Denim Decoded: Finding the Perfect Vintage Pair with Emma Allen

Denim Decoded: Finding the Perfect Vintage Pair with Emma Allen

Few wardrobe staples are as deeply personal as denim—just ask, oh, any woman on the planet. While each of us has a pair of go–to blues that make us feel the most like ourselves, these influencers take jean obsession to the next level. All week long, we'll be sharing their stories (and closets, collections, and a lifetime of hard-earned frayed hems), so you'll be inspired to #LiveInDenim, too.

When we met Emma Allen at Brooklyn's 10 Ft Single by Stella Dallas (her favorite place to find vintage denim), she already had an armful of jeans that seemed to be the best in the whole place—turns out, they were. As a former vintage buyer and the co-founder of Fait La Force—a line of luxe, handmade accessories—Emma knows (more than) a thing or two about tracking down the most rare and collection–worthy pieces. From discerning the difference between Levi's and LEvi's to breaking down the meaning of a red and white inseam, we got the scoop on all things classic—denim from one of the industry's most in–the–know buyers.

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First thing's first: What's the #1 thing that any vintage novice should know about searching for the perfect denim piece?
"There are certain things that are always sort of gold standards in that world. For example, the Big E or redline in Levi's are key. Big E means that the "e" is capitalized, and those jeans were made before 1971. Of course, Levi's has started reproducing the Big E on special edition jeans, so check for a care tag. If you find one, then it's definitely a reproduction.

Another marker is the "redline" or selvage edge. If you check inside on the seam of the pants the edge of the fabric has a selvage edge (white with a red line through it) that is an indication that its pre–1980's. The selvage edge comes from denim woven on smaller looms where the fabric was less wide, and the selvage edge would be present on every piece...I know this is super geeky denim information, but I find it fascinating how aging vintage denim is sort of detectives work and there are all of these little ways to prove the age."

Anything we need to know about sizing? Or fit?
"Vintage Denim was made with "raw" denim that "shrinks to fit" over time so often the size that the tag states is a lot bigger than the actual size. Often vintage dealers will state the tag size as well as the actual measurements—which with older denim are usually a few inches smaller than the tag size because over time the denim shrinks."

Any tips for online perusers?
"I think that buying vintage denim online is actually really hard because there are so many subtleties to the way they fit. But Re/Done does an amazing job of preserving vintage denim and tailoring each piece for a more modern fit, so that’s one way to go!"

We've heard the wash of jean is especially important—why is that?
"When denim is truly old, like pre–1980's, you have denim that was made without fake fading, meaning it started out as a heavy, dark, original denim and was aged by being worn. You can really see the difference in the way denim ages naturally as opposed to than denim that is "aged" with sandblasters in a factory, and there's something really special about preserving the way that it looks and feels."

Ok, so once we've found the perfect pair, how can we get them tailored without losing the cool, vintage feel?
"I think that tailoring denim is really an art! Just make sure you trust your tailor and communicate about exactly what you want before making any cuts. I think it helps to use someone that specializes in denim so they'll be able to recreate an original–looking hem."

Photos: David M. Cortes

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