• ABOUT THE HISTORIC 501®


    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.














  • ABOUT 1890

    “EVERY GARMENT GUARANTEED”

    The 1890 501® Jean was the first style created after the Levi’s® patent for riveting clothing expired that same year. This meant that other companies could start to copy Levi’s® famous patent riveted overalls, which had been made only by LS&CO. since 1873.

    To answer the coming competition, LS&CO. printed the inside pocket bag with language and information about the strength and originality of the XX overalls.

    1890 was the year that the 501 number was first assigned to the famous pants—likely done because the company no longer had and exclusive on patented clothing, and also because there was a good-sized line of clothing by this time. It was easier for retailers to order their products by number, rather than by a simple description, as had been done in the past. Any product made with the highest quality materials was given a lot number beginning with 5: 501 for the overall, 506 for the jacket, etc.

    Still made with X 9oz denim from the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, the 501 was at the head of the class.

    DESIGN DETAILS

    • 9oz Plain Selvage Denim (12oz after wash)
    • One-back pocket with exposed rivets
    • Cinch
    • Two Horse leather patch
    • Crotch Rivet
    • Single needle Arcuate
    • Pocket bag print


  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    XX – THE FIRST 501® JEAN, ca. 1899

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    GUARANTEE TICKET, ca. 1899






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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    CALICO MINE JEAN, ca. 1890






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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    SALEMAN’S FLYER, ca. 1900






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  • ABOUT 1922

    “WORN WHEREVER HARD WORK IS REQUIRED”

    1922 marks the year when belt loops were first used. Belts began appearing on fine clothing soon after World War I and eventually became important to younger workingmen.

    Although belt loops were added, the suspender buttons remained till 1937 and the cinch till 1942. The 1922 501® Jean offered the best of both worlds: maintaining the cinch and using suspenders, or eliminating both and wearing a belt.

    Younger men cut off the cinch in order to wear a belt, while more traditional users kept the cinch and wore suspenders. Retaining both ways of wearing jeans ensured that more people could be persuaded to try Levi’s® jeans, many for the first time.

    Around 1915 LS&Co. started hanging a small paper label from one of the suspender buttons on the waist overalls. This label, which was carried over into the early 1920s, advertised the fact that LS&Co. had won prizes at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

    DESIGN DETAILS

    • 9oz Plain Selvage Denim (12oz after wash)
    • One-back pocket with exposed rivets
    • Belt loops
    • Cinch
    • Suspender buttons
    • Two Horse leather patch
    • Crotch Rivet
    • Single needle Arcuate
    • Pocket bag print




  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    WORKERS IN CALIFORNIA’S CENTRAL VALLEY, ca. 1899

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    “HOMER” JEAN, 1917

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    LABEL FROM THE 1915 PANAMA-PACIFIC INTERNATIONAL EXPOSITION IN SAN FRANCISCO, USED ON 501® JEANS

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  • ABOUT 1933

    “THIS IS A PAIR OF LEVI’S®”

    A pair of jeans from 1933 had belt loops, but still had the cinch and suspender buttons, offering a variety of ways the pant could be worn.

    Some owners wore their jeans with a belt. They cut off the cinch right at the rivet, and snipped of the suspender buttons, choosing to wear their jeans not like the older generation did with suspenders. Some Levi® brand retailers even kept a big pair of scissors at the cash desk to cut the cinch off for their customers. The 1933 501® Jean also featured the redesigned “Guarantee Ticket” on the back pocket of the jeans. The company had trademarked the name “Levi’s®” in 1927 because any pair of denim pants were being called “Levi’s®” no matter who made them. Instead of reading, “This is a pair of them,” as seen on the original ticket from 1892, the new ticket read “This Is A Pair Of Levi’s®.”

    Also hidden under the leather patch, but not visible until it began to shrink with age, is a tiny, white cloth label printed with a blue eagle and the letter “NRA”. This was the National Recovery Act logo, which Levi Strauss & CO. was allowed to use because the company abided by the labor rules of President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration during the Depression years of the 1930s.

    DESIGN DETAILS

    • Cone Mills 10oz Red Selvage Denim (12oz after wash)
    • Two-back pocket rivets
    • Belt loops, cinch & suspender buttons
    • Two Horse leather patch
    • Crotch rivet
    • NRA (National Recovery Act) label
    • Single needle stitched Arcuate


  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    GUARANTEE TICKET, ca. 1927

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    “THE COWBOY JEAN”, 1933

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    FLYER ADVERTISING 501® JEANS AND WORK CLOTHING, ca. 1930s

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  • ABOUT 1937

    “LOOK FOR THE RED TAB”

    As America slowly emerged from the depths of the Great Depression, the 501® Jean of 1937 evolved into a mix of old and new.

    1937 was a challenging year for America. The Great Depression was in full swing. Work was scarce and many Americans lost their farms and homes. Many of the boomtowns of the American West had gone bust. But ever the optimists, the people of San Francisco persevered.

    The iconic Golden Gate Bridge was finally completed in 1937. And like Levi’s® 501® Jeans, it was held together with rivets—1.2 million of them. Right down the street, Levi Strauss & Co. was hard at work, bridging the old and the new through a series of updates to the 501® Jean. The jeans still came with a cinch back, but the suspender buttons on the waistband were removed. Customers who just couldn’t give up their suspenders were given press-on buttons at the store where they bought their jeans, which they could apply on their own. On the right back pocket, the 501® jean was adorned with the now-famous Red Tab, which had the word “LEVI’S” stitched in white capital letters.

    First introduced in 1936, this device was meant to differentiate Levi’s® jeans from the many competitors in the marketplace who were also using dark denim, a waistband patch and an Arcuate stitch. And in response to consumers who complained that their jeans were scratching their furniture and saddles, Levi’s® began sewing the back pockets so that they covered the rivets. To emphasize this point, they introduced the first pocket flasher. Made in the famous salmon color and placed into the right back pocket, the flasher had arrows pointing to the corners of the pockets with the words, “The Rivet’s Still There.” In-store advertising and retailer mailings emphasized this innovation.

    DESIGN DETAILS

    • Cone Mills 10oz Red Selvage Denim (12oz after wash)
    • Two-back pocket rivets
    • Belt loops & cinch
    • Two Horse leather patch
    • Single needle stitched Arcuate


  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    COUNTER CARD ADVERTISING CONCEALED RIVETS, 1937

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    “INDIGO POOLS”, 1937

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    CHECK BLOTTER, A GIFT WITH PURCHASE, USED TO BLOT INK FROM A FOUNTAIN PEN, ca. 1930s

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    THE FIRST POCKET FLASHER, USED TO POINT OUT THE CONCEALED RIVETS, 1937

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  • ABOUT 1944

    “WHEN THERE’S WORK TO BE DONE, WEAR LEVI’S®”

    Everything changed during World War II. The United States government told all clothing manufacturers that they had to remove a certain amount of metal, fabric and thread from their garments in order to conserve the raw materials for the war effort.

    Levi Strauss & Co. did what they could to abide by the rules. Off came the watch pocket rivets, the crotch rivet and the cinch along with its two rivets (which eliminated both fabric and metal).

    Buttons became standard issue during the war, and featured a laurel leaf design. Sometimes the buttons were branded; sometimes the waistband had the laurel leaf and the fly buttons were plain. The only explanation is that delivery of sundries was hit and miss during the war years and we sometimes had to just use what we had on hand.

    There was one rationing rule that was a little harder to bear: the order to remove the Arcuate stitching, because it was considered decorative and meant that it didn’t have a function. Well, LS&CO. thought it did: it was one of the prime identifiers of the classic 501® Jeans. Rather than lose this important design LS&CO. worked out a system to paint the Arcuate stitching on every pair of 501® Jeans that came out of the factory. The paint eventually washed off but having that stitching visible when buying the jeans was the important thing.

    DESIGN DETAILS

    • Cone Mills 12oz Red Selvage Denim (14oz after wash)
    • Two-back pockets with covered rivets
    • “E” red Tab
    • Two Horse leather patch
    • Painted Arcuate
    • Pocket bag material varied during wartime


  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    COUNTER CARD FROM WORLD WAR II ERA

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    DEAD STOCK PAIR OF 1944 501® JEANS

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    COUNTER CARD FROM WORLD WAR II ERA

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  • ABOUT 1947

    “IT’S LUCKY THEY’RE LEVI’S®”

    When World War II ended and raw materials were available again, Levi Strauss & Co. leaped back into heavy production to meet the growing post-war demand: slimmer fitting, with no extra details like the cinch or suspender buttons, this was a jean that was ready to rock and roll.

    The watch pocket rivets came back after their wartime hiatus and the Arcuate was stitched on the back pockets again, after being applied with paint during the duration of the war. But it came back in a different form: thanks to new, double needle technology, the famed double arching stitch was now uniform in size and design, no longer subject to the skill of the individual sewing machine operator and her single needle machine.

    The red tab with its capital “E” had never gone away, thanks to its status as a trademark. And the red selvage, 12oz. Cone Mills denim was still the bedrock of the jean, as it had been for nearly two decades.

    By the end of the 1940s Levi’s® Jeans were being sold across the U.S., aimed at the new, emerging middle class. The 1947 501® Jean was the jean of a new generation.

    DESIGN DETAILS

    • Cone Mills 12oz Red Selvage Denim (14oz after wash)
    • Two-back pockets with covered rivets
    • “E” red Tab
    • Two Horse leather patch
    • Double needle stitched Arcuate
    • Watch pocket rivets returned after the war
    • No crotch rivet


  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    WESTERN WEAR CLOTHING COUNTER CARD, ca. 1940s

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    AGED AND WORN-IN 1947 501® JEANS

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    WESTERN WEAR CLOTHING COUNTER CARD, ca. 1940s

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  • ABOUT 1954

    “THE ORIGINAL WESTERN OVERALL”

    In the mid 1950s Levi Strauss & Co. started selling the 501® Jeans on America’s east coast for the first time (the western states had been the only sales territory since the jeans came out in 1873).

    Many folks had already been introduced to the jeans at dude ranches, but to some, this button fly work pant was something they had never encountered.

    In order to make potential consumers comfortable with the company’s products, LS&CO. introduced a zipper version of the button fly Shrink-To-Fit® jeans in 1954: the 501Z®. It had everything longtime wearers loved: the silhouette, the tough but flexible fabrics, rivets, etc. Retailers carried both the 501® Jean and its zippered brother, the 501Z® Jeans, and everyone got the pair that worked best for them.

    The 501Z® Jeans had many fans. It was given the new number 502 in 1967 and remained in the line until 1976, when the preshrunk jean surpassed it in popularity. However, when it first came out, LS&CO. received a letter from an oldtimer somewhere in the west who wasn’t too thrilled with the innovation. The actual letter has disappeared, but company legend has it that the writer said; “Why the heck did you put a zipper in your jeans? It’s like peeing into the jaws of an alligator.”

    DESIGN DETAILS

    • Cone Mills 12oz Red Selvage Denim (14oz after wash)
    • Zip fly
    • Two-back pockets with covered rivets
    • Two Horse leather patch
    • “E” red Tab
    • Double needle stitched Arcuate


  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    COUNTER CARD, ca. 1950s

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    ZIPPER FLY – 1954 501Z® JEANS

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  • ABOUT 1955

    “RIGHT TO SCHOOL”

    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.

    DESIGN DETAILS

    • Cone Mills 12oz Red Selvage Denim
    • Button fly
    • Two-back pockets with covered rivets
    • Two Horse leather patch
    • “E” red Tab
    • Double needle stitched Arcuate


  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    COUNTER CARD, ca. 1950s

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    COUNTER CARD, ca. 1950s

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    COUNTER CARD, ca. 1950s

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  • ABOUT 1966

    “A LEGEND DOES NOT COME APART AT THE SEAMS”

    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.

    DESIGN DETAILS

    • Cone Mills 12oz Red Selvage denim (14oz after wash)
    • Two-back pocket with bar tacks instead of rivets
    • Two Horse leather-like patch
    • Double sided “E” Red Tab


  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    “BAR TACK”, 1967

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    COUNTER CARD, ca. 1960s

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    COUNTER CARD ADVERTISING NEW PRE-SHRUNK JEANS, ca. 1960s

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  • ABOUT 1978

    “QUALITY NEVER GOES OUT OF STYLE”

    A pair of 1978 501® jeans shared the world with a lot of earth-shattering events: the first test-tube baby was born, American artist Norman Rockwell died, and the Sex Pistols performed their last concert—all in San Francisco, the home of the 501® Jean. The 501® Jean of the late 70s also shared shelf space with pants made in a dizzying array of fabrics that had become popular in the “Me Decade”: denim Big Bells, corduroy Big Bells, denim Straight Legs, brushed twill Bell Bottoms, corduroy Boot Jeans, polyester/cotton slacks masquerading as jeans, and beyond. Despite the turbulent times, Levi Strauss and Co. stuck to the basics when it came to its most iconic style.

    The 1978 501® Jean had a straight but still generous twisted leg. It sported a

    lower rise than earlier 501® Jeans and had a little “e” Red Tab, which was first introduced in 1971. But like the other 501® Jeans from the century before it, the 1978 501® Jean still came with the always-classic button fly and red-orange contrast stitching. Many vintage enthusiasts who grew up with this 501® remember it not for its fit or details, but for the special Cone Mills denim that it was made from. Rumor has it that Cone Mills began adding sulfur during the dye process to get more distance out of the petroleum-based indigo dye that they were using. This new recipe resulted in a truly unique fabric that was a bit brighter and faded out faster, a welcome change for Levi’s® fans who wanted to fade their jeans as quickly as possible.

    DESIGN DETAILS

    • Cone Mills 12oz Red Selvedge denim (14oz after wash)
    • Two-back pocket with bar tacks instead of rivets
    • Two Horse leather-like patch
    • Double sided small “e” red Tab

     

  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    DENIM AS ART CONTEST

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    DENIM AS ART CONTEST ENTRY

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    “RICHIE”, ca. 1970s

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  • FROM THE ARCHIVES

    CATALOG SENT TO LEVI’S® RETAILERS, 1971

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