Since introducing its iconic riveted denim jean over a century ago, Levi’s® has periodically tweaked the fit, fabric and features of the 501® Jean to suit the needs and preferences of the modern worker. Although oftentimes subtle and only apparent to the discerning eye, the differences between the Historic 501® Jeans help tell the story of the Levi’s® brand and the ever-evolving landscape of the American frontier.
Levi’s® Vintage Clothing reproduces each of the most historically significant 501® jeans from the past 122 years exactly as they were when they were first introduced. Every last detail—including the fabric, fit, sundries and even packaging—are obsessively recreated so that today’s fanatics can purchase and wear a pair of Historic 501® jeans as if they were living in a bygone era.
The 1955 501® Jeans have a quintessential 1950s shape, with a square top block, a more “anti-fit” in the seat area and a slightly fuller cut around the leg. Like the classic cars of the day, the silhouette is boxy but tough.
They’re the first 501® Jeans to bear the leather-like Two Horse Label and a double sided Levi’s® capital “E” red Tab. The zinc button fly and copper rivets remained standard issue. Like it’s predecessor from 1947, the 1955 501® Jeans had belt loops as the only method of waist adjustment, hidden rivets on the back pockets and zinc buttons on the fly.
Levi’s® became exceptionally popular with school age boys in the 1950s. They started calling them “jeans” instead of “overalls.” The company ran ads in support of their interest in wearing their jeans in class despite the fact that many East Coast schools banned denim as part of dress codes. A letter from an East Coast professor to company read as follows, “While I have to admit this may be ‘right for school; in San Francisco, in the west, or in some rural areas I can assure you that it is in bad taste and not ‘right for school’ in the East.” The taboo only made the youth of the day want to wear them even more.
The 1966 501® Jean represents a snapshot in time. This style—bar tack instead of rivets, big “E” Red Tab—only existed from 1966 to 1971, just a blink of the eye in a very long life of the original and definitive blue jean.
When the back pocket rivets were covered in 1937, everyone thought that would solve the furniture-scratching problem. But those rivets were tougher than they looked, and after a few years of hard wear they just wore right through the denim, scratching things up again. By 1966 technology had caught up with history and it was possible to bar tack the pockets so that they were as sturdy as they had been in their work wear days.
In 1971, the name LEVI’S® on the double-sided Red Tab would change to read Levi’s®, making the 501® Jean of the late 1960s the only ones without covered rivets and a big “E” Tab. Which means that a guy who hitchhiked his way to San Francisco in early 1967 and brought a pair of 501® Jeans to wear during the Summer of Love was not only experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime event, but was wearing a unique pair of jeans; a pair which would change again when Woodstock was just a memory.
Indigo was a petroleum-based product in short supply so Cone Mills added sulfur to extend the dye of the jean. This resulted in a brighter blue that faded quicker with washing and wearing.
The innovations of the 1960s 501® Jeans, such as the back pockets with bar tacks rather than rivets, are still present in the 1978 501® Jeans, but the late 70s model is a slimmer fitting jean than its predecessors with a lower rise and more tapered leg. It features a small “e” on the Red Tab for the first time, making all pre-1971 501® Jeans with capital LEVI’S® on the tab collectibles.
All coming soon to American Rag Cie