You asked for it: The best places to buy vintage jeans. “A tall order,” is what they call this. I can tell you where I’ve had the best luck – at What Goes Around Comes Around in Los Angeles, which I drove to immediately after Jessica de Ruiter told me that’s where she found all of her favorite 501s (including the ones she wore for our shoot). Did I have Jessica’s luck finding the perfect pair there? I totally did…and then I wore them when Claiborne Swanson Frank photographed Florence and me (click here for a look). No big deal. But yeah, they are that good.
So, why not ask all of the women who’ve worn vintage jeans on the site where they go, I thought, when faced with the challenge of even just scratching the surface on the subject? Don’t we all want to own pairs as good as Annina Mislin’s and Camilla Engstrom’s? If you’re like me, you love the look of a well-worn jean, but you don’t necessarily enjoy the hunt as much as Hillary Justin of Bliss and Mischief, who offers tips below on how to tackle L.A.’s largest gold mine for vintage, the Rose Bowl Flea, does. A well-curated shop with excellent service is as good a find as the softest, lightest-blue Lee jacket, I think.
Confession: this list is L.A.-and-N.Y.-centric. Which is why we want you, fellow denimheads, to tell us where you shop for vintage jeans in the comments section (please!). And, why I did a little online digging, too (see the Get The Look for finds from Florence’s favorite resource – Urban Outfitter’s Urban Renewal shop – and one-of-a-kind Miu Mius from Jesse Kamm’s secret spot, Collection in Los Angeles, for example). A great pair well-loved denims really can be yours to love even more if you know just where to look for them…
“It’s a strange little shop. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, or the inside really, but they have a great selection of vintage denim (and vintage tees) at extremely reasonable prices,” says Kate Brien of the style blog (and Instagram sensation) View From the Topp. “It’s definitely not on many people’s radars, so there isn’t much competition when sifting through the goods. My favorite thing about the shop, though, is that if you mention to the owner something specific that you’re looking for, it will usually be on the racks the following week. I don’t know if I’ve ever left there empty handed!” Here is Kate in some of her Animal House scores, as seen @viewfromthetopp:
From left: “A white pair that I cut off at the bottom; a darker pair that have the absolute best fit; and a baggy pair with some holes in the knees that are perfectly worn in all the right places.”
66 Windward Avenue, Venice, CA 90291; 310-392-5411.
JESSICA DE RUITER
WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND, Los Angeles
“WGACA is my go-to. Hands down,” says stylist Jessica de Ruiter. “I have scored perfectly fitting 501s [such as, the ones she’s wearing above] there, all cropped above the ankle, fitted through the hip and bum, yet loose on the leg in all the right places. The shopping experience is so great because you can go in, tell the staff exactly what fit and color you are looking for, and they will bring you a stack of five pairs at a time to try. On several occasions I have found pairs in the first few tries, which is unheard of when shopping for vintage jeans!”
159 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, 90036; 323-933-0250; whatgoesaroundnyc.com.
10 FT. SINGLE BY STELLA DALLAS
“I love it for its large selection. I’m mostly in the back looking for men’s pant and jackets,” says hus-hus.com founder Camilla Engstrom. “I once bought a great pair of hand-painted blue Levi’s there for $125. Someone painted an apple-shaped rainbow on the back pocket and the word ‘mommy’ on the front of the right leg, and the left leg is covered in a few washed out marijuana leaves. I wear them with my hand-embroidered vintage shirt ($675), that I wore for my Jean Stories shoot – and that you can get on my site!”
285 N. 6th Street, Brooklyn, 11211; 718-486-9482.
“More than just clothes, I’ve found a lot of denim fabric swatches at Mister Freedom, and a lot of those swatches are what we’ve used to create the standards for my line,” says 6397‘s Stella Ishii. “I don’t want to spoil the fun – to each his own, you just have to go check it out.”
7161 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, 90036; 323-653-2014; misterfreedom.com.
ROSE BOWL FLEA
“Even if I didn’t live in L.A., I would pick the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena,” says Hillary Justin, who is a former vintage seller and now designs Bliss and Mischief (worn by Jane, above). “It’s amazingly reliable for finding denim, and full of unexpected gems.” In fact, many of the pairs that Hillary embroiders for her line are found at this flea. Her greatest discoveries? “A paint-splattered and destroyed pair of super-slouchy vintage 501s. They were in the last row of the very back section folded up on the ground. $15. I also found my most treasured pair there – very old Wranglers that had been hand-stitched and patched all over with different scraps of denim. I initially bought them to resell, but then I tried them on… and I’m so glad I did!”
Does she have any tips on how to tackle the market? “It’s huge, so for denim, head straight to the back, to the White Section. Wear a dress so you can try pairs on, or bring a measuring tape – vintage labels can’t be trusted. Go early to beat the heat, dress in layers, and buy a cart with wheels when you get in. When you’re digging for denim at the Rose Bowl, comfort is key! “
1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena, 91103; second Sunday of every month; rgcshows.com
“They haven’t been open long, but I have already found two great pairs of Levi’s there,” says designer Jesse Kamm. “Elizabeth [Parks Kibbey], the shopkeeper, is amazing. She has my style dialed in, and she always has great pieces pulled aside for me when I call and let her know I am coming by. It is a beautiful store, and the prices are very reasonable.”
1282 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, 90026; collectiononline.us.
“In L.A. and San Francisco. I have been shopping there for 15 years. I once found a perfect Esprit denim jacket in the L.A. store, which I [accidentally] left in a hotel room in Paris eight years ago. My greatest find was a pair of rasberry-colored Bongo jeans, I have no idea where those babies ended up, come to think of it. I always have good luck in the men’s section – blazers, button downs, and hats are always a hit. And while we are on the subject, I found my husband a perfect YSL three-piece suit in the S.F. store once. $35. Deal of the century!”
Los Angeles: 7428 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, 90046 and 1330 4th Street, Santa Monica, 90401
San Francisco: 1660 Haight Street, San Francisco, 94117; go to shopwasteland.com.
URBAN OUTFITTERS’ URBAN RENEWAL
“I’ve said it before: I am a lazy vintage shopper,” says Jean Stories’ cofounder and editorial director Florence Kane. “The hunt does not thrill me. My vintage denim is vintage because I bought it new and kept it so long. So when a store – whether it’s a small boutique or a mega-brand – takes it upon itself to curate a selection of pre-loved jeans, I’m in. Late one night while working on a Jean Stories post I decided to finally buy a pair of vintage Levi’s 517s from urbanoutfitters.com (I’d seen them a bunch of times, but had never pulled the trigger). Urban, as we called it back in my day as an NYU kid, sources old pairs and changes them up a bit – with paint splatters, shredding, or even an exposed fly. The ones I went for have slits at the knees. And, they were $59. I resolved that if I didn’t like them, I would send them back or donate them to our Jean Stories denim library (yes, we have one). But they arrived and they were great; a little tight, maybe, but oh, how that 100% cotton stretches out perfectly as the day goes on. The hem hits at just the right ankle-baring spot (see Jessica de Ruiter’s jeans as an example). It was a score, and I barely had to lift my finger – literally! – from my laptop.”
FOOTHILL FIVE 50
Los Angeles stylist Annina Mislin has the best-kept secret: “Just outside of Los Angeles, Foothill Five 50 primarily sells mid-century modern furniture (on a one-acre lot!). But inside, stashed away at the very back of the space, there are stacks and stacks of vintage Levi’s,” she says. “It takes some patience to filter through, but the pay-off is worth it. I scored a great pair of oversized 501s – super washed-out and broken-in…a bit baggy at the waist. I like wearing them with my dad’s old black leather belt…helps to hold them up and cinch them in.”
550 West Foothill, Glendora, 91741; 626-676-9401
Photograph by Taylor Jewell
“It’s a bit of a gamble with sizing, but I find it’s still such a goldmine for really nicely worn-in jeans,” says Vogue.com‘s fashion news director Chioma Nnadi. “I scored the patched jacket I wore on Jean Stories on eBay (above), and I found my favorite pair of mid-waisted cropped leg Levi’s there, too.”
“In terms of brick and mortar, I love Stella Dallas in Brooklyn. I found the best pair of patchwork denim shorts there, and a great paint-splattered pair, too, which I love. They’re great for overalls, also. I have a white pair from there that I wore all summer long. I love the shopping experience at Stella Dallas because as much as there really are piles and piles of stuff, it’s all meticulously organized, and all the rare vintage treasures they have hanging from the rafters are good eye candy, too. Even if those piece are not for sale, they’re good for ideas.”
218 Thompson Street, New York, 10012; 212-674-0447.
WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND, New York
“Honestly, I love the thrill of the hunt, but when I’m looking for something specific and don’t have time to scour thrift stores and dig through piles at flea markets, I’ll stop by What Goes Around Comes Around,” says style.com’s fashion market director Rachael Wang. “I’ve scored a pair of sky-blue Orange Tab Levi’s 684 bell bottoms there…the perfect boyish redline Levi’s 501s…and some great shredded cutoffs over the past ten or so years I’ve been shopping there. It’s amazing if you really appreciate the old stuff. They stock groovy time capsule pieces, like bell bottoms and colored high-waisted Lee corduroys, but they also have plenty of classic 80s and 90s Levi’s 501s and cutoffs. They also have a good selection of denim jackets that can go back as far as the 50s, if you stop by on a good day. That said, the really special vintage pieces you happen upon in this store are priced accordingly, so don’t expect a bargain.”
351 West Broadway, New York, 10013; 212-343-1225; whatgoesaroundnyc.com