The Secret to Breaking-In Your New Stiff Jeans


As you saw in my previous Levi’s post I’m a fan of rigid denim, but that does not come easy because rigid denim is not designed to fit like a glove on the first, third or fifth time. It takes time. It actually takes wearing them and moving in them. Unfortunately we are in an era where we want instant gratification, so things like this can make us impatient. But patience is what we need. I also think we need a little education about it all. If there’s something that makes me sad when I read reviews about rigid denim it’s that people love the styles but just think the fit is too tight. Some retailers will recommend sizing up while others will not give any information whatsoever besides the 100% cotton label.

What You Should Know About 100% Cotton Denim

  • Buy your regular size. Yes, they will be tight at first and they should be if you want them to mold to your body and give you that perfect fit or in Miles John’s words (Levi Strauss & Co’s former creative director): “They should feel tight. Just keep in mind they’ll probably ease off about an inch or inch and a half.” Read this interview for his expert opinion about rigid denim for women. I loved it.
  • Buy a size up ONLY if you want a boyfriend fit.
  • Length might shrink around 1″ or more. Mine only shrunk one. With this petite body at 5′ 2″ I still have to roll my hem, but I like it because the selvedge looks really cool (be sure to click through my original article if you want more info on that.) However, if you’re tall and the length is just right the first time, it’s better to size up in length. That option is available through or just avoid heat.

The Break-In Process

Now, the break-in process. There are some tricks that can make the process a little shorter if you’re a little impatient. These tricks will allow us to wear rigid jeans with less tightness around the waist, hips and thighs while they keep molding to our body with every wear.

This is the way I break them in broken down in steps. Sometimes I don’t even get to step #3 but for the sake of this post, I’ll show you everything.

I started with the Rock Pop Selvedge Levi’s 501. This is the first time I tried them on. You’ll notice they’re very tight, my butt was totally flattened by the tightness. Here’s what to do about that..

1. Work out in them.

Not really, but a few lunges and squats will help to loosen up the fibers. My mom taught me to always squat when trying on new pants and I still do it.

2. Wear them around the house.

Any type of movement can help the denim loosen up a little bit. I’ll choose a day I’m going to be home and wear them. Believe me that all that up and down the stairs, kneeling to pick up food or toys for the 20th time, and even sitting to watch a show or work on the computer will tell the denim where you need some give. Do this for 2-3 days. By this point the pair I chose was totally wearable and I was already wearing them out and about. Criss-cross sitting while reading to your kid is great, too!

3. Take a bath with them (yes, really.)

This is where things get a little weird. You’ll think I’m crazy but it just works like magic. Fill your tub with hot water (lukewarm if you don’t want the length to shrink) and get in it with the jeans ON. Relax there for 20 minutes. Read a book, check your phone. I listened to a podcast. Make that some forced “me time” haha. Believe me, I was a happy mama after this.

4. Some people say get out and wear them until they dry..

I find that a little terrible. Just a little. Who wants to walk around with dripping wet jeans? They can get heavy and cold. So I get out of the tub and take them off. I lay them flat over a towel and let them dry. I’ll check back in a few hours. If the jeans were too tight or you want them more on the looser side, put them back on and let them finish drying on your body. I say this because I wore another pair until they dried and they might have turned out a little looser than what I wanted. But if you just wanted a little give on hips and legs just let them dry by themselves, you already did the work in the bathtub.

5. Wear them and wear them….and keep wearing them.

The fibers will keep relaxing and you’ll forget they were even tight at the beginning. I love my almost 3-year-old Wedgie pair more now than I have ever before and these? You can tell I’m already in love!

Before and after (front and back)

How to Care for Your Now Broken-In Jeans

These are actually recommendations for all kinds of jeans if we want them to last longer and get a lot of wear for our money.

  • Don’t wash them often. I’ve heard of people washing them every a few months, but I honestly wash them every 4-5 wears. I wear them a lot so at least once a month they need to be washed. I was just reading in the Levi’s blog the ideal is 10 wears.
  • I only wash them with cold water and try to avoid the dryer as much as possible. Although sometimes if they’ve loosen up a lot I’ll throw them in for a little bit and the fibers shrink back to the way they first were when I broke them-in.
  • Between washes spot clean and for odors the best thing to do is to put them in a bag inside the freezer. That will kill all of the odor bacteria.

I hope this will help you be less afraid of 100% cotton denim and you enjoy the benefits that only this denim can give you!…and remember to squat a lot!! or as my husband says: try to poop with your jeans on. Why do you think I was laughing?

Shop This Post

You can also head to the “Guide to 501 Levi’s jeans” for other washes I tried on.

Chao, chao. Julieta

You can find me over on Instagram (@julietatorresd) for a lot of Levi’s, high-rise jeans and a real and vulnerable take on motherhood. I believe in being real on social media.


  1. I have done the warm water way. I just rinsed the top in warm water…they were not completely soaked then wore until almost dry…works like a charm…:)..yes can get a bit cool..:)

    • Yes, rinsing the top only is a great idea. I had no desire of wearing them until dry since is still so cold. I don’t think I wouldn’t mind that much in the summer.

      • I had never heard of the “wear them in the bath trick”, but I came to a similar solution on my own for all jeans (even ones with stretch). I want the body (butt and thighs) to stay snug and to not become too big after wear, but that means you have to buy the size that is one size-below-comfortable when you purchase. But then just the waistband is so tight that I’m too uncomfortable to even wear them around the house. I was stuck between jeans that became too big and jeans I could never wear.
        My trick is to just get the waistband wet then find something around the house that is just slightly larger than the waistband (the sloped back of an office chair or the handle on the car seat!) and put the pants over that to where you can just barely button them up. Let dry, and if it isn’t loose enough repeat. If it’s too much it usually becomes a little tighter again after washing. Repeat again after washing of it becomes too tight again. I’ve never had to do it more than twice, and I’ve never bought too-big jeans again after figuring out this trick!

  2. I almost always wear size 27 and occasionally need a 26. I got the 721s in a 27 and almost returned due to them feeling so tight in butt, waist and legs. After reading your post, maybe I will keep them after all. Too many times I’ve gotten new jeans and wished later I sized down.

  3. I hate the squished butt look, just sent mine off to consignment- really wished I’d waited… now I want to try this. Thanks for the tutorial. I’m just not patient and I get a gut ache when my pants are tight…

  4. OMG! You’re awesome! Your bath pic…omg, I almost laughed out loud, can’t because I’m at work. My friend freezes his high end jeans, (this is 2 guys I know and ones gay, but they aren’t friends). He says get’s the funk out, preserves the wash. Love your tips and the jeans looks sooo good on you, even with a plain tee.

    • Lol!! Hope you were able to laugh out loud at lunch time. It seems guys are the ones who know all about this. I found a ton of articles for men talking about raw denim, breaking-in, selvedge denim, not washing. It’s time we catch up. Thank you for reading Lily!

  5. I saw your 501 Skinny post and decided to try the Wedgie fit. Just got them and they actually seem a little loose in the butt and legs but fine in the waist. Not as tight as I was expecting (and I’m old enough to remember that squished feeling from the old Levis of my youth). Will they stretch out alot? Should I size down or try a different fit? Any suggestions? Thanks!

    • Wow, did you go for your regular size? A dark or light wash? Light wash tend to be looser for some reason. They will definitely give an inch or more. There’s two things I think you can do:

      1. If you can try a size down and stretch them to your body.
      2. Get in the tub in the hottest water you can tolerate, the hot water will shrink them to your body.

      ok there’s a 3

      I once washed and dried a pair in the hottest setting and then wore until they stretched enough, but I like the bath option more because then the shrinking will not go past your body measurements.

      Let us know what you do! Good luck!

  6. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Especially with all the yummy stretch denim out there. Never going back to the stiff stuff here.

  7. I’m wondering about waist sizing. I just got a pair of lovely 501s that fit nice and tight throughout the hips/thighs/tush, and I feel good about both the overall look and breaking them in there. However – they are just a little too tight at the actual waist. Will that stretch out too? Or are they simply too small and I should try for a size up and shrink them down?

    • Yes the waist will stretch out for sure! If after the break in the waist is still a little tight, just wet the waistband, button them and wear until dry. That will stretch them to your waist. Enjoy your 501s!

  8. Thank you for this post!!! I just got my first pair of Wedgie’s from the outlet store but realized that they’re 1% elastane! Will these break in, too??

  9. This helps so much! I bought some Wedgies off Poshmark (100% cotton) this week and was so sad about how tight they were in the upper thighs and bum — I thought it was a size too small and almost sent them off to consignment too! These are my first 100% cotton jeans I’ve ever owned so I didn’t know you can intentionally stretch them out. Everything else fits perfectly so hoping this works to stretch the problem area!! Thanks for these tips!

  10. Thank you for this post! I’ve tried rigid denim & found them hideous & I’ve been horrified that jeans are now gravitating towards 100% cotton. But I am astonished by the break-in transformation. I think your post has opened the door to whole new world for me!

  11. Nice info, but it doesn’t apply to rigid jeans. The ones in your pic are light wash which have already been shrunk before they even made it to the store. Rigid 501s are shrink to fit, and the break in is going to be different due to up to 10% shrinkage. Nice jeans though. I wish the pics had loaded before I read the article as it would have made sense if I had known you weren’t talking about rigids. If I had followed your advice with rigids, I would now have jeans that would never fit me again. Yikes!

  12. I can’t believe I just had a legit reason to zoom right in on your butt and ogle it now and 3 years ago, so compare! 🙂

    Somethings do get better with age 😉

  13. These tips seriously work so well! I just bought a pair of all cotton jeans from Madewell and they were sooo tight in waist and bum. I actually sprayed the entire upper portion (waist, bum, thighs) with a spray bottle of water until they were totally soaked, then wore them while cleaning the house. Once they dried they fit perfectly now. Thanks for the idea, Julieta!

  14. Hello! This article is very interesting. I just purchased some secondhand 100% cotton levi’s online, and two of the pairs are definitely tight around the butt area…would you follow similar steps for shorts?
    Also, if jeans are secondhand, will this process still work or will the jeans already be “broken in” by the previous wearer and you shouldn’t expect them to expand? I hope you can back to me soon so I can decide whether to keep the shorts!

  15. Thank gooooodness I found this review!! I was super disappointed when my jeans arrived in the mail, they wear tight to the point where I couldn’t even breathe or sit. I ordered size 27, which is my exact size. But my butt was completely flattened, my stomache pooch was suffocating, and I was about to donate them to my teenage sister. Now 1 hour in after adding some water on the waist and thighs, squatting and sitting- they look exactly like how I dreamed and see on other girls!! They loosened up immediately with that trick, and are just the right tight and roomy in other areas = perfect!

    I bought the Wedge Fit Premium Icon with 100% cotton, if I can make it work anyone can!

    Thank you!!!

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