From December 2023
Three years after Caitlin Brax opened the doors of AAVintedge on Henderson Avenue in 2020, a steady stream of business from loyal clientele exploded into madness when a TikTok post went viral. The six-second video, which has amassed more than a million views since last summer, sums up Brax’s superpower. She can give you one good look up and down, followed by a 360-degree spin, and then present you with perfectly fitting jeans without ever asking for a number.
“No one likes jean shopping regardless of your size,” Brax says. “No one likes it. We don’t do numbers in here because it’s triggering, and it’s all BS, honestly.”
At first I was skeptical, but when I walked into the shop for our interview and Brax presented me with three pairs of vintage jeans, I realized the rumors were true. Each fit me like no pair of jeans ever has. I walked out with black Wranglers from the early ’90s, but a pair of early-aughts Levi’s were hard to pass up.
Brax credits her cotton clairvoyance to focusing on body shape rather than size. In addition to having a sort of innate photographic memory for denim, she sources all of the jeans herself, which means she is able to create a mental catalog of her extensive stock. While she does employ a store associate, Brax performs all custom fittings herself. “It can be tiring,” she says. “It’s really not something I can teach, and I wish that I could because I do have a personal life and things that I’d like to do.”
Her love of thrifting was fostered by her mom, who upcycled old clothing and vintage textiles to make one-of-a-kind pieces; some of her custom items are available for purchase in her daughter’s store. Brax began thrifting in her teens, and while she was managing a boutique in Los Angeles it became her primary pastime. Soon, thrifted items made up the bulk of her wardrobe, and she built a reputation for her distinctive style. At the suggestion of a coworker, she started an Etsy page in 2011, turning her hobby into a second income stream.
Due to health issues, Brax moved back in with her mother in Hawkins, 20 miles north of Tyler. Though separated from the swing of a large metropolis, Brax’s Etsy page created enough revenue for her to lease her first brick-and-mortar space in 2012 and then eventually move her shop to Henderson.
She now sells approximately 100 pairs of jeans each day—more on the weekends—so keeping up with demand is its own full-time job. She spends every free moment, including the two days her shop is closed, scouring the racks of thrift shops looking for more denim. Occasionally she will sell out of a specific size, so she encourages shoppers to keep an open mind, especially in the fitting room.
“I want the customer to feel awesome because I’ve had body image issues my whole life,” she confesses after sharing her first fitting-room meltdown, when she was 9 years old and didn’t fit into “slim” size jeans. “If just one person can leave feeling more confident because they found a great pair of jeans, that’s what matters to me.”
How to Find Your Perfect Pair
Caitlin Brax shares her top tips.
1. Don’t look at the size. Sizes vary widely across brands and over time. Don’t be disappointed if the size you want doesn’t fit. The number on the tag has almost nothing to do with the actual size of your jeans. Instead, focus on the fit and how it makes you feel.
2. Try a gender swap. Much like size, gender specifications are moot when it comes to fit. Her personal favorites are well-worn men’s jeans with wallet and cigarette carton impressions on the massive pockets.
3. Consider the brand last. While it’s tempting to gravitate toward limited-edition Levi’s, Brax recommends broadening your scope and prioritizing fit, wash, and character. She has a partiality to Wranglers, and she recently stocked up on a mass of deadstock Rockies.
4. Size up. Because stitches tighten over time and the average sizing has shifted, vintage denim can run several sizes small—another reason to forget about the number on the tag.
5. Be open-minded. Just because you’re in pursuit of the perfect black jeans doesn’t mean you should miss out on the ideal light wash. Her best piece of advice: try on every pair you like.
This story originally appeared in the December issue of D Magazine with the headline “The Denim Whisperer.” Write to [email protected].