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The Quick and Dirty Levi’s Sizing Guide

Written by Kirk, Sunday, April 25th, 2010 in Fashion, The Style Guide

If you live in the United States, chances are you have purchased or know someone who have purchased Levi’s jeans. As one of the staple jean brands in the US, Levi’s seems like a relatively boring choice to be pro-fashion — but on the contrary, they are some of the best purchases you can make. Though they may not be as expensively branded as other jean brands, Levi’s are an absolutely wonderful start to any wardrobe — they are cheap, are available in a wide variety of fits, and best of all, are available in virtually any city and all over the place online.

With that being said, here is a quick and dirty Levi’s sizing guide, so you know what to look for if you ever feel like purchasing a pair.

The Basic Sizing Guide

levis jeans guide sizing 501 514 511 510 mens jeans

Click to Enlarge

Levi’s 501 (Original Jean)

Sometimes jokingly called the “Obama Jean” nowadays, 501s are the very classic Levi’s jean offering that has been around for virtually forever. 501s are as baggy as a fashionable person would ever want to go — they are relatively loose and relaxed and perfect for a look trying to exploit that, but really often too loose for most guys otherwise. Unless you have huge legs or are trying to pull off something retro (or just have no other choice), 501s are probably not an ideal choice.

Levi’s 514 (Slim Straight Jean)

These are pretty much the perfect balance between straight and skinny — 514s are neither skinny nor baggy straight, making them a “slim straight” that works fairly well for most people, particularly those with bigger thighs (i.e. weightlifters). 514s don’t work very well for those with super thin legs (they just manage to look baggy), but for those with muscle tone, 514s are a godsend.

Levi’s 511 (Skinny Jean)

The canonical “skinny jean”, though admittedly they are really only skinny in name. 511s differ from 514s in that they have a more drastic taper and try to achieve a more skin-tight look without trying to be too skin tight, making them a good choice for most guys with relatively thin legs. You can find a ton of variations on 511s, from ones with wild colors (like hot purple) to material additions (like spandex to make the jean material less constricting). These allegedly have a wider seat than the 514s (which is really not something I’ve personally seen), so be wary.

Levi’s 510 (Super Skinny Jean)

510s are the honest-to-god Levi’s skinny jean. These can look amazing on guys with very thin legs, or very horrible on guys with anything but slim legs — if you don’t know if you could wear these, chances are you shouldn’t wear them. 510s are skinny to the point where they look ridiculous unless you are skinny all throughout to the point of looking emaciated, so be careful — these are wonderful jeans only in the right hands.

Some General Tips

  • If you live in the United States, Levi’s can be purchased at a huge number of department stores. However, I personally feel one of the best options is the Amazon.com Levi store, which sells virtually all types of Levi’s for around $30/pair, which is an incredible steal.
  • Consequently, if you live in Europe or outside of the US, Levi’s will be much, much more expensive, and you may find a better brand. Be wary — this guide is really meant for American users, as Levi’s business model intentionally cuts the price of the jeans stateside.
  • As with virtually every other jean brand, waist size is directly correlated with the bagginess (or slimness) in the legs. Thus, focus on determining your waist size, and then experiment with the different styles listed above. You can have drastically different leg sizes and fits with a size 32 waist — some people can wear 510s with a size 32 waist, others have to go up to 514s, and so on.
  • In the slimmer cuts (particularly 510s and 511s), the waist can and likely will stretch ever so slightly, as will other parts of the jean if they are really tight. This is not to imply you want to buy jeans you have to use a shoehorn to get into, but in some cases small amounts of tightness in the waist fix themselves after a little bit of wear. The same rule applies to the thighs.
  • Darker wash Levi’s — particularly the raws (obviously) and the “rigid” brands — do develop fairly nice stacks, whiskering, and general signs of individual wear. Obviously, the “rigid” Levi’s are not going to develop effects as nice as raws, but it’s a great alternative.
  • No matter what people on other fashion websites/forums may say, there is no inherent status involved with waist size or the style of jeans you wear, pending they fit well. You don’t get fashion benefits for wearing 510s or anything like that.

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26 Responses to The Quick and Dirty Levi’s Sizing Guide

  1. Chronic says:

    I think you’re missing quite a few like all the 5×7 bootcuts.
    I personally wear a lot of bootcut jeans.

  2. wallaby says:

    I bought a pair of 514′s based on this guide. Thanks Kirk!

  3. Jordan says:

    Brotip: rigid isn’t raw by any means of the word. I had a coworker who used to work for Levi’s. She defined rigid as “overdyed”; nothing more than clever marketing.

    I also used to work at Urban Outfitters where we carried both rigid and non-rigid. You could not, for the life of you, tell the difference between the two. My friend also did some tests with washing, and he said that they hardly faded from a washing machine.

    Just my two cents.

  4. malevich says:

    You’re being ridiculous. Skinny jeans generally feel great worn, you’re nobody to be telling anyone what they shouldn’t be wearing something just because they don’t know yet. Go try one, and find out whether you’re comfortable in it.

  5. Drewnami says:

    Why aren’t other styles covered? Why not 550s, for example? This article definitely implies that relaxed cuts aren’t fashionable or “acceptable”. I’d appreciate a little coverage of different cuts of jeans.

    • Kirk says:

      As a quick reply to this comment, 550s (Relaxed fit jeans) are generally considered neither fashionable nor acceptable. The reason is fairly simple — even discounting the whole skinny-jean fad going on right now, fit is fairly important, and baggy jeans are pretty much shapeless. There’s nothing wrong with a straight legged jean, but anything much bigger is ridiculous (and proportionally unnecessary, as even the largest guys don’t need relaxed fit jeans).

      As for bootlegged stuff, they really don’t serve much of a purpose nowadays. The only boots that require larger legholes are cowboy boots (and perhaps certain brands of engineer/military boots), and those are rare.

      • Zach says:

        A lot of slip-on boots, like my red wings go great with the 527s. But you could always just cut slits on the bottom of jeans

  6. prince says:

    my question is why in levi’s there are no.s given to fits, instead of calling these fits boot cut, straight fit, skinny fit ect…. i would really appreciate
    if i get answere for this, will be waiting 4 reply i have already updated my
    e-mail id, waiting 4 valuable reply

  7. Brian says:

    Great guide thanks a lot. Used to wear 501′s without thinking until saw photo how wide they are in legs. Switched to 511′s & happy ever after :-)

  8. Norman says:

    Might be technical, but one of you guys might know. My favorite Levi’s, a 505 soft, faded sky blue, with both rear pockets mended by Denim Therapy, were brought about 20 yrs. ago. All measurements perfectly accurate. Label says “assembled in Mexico of fabric made in the US”. The fit is terrific, taut but not tight in the butt and front with no bunching at the fly, form fitting with the feel as if it were tailor made second skin. Walking in them is a pleasure. The same size jean of any type in the Levi line just does not have that bracing trimness. What happened to the cut?

  9. bla says:

    Uhh I don’t understand this guide at all. I think I’ll get the 501′s. Jokingly called the Obama jean? What?

  10. Anonymous says:

    What about the 520′s (Levi’s new “tapered” jeans)?

  11. Kirk says:

    Anonymous: My understanding of the new 520s is that they are essentially 511s or 510s with a larger thigh in order to give a deliberately slouchy look. I don’t exactly like the idea myself, but I’ve heard of some people (especially the squats & oats 514 crowd) love the jeans because they accomodate their proportions. I’m skeptical, but open to the idea.

    So tl;dr: I’d place them between 514s and 511s and recommend you try before you buy.

  12. Pingback: Levis 520s | Wellcultured

  13. gregmccord says:

    I bought some 520′s online based on a pair I have had for several years. The new ones are the stretch material and the calves are way tighter than my original pair. Other than that perfect fit. Is there any way to stretch the calves out…and make them stay that way?

  14. Anon says:

    I just bought a pair of 508 and noticed the back pocket tag is white with black letters rather than the usual red with white letters. What is the significance of that?

  15. Anon says:

    As always, it’s a question of taste. In my opinion. 501s are the most iconic and cool jeans to have been made EVER. Forget about fads and the well on-trend kids with their skinny jeans, they will pass. Bruce on the front cover of Born in the USA is pure fashion, or perhaps Ulterior looking like the coolest band in the world. Indie kids do not define fashion.

    While I’m on the subject of fashion, who the hell told Londoners that red trousers are acceptable. They are not.

  16. Bachelard says:

    Just happened across this and found it oddly misinformed. First of all, 501s are not baggy — unless you buy them that way. Levi’s has changed the dimensions of the jeans several times. I’ve been wearing them for 30 years and far from being baggy, they’ve always fit snug. Barack is obviously belting them at the “natural waist” and buying them big.

    I strongly disagree with the advice to buy Levi’s via Amazon.com. With the exception of a small, very costly line, all Levi’s are made in the third world now. There is no consistency in weight of fabric or fit. I bought two pairs of 501s through Amazon about a year ago and one pair, made in Mexico, fit great. The other was grossly oversized. I got two pairs of 514. Both from Mexico, too. I couldn’t button one pair, the other fits great. But the fabric on most of them is lightweight. I mean so light, they won’t last a year. The dark washes stay dark about two cold washings.

    There are numerous complaints about the decline in Levi’s quality on the Amazon site and independent “review sites” too.

    In fairness, though, this is a problem I find with just about anything I buy online now. Fit and quality are not standardized. I just bought a couple Penguin shirts and they feel like they were made out of wooly Guatemalan blanket material. I’m not kidding. I’ve shopped with Bonobos for years. Now I never know whether to order a 32, 33, or 34 waist.

    OK, I’ll stop. (Enjoy the site!)

  17. Anon says:

    @Kirk Good job on the guide but it is severely lacking. The 517′s and 527′s are great boot cuts that go great with a pair of Timberland’s or Doc Marten’s, a thick belt and flannel shirt. A nice rugged look. As for the comments about the 55x’s and 56x’s, if you think those jeans are baggy then you are sorely mistaken. I cite a company named JNCO that I’m slightly embarassed to admit got my money in exchange for their goods during high school. I’m a weightlifter myself and find the 514′s, 517′s, 501′s (everyone should own a pair imo) and 559′s are excellent fits that withstand fashion fads

    • Benny says:

      any other cheap jean model (regular fit & straight leg) that fit exactly, or very close to Levis 501?

    • Cindy says:

      This guide was perfect for the overwhelming task of jean shopping for a growing 12 year old. He fits perfectly and LOVES the 514. Thank you so much. We tried the others just to make sure and nope YOU WERE RIGHT!!!!!

  18. laura konard says:

    Hi and can anyone tell us….. we live in Paris and my husband just bought, for a small fortune, some really thick jeans that say 501 on the label. Having lived previously in the states and had 501s throughout my entire life, these seem far more slimmed down. The denim is really nice thick quality denim like they used to be years ago in the US but the fit seems different, more european contoured butt to leg, slimmer through hip and leg. Could it be the 501 europe is not the same as the 501 USA pattern? We are wondering what the 501 europe would then correspond to in the states as we would like to have a friend bring a couple pairs over if we can find the same fit but at more affordable US pricing. Thanks have always wondered this because we bought Levi’s in Switzerland 10 years ago and when I called the headquarters with the number off the label they could not find that style in their system and said Levi Europe was a different company.

    • laura konard says:

      Just re-reading and wanted to clarify when we returned with the jeans from Switzerland we could not find the same style number or fit in US and called Levi headquarters in San Francisco.

  19. Brian says:

    I’m hoping Levi will bring back my favorite 505 sits on waste jean that I’ve worn for 30plus years. I can’t stand having to pull up my pants everytime I stand up. I’m to the point where I would pay the $250 for cone selvedge made in the USA but can’t seem to be able to find that in any store.

  20. Jim Hart says:

    Buying two pair of Levis per year for 60 years equals 120 pairs–I’m 71. Up to the age of eleven my mother bought my clothes and in jeans it was Sears & Roebuck ‘whatevers’ and nothing to give the feeling that you’re a man. So when I got an allowance it was Lee Riders the first time out and the second time it was Levis and has been since. Some people pray first thing in the day, but my best help is the feeling that I can handle anything as long as I’m wearing my jeans.

  21. Joe says:

    I wear 508s and 511s, I’m from England and these are expensive over here but last year in San Francisco I took my dad to buy new jeans, he chose 501s, typical ‘dad’ jeans but they are pretty cool! Much better than the shite you have to buy over here.

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