Let’s Give It A Try: The TBTYH Levi’s Shrink-To-Fit Process

One of my resolutions for 2012 is to never buy pre-distressed jeans.  I haven’t bought any jeans with distressing in a while, but I’ve drawn a line in the sand.  My head feels much clearer.

After a long search for the right jeans, I have settled on Levi’s 501s as my go-to style.  501s are great, but as you know, there are the regular 501s and the Shrink-to-Fit models.  I’ve never had the STFs, but decided to give them a try.  Tommy over at TBTYH has the official and accepted shrink-to-fit process, so with apologies to him, I tried it myself:

The reference material and the jeans.

Notice that the length is extremely long – this is because you can expect some shrinkage.  With the TBTYH process, expect the legs to shrink up a couple inches.  I kept my usual waist after confirming that with Tommy and a few others that had gone through the process.  Knowing they would still be too long, I expected to take them to my tailor to have them shortened after the STF process was complete.  I’d rather eat that cost and have the right length…

The whole STF process is based on getting them wet, and how they are dried.  First step – turn them inside-out.  This will reduce the amount of dye that is diluted during the soaking.

Tommy’s process calls for hot water, but I didn’t want the waist to shrink, so I used cold water.  I let them soak for about an hour and a half, making sure they stayed submerged the entire time.

After the soaking, I let them drip-dry for another hour.  Tommy is right – they weighed a ton.  There was a steady drip of water for at least 45 minutes – it was like watching a soaked sponge drip.

After the dripping essentially stopped, I did the ‘drying Levi’s sandwich’, which consists of laying the jeans inside out between two towels and walking over the towels to help remove more moisture.  Turn the jeans right-side out and repeat.  This also straightens out the jeans for their overnight dry.  Notice above how the hems are starting to shrink – the inseam had started pulling up as well.  I hung them back up on the same hanger on the shower head and left them for a day.

After 24 hours, they were 99% dry.  I put them on and wore them around the house for an hour or so, and was surprised at how well they fit.   They were extremely rigid, but loosened as I wore them.

I took them to the tailor and had them hemmed to the appropriate length.  I’ve worn them a couple times since getting them back; here’s what they look like today:

Awesome color.  They look like real jeans.

An un-shrunk hem.

Notice the natural ‘whiskers’ starting to form only after a couple wears.

I’m really happy with the jeans.  I did find them on sale for $19 at TJ Maxx and spent $10 getting them hemmed, so even if they didn’t turn out well, it’s not a huge loss.  Luckily, these turned out great.  I’ll post updates every few months, as I’m anxious to see how they age.

On to the next pair…I found these grey-green STF 501s last week for $19 at TJ Maxx.

Bonus points: They had a few other pairs of 501 Shrink-to-Fits in an awesome dark brown/tobacco color at TJ Maxx, but they didn’t have them in my size.  If anyone finds a 34×36 or 34×38 in the dark brown/tobacco color, let me know.

Special thanks to Tommy at TBTYH for pioneering this science project…



  1. Scott W.
    02/20/2012 / 8:59 AM

    You can tumble them in the dryer on the no heat setting to get them to soften up quicker.

  2. William Goodman
    02/20/2012 / 10:11 AM

    This may be too much to detail in a comment, but where do you get most of your pants? I’m the same size and length as you and have a terrible time finding pants. Got some suggestions for pants for tall guys?

  3. Chris C.
    02/20/2012 / 3:38 PM

    What’s your plan on washing? (if at all) Also, how much shrink did you get in the length post soak?

  4. AJ
    02/20/2012 / 10:40 PM

    They look great. Any idea what the name of that color is?

  5. tim
    02/21/2012 / 9:16 AM

    You missed out on the best part. That is putting them on raw and wearing them in the tub so they shrink to fit your body.

    Admittedly, this is usually a better summertime activity because when you’re exiled from the house because you’re dripping indigo dye everywhere the warm summer air is much more forgiving.

  6. Tyler
    02/21/2012 / 11:35 AM

    great jeans but i cant stand the button fly, they always get in the way at the bar hah

  7. steve roberts
    05/23/2012 / 9:28 PM

    How much did yours shrink in the inseam?

  8. Brian
    11/02/2012 / 12:45 AM

    So with cold water, you didn’t get much waist shrinkage? How about the inseam?

  9. 05/27/2013 / 4:47 AM

    I like to put my shrunken jeans in the dryer after the stf process. Depending how they fit I use a low setting or higher setting. The trick is to take them out of the dryer when they are 3/4 dry. Then wear them also long as possible.

  10. DixieWrecked
    03/04/2014 / 9:40 PM

    I’m 6’5 and was a 501 original fit guy from way back. I wear a hemmed 36×36 to 35in. I bought my first STFs, 36×38, and followed the guide.

    Thanks for the waist to fit tip. The waist shrunk, but it’s not uncomfortable. The problem is the length. The length did shrink by 2 inches, I measured the inseam before and after (38″ to 36″), but I still wound up with 2 inches of excess inseam that needs to be hemmed. I am not a cuff guy. The STFs are baggier, which is not a problem for me, I was just hoping for more length shrinkage. The next pair of STFs will be a 36×36. Live and learn.

    • Carl
      09/24/2016 / 11:16 PM

      No need to hem just cuff them up it looks way better imo

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