A Denim-Lover’s Guide to Levi Jeans
The History of Blue Jeans
It has been over 100 years since the creation of Levi jeans, yet they remain a wardrobe staple that is simultaneously trendy and classic.
According to the Levi Strauss & Co website, the idea for their signature denim was born in 1872, shortly after Levi Strauss opened his first store in Gold Rush era San Francisco.
Levi Strauss and a man named Jacob Davis crafted a pair of durable working men's pants by adding metal reinforcements to the stitching. These rivets, combined with brown cotton duck material, blue denim, and a five-button fly, resulted in a sturdy pair of pants. The straight-leg jeans were patented and called the “XX,” until 1890 when the style became known as what they are today: 501s.
Check above the back right pocket of your Levi's. The rectangular brown cotton duck label features two galloping horses each fastened to a pant leg. The trademark, called the Two Horse Pull logo, is a historic symbol of the jean’s quality and strength. And according to Levi Strauss & Co’s site, the red tab on the back right pocket was another way to differentiate the jeans from competitors, although not added until 1936.
Over time, the jeans gained popularity. In the 1930s, they were trendy with cowboys. It was also the decade Lady Levi’s were invented for women to wear while gardening. In the Fifties, troublemakers like James Dean and Marlon Brando adopted the pants and by the Sixties and Seventies, musicians and counterculture groups were sporting Levi’s in various styles.
Recognizing their past, Levi's Vintage Clothing line emerged in 1996, reproducing styles from these previous decades. So today, you can scour for genuinely vintage Levi’s or purchase vintage-inspired Levi’s.
How Deep are Your Pockets?
If shopping vintage, keep in mind that condition, label, and age affect the pricing. And that pricing can vary, depending on the buyer’s Levi knowledge. Levi’s are priced anywhere from ten to 100 dollars, and in cases of rare collectible denim: thousands.
Levi Strauss & Co published a memo about verifying a true vintage pair of Levi's. First, check the red tab for the spelling of “Levi’s.” If it has a capital “E” then they were manufactured before 1970 and are considered authentic vintage. And if your tab is orange, not red, that means your jeans were part of the “orange tab” collection, manufactured from the 1960s until 1999. In March 2017, Levi’s revived the orange tab collection, manufacturing new jeans referencing the company’s past.
Those care tags that people tend to cut off because they tickle were implemented in Levis in the ’70s. So if your jeans don’t have one, they were manufactured prior. The inseam can also reveal their age. A single stitching running down the inside of the pant leg signifies they were made prior to the mid-1980s, a double stitch signifies a newer model.
Find Your Fit
Sizing depends on the year of production, as male and female sizing and styles have altered through the years. It is important to keep in mind that older pairs of Levi’s will likely be sized for men and not women.
If you are thrifting or online-shopping, the most efficient way to shop vintage denim is to know your measurements. Otherwise, it will be a Goldilocks situation, trying to find the pair that fits just right.
Shopping vintage denim is an overwhelming and time-consuming process. If you’re in-store, sizing guides and employees are very helpful, but it’s in your best interest to research beforehand.
It often takes a creative mind to be able to see the potential for a pair of pants that are too long or too wide. Don’t underestimate the power of scissors and DIY. My favorite Levi’s were initially six inches too long until I hemmed them, now they’re perfect.
Care For Your Pair
Levi’s website offers several suggestions for washing your jeans because these pants are not like regular laundry. Over-washing will stiffen them and Levi’s are meant to mold to your body. Washing will also cause the indigo to fade, so if you must wash them, do so inside out in cold water then hang them to dry. Otherwise, soap and water on a cloth usually does the trick.
As for the possible smells, try deodorizing spray. Another option is to bag the jeans and put them in the freezer for 72 hours, which can also kill odor-causing bacteria.
Keep in mind, these are traditionally workers’ pants. They were created with the idea that they would be ruined, therefore they can withstand some damage. Miners weren’t using Tide-to-Go sticks during the Gold Rush. Granted, stain-removing sticks didn’t exist back then. The premise remains: grass stains, paint splatters, rips, and tears all add character. Imperfections are merely personalization. And that’s the beauty of Levi’s.
Photo by: Sabrina Ortiz