesn’t become impossible now you’ve tipped everyone off about it! (Kidding obviously, I know eBay is hardly a secret.)
Out of interest do you or any other readers have any tips for how to fade a pair of raw jeans down to mid blue? I’ve had a few pairs of Nudie or LVC over the years, and the lower part of the legs has always stayed pretty dark, even when the thighs are quite faded and they’re wearing through at the seams. I’d love to be able to get a pair of raw jeans to end up looking like this:
comment image?v=1576127770
but have never succeeded. Do you just have to wash them more frequently than people typically suggest you do, or wear them for actual outdoor work?


Makes sense, thanks

Chris A

Don’t turn them inside out when washing them. Wash them often, once a week. Tumble dry (inside out because otherwise you can get nasty lines). That way you’ll get vintage fades on raw denim. But then some producers are harder to get nice fades. In my opinion Warehouse gets the best fades if you don’t want extreme 00s fades but nice vintage ones.

Chris A

I agree Simon. First couple of washes inside out then just throw them in the washing machine whenever you need to wash ‘em

Sander Lindholm

Great article Simon! Very useful. I would like to see more of these on vintage clothing and how to select for quality, models, and fit. Perhaps a bit nieche, but I would especially like one on buying vintage Barbours, and how to identify year of production, model, ect. based on labels.


I’ll second a request for an article on buying and dating vintage Barbours, from you or from someone else who has expertise on this.

Aaron Lavack

Oh dear – that’s a big rabbit hole. I bought four last year and am happy with one. I spent countless hours scouting message boards and puzzling out Japanese videos. After all that Even that will need to be posted to the uk for repairs…from New Zealand 😭
The big tips – don’t buy anything with the barbour logo stitched onto the pocket. Always ask about smell (people talk about patina and barbours being tough coats – but once the rot sets in there’s nothing you can do- so play it safe). Always check the pit to cuff measurement.
Choosing the right model is pretty personal, but I’ve found the Beaufort easiest to wear with tailoring. Oh – don’t buy the liners. There are better ways to get the extra warmth if you need it, and the old button on ones aren’t that secure.


I definitely agree with your opening statement…that getting a good pair of (well fitting) mid-blue or washed jeans in the current market is not easy.

I will hopefully be picking up a pair of washed Lot 1’s in a couple of weeks. The fit should be great but they won’t have the fades that you see in the photos. This is an aspect that I was fully aware of but it was the lighter coloured wash that I really wanted. I think the mid to light blue opens up other colour combo’s in an ensemble in general, rather than always staying with dark blue.

We’ll see how they work out.


For comparison with vintage 501s, I’d be interested to read comments on the quality and fit of jeans offered British-made brands. Patrick Grant’s Community Clothing has recently restocked its range of Selvedge jeans, including a heavy wash fade. £99 seems very good value if the quality of the denim is on a par with other British brands.

Blackhorse Lane Atelier, Hiut and use Candiani’s Italian selvedge denim. Some comments (e.g. comparison with Japanese, Turkish and American mills) on that would be useful. BLA is now using denim woven in Spain too. Any thoughts on that too?


Candiani denim is everywhere here in Italy, used by most brands that sell jeans, and personally I think it makes for good dress shirts (actual dress shirts, not western) and terrible jeans.
As you said, way too smooth and light.


Hi Simon, in terms of materials used, how USA made 501’s compare to present day Lot 1’s?

Dr Peter

As a general strategy, I prefer to go to second-hand shops (Goodwill, here in the US, various community thrifts like St Vincent de Paul) to look for denim jeans. One can check labels, see whether it is US -made, and try the pair on in a dressing room. Pretty much like buying clothes the old-fashioned way, except that the prices are very often under $10. I have had lovely fades, good fits, and little shrinkage after washing. And if something turns out unsatisfactory after purchase, one can always re-donate.
For me, eBay involves far too much work and far too many places in which I could go wrong with a purchase. The only downside of my strategy is that you may have to search for some time to find the pair you want. But then, once you have, say, two to four pairs of jeans that are satisfactory based on all your criteria, what need is there to hunt for more?

Aaron Lavack

Most of the world’s population sadly doesn’t live in the US. Our vintage shopping options are expensively digital 😭😭. Spent a year in Toronto and took the route you described. There’s just not that option in the antipodes though.

Dr Peter

I do understand! Indeed, we have a surfeit of thrift shops selling jeans, so we are fortunate here in this country. I wish it were otherwise elsewhere. If you do have reason to visit the States, then perhaps you could combine that visit with a shopping trip to thrifts, ideally in a larger city.

Lindsay McKee

I agree. A little bit like a fine art auction. I like to see (preview) the goods in person if possible… that’s why I don’t use eBay or similar websites. If I make a purchase online,it will be from a proper online clothing shop or better,if possible,come to town and see the apparal for myself and buy in the shop itself. Buying second hand, sight unseen is not my way.

Dr Peter

Excellent points. I used to shop on eBay but after a hacking experience some years ago, I stopped most of my online purchases on larger sites, and now confine myself to ordering specific items from carefully selected online shops. Dependence on the seller’s description of an item can sometimes be quite risky. And even colour photographs can (often unintentionally) deceive!


Is there a significant difference between the quality of the made in USA and the made in UK 501s from this period?


The UK 501s were made in Dundee. There were big Levi and Timex factories in the city in the 80s.


Hi Simon,

Slightly unrelated but after a probable 15 year + hiatus I bought myself a pair of Incotex denim jeans in Florence a few weeks ago. Came to the eventual conclusion that late 50’s isn’t too old to wear jeans. Btw the denim is so beautiful and soft and I am really pleased with the fit. Not that it matters but I do feel younger wearing them. Question what is your view if any regarding wearing or not wearing a belt with jeans. Thanks and hope you enjoy your Summer Bank Holiday weekend.


Why do you think the LVC line is likely to be wrapped up? I thought it was quite succesful


Hi Simon. I take the Levi’s 505 in a 40×32 size, but of course they are not cuffed. Should I be looking at 40×34 instead if I want to cuff them? Many thanks.

Aaron Lavack

I recall in one of your early articles you mentioned a pair of full count jeans. How did they age? Or did the fit not work out over time?

Aaron Lavack

P.s. I’ve been hoping for this article!! Thanks!!!


Hi Simon, nice post! Generally I have issues with getting used jeans in a good fit – I am tall and slim, and if the waist fits; the rise is too short, and vice versa. I am assuming this is the case due to the denim shrinking progressively through washing over a long period of time. I really like the fit of those in the picture at the top of the post… Would it be possible to provide your measurements and those of these jeans to give some perspective? And would you advise buy bigger (with a higher rise) and having them altered? Thanks!


Great – that’s very helpful, thanks. If that’s the case, can you advise which design / model no. / era I should be targeting for a similar rise height?

Zach S

As somoeone who frequently needs trousers 4 inches too big in the waist to fit elsewhere, and usually needs a minimum of 2 inches/one size up, I’ll second that. Really want to avoid any drastic alteration, it can make things weird.
Amusingly I did grab some real mccoys chinos off Marrkt that are only about an inch too big recently. That was very pleasing, haven’t even bothered altering.

Sam M

This is exactly how I buy washed look jeans. The other jeans I have are raw selvedge (Japanese) other than the Uniqlo Helmut Lang ones which I have in 2 colors since they are my ideal fit. I got several big E Levi’s at decent prices.


beautiful jacket in the last photo, could you link the fabric/tailor please?


Hi Simon, could I ask what your thoughts are on the Warehouse version of the washed jeans?

Many thanks,


Yes, you are right they are pretty wide in terms of fit. I was wondering if you have seen their wash in person? If so, would you say they have quite a similar quality of wash to Full Count’s and Orslow’s?


If the 501s from the 90s don’t have xx on the tan would you still recommend them?


Simon, less denim, more chinos, and more proper trousers please. I appreciate your passion, but lets keep things sartorial thanks.
Lets leave the Victorian trousers in the past mate. Lets embrace the developments of 20th Century trousers with drape, pleats, braces and trousers that sit on the natural waist.


Hi Simon, hahaha I tried. I know you have, and I also know your in a casual moment of your menswear journalism career. I disagree that jeans are more modern then “tailoring” which I assume means trousers cut with pleats and braces, but I know they “feel” more modern and this is the aesthetic you’ve taken to. For what it’s worth I think your wearing them well, but I do wish we could bring back old Simon who lived in a shirt and tie and enjoyed the thrill of punchy menswear once again. Maybe by 2025 he will return? Fingers crossed!
All the best, Ivan


A very nice article since i never ordered jeans from ebay before and ill give it a try for sure since my body type is very easy to fit a pair of jeans. I noticed you mention high end jeans brands a lot but what about your bespoke levis jeans ? Do you still wear them ? If not why ? After so many years and experience what would you do different if you were to make a bespoke pair now ?

Paul Buttenhoff

Hi Simon,

Great content as usual. What’s happening to the LVC brand? I have a pair of 1954 501s that are my favorite pair of blue jeans.
For those that may not want to buy vintage, I find the current repro of the ’93 to be a good fit with a pretty high rise. I bought them in black, they do offer a “medium” wash.


That’s really a shame. Recently got a Vintage 1976 reproduction in selvedge denim (lovely quality) from them on Vinted for a small buck. They’re my favorite jeans because of fit and the insane mid blue wash. Sad to hear they’re not continuing the production, especially since Levi’s has such a great history!!


For those in the UK looking for washed selvedge jeans, I can recommend the company ‘Community Clothing’. They manufacture in the UK too.


I could never bring myself to wear somebody else’s trousers.


Great and helpful article, Simon. Thanks for that. I´m also one of the guys who doesn´t want to spend a fortune on jeans but is looking for a nice comfortable fit that can also be worn with a jacket for example.
Which model by Levi´s would you suggest for someone with a rather slim physique but prominent seat (and hips) and strong thighs due to lots of sprinting and squatting?


Thank you, Simon.


Been reading PS for a couple years now. While I absolutely love reading about the quality, craftsmanship, and care in clothing that is always presented here (its why I read almost every post!), I am hugely pleased to read this post which really highlights accessible value in a wardrobe staple, and the practical means of getting it.
I think you touched on accessible value in the post on walking vintage shops with Oliver and Carl of Rubato, and how that’s really what the joy and value of thrifting is. That really resonated with me as a man with several saved searches in ebay.
Now have a new saved search, as finding jeans that are well proportioned for your frame is very difficult but critical for a well presented appearance.
I know that this level of thriftyness isn’t necessarily in line with the luxury menswear world, but as evidenced by Brycelands and Rubato, I think it’s clear that the manufacturing and style of vintage garments actually is the genesis of the brand new luxury garments of today. As such, please consider keeping this content coming!
Warm regards,


Enjoying Styling my The Real McCoy’s washed mid-blue jeans w/ my Warehouse Lot 4053 Japanese T-Shirt –


What would you make of XX 90’s 501s that weren’t made in the US?

Rowan Morrison

Hi Simon, I recently bought a par of 90s 501s on eBay after reading this guide, and am happy with them. The one surprise however was that the patch label on the rear is clearly made of paper/card, rather than leather as I was expecting. Was this normal for the time? My understanding from something I’d read a long time ago (and can’t remember where) was that they have always been leather until recently. Equally perplexing is that the label seems to have torn slightly from just a couple of goes in my washing machine, after having apparently survived all the way through from the 90s.

El Loco Taquito in Texas c

Levi’s have become poor quality of late. Look at the rivets. Most so called designer jeans have rivets that are not functional and will pop off. If you want a substantial pair of jeans, buy Wranglers or Lee. You won’t get a Levi label, but you’ll get a good pair of jeans that will hold up to usage. (Also Costco and their Kirkland brand are well constructed, don’t know who makes them though.)
If you just want to show off, go ahead and buy those cheaply made Levi’s. If you want jeans to work in, look at the rivets.


Hi Simon,

This article helped me get a great pair of black Levis for £40 (£90 if you include the alterations) so thank you for that. They aren’t the xx denim but are 90s Levis with a great fade and high rise at 12″ – exactly what I was after.

A quick Q on maintenance / care of the vintage Levis – I’ve recently washed a couple of mid blue vintage pairs I have for the first time. Both had small clean tears which I really liked the look of but the tears have increased slightly with the wash and now with noticeable fraying around the edges and I’m just concerned this will get worse with each wash. I followed the standard precautions (inside out, 40 degree, gently spin etc) so just wondering if you have any similar issues or advice based on your experience with vintage jeans? In general do you wash all of your clothes on a delicate cycle to be safe or just items that specify gentle washing?

Many thanks and enjoy Pitti!



Do stone washed jeans take away the uniqueness of vintage jeans? And are they a better match with a jacket?


Most of the Levis made in the USA on eBay are described as stonewashed rather than natural fade. Was it like this when you purchased yours?


Any second hand denim is better than the current Jeans with Spandex. Sorry, but I just loath the stretch, I like my jeans to fit me snug but not tight. I like the feel of some compression and support the 100% Cotton jean gives to my nether regions. There’s nothing more comfortable than the feeling of a clean pair of snug fitting 100% Cotton jeans just off the clothes line or out of the dryer against my body giving me compression and support. The current Jeans being manufactured are forms of garbage denim, these fabric blends are imposters, it is not real denim. It should be illegal to market and label it as a denim jean.


Hi Simon
Do you still wear your leather Edward green loafers? Are they too smart for mid blue jeans and workwear chinos


Thanks. I’m struggling with a decision not to buy them. But I find that if I’m in flannels now it’s for a nice occasion, when it’s just as well to wear sleek brogues or black loafers

Rest of the time in jeans and chinos it seems more like alden or C&J Harvard level of formality.

Makes me miss the days of working in tailored trousers!


How do you wash these vintage Levis jeans? The label says wash and tumble dry in hot water. But I typically wash clothes in cool (30 degrees) and hang dry. I’m not sure which method to follow.