Vintage Jeans are the Best
They are more than just old pants.
The vintage, worn out denim is a strong cultural symbol
with close association to hard workers, young people, and free expression.
Every sign of wear, every inch of stitching on classic denim clothes make them
iconic. Every wardrobe should have at least one pair of vintage denim
is a generic term for garments originating from a previous era.
Generally speaking, clothing which was produced before
the 1920s is referred to as antique clothing and clothing from the 1920s to 20
years before the present day is considered vintage.
Before the "Great Recession," premium denim was one of
the fastest growing categories of the apparel business, and there seemed to be
no limit to what customers would pay for the latest label, fit, finish, or wash.
In addition to designer brands, consumers frequently pay top dollar for
authentic rare jeans. Vintage clothing can be considered collectible which
means some vintage denim pants have value. In fact, some pants have
Levi's - read the
History of Women's Levi Jeans.
Popular vintage jeans brands include: Levi's, Lee, and Wrangler.
Levi Strauss & Co. is a
privately owned American clothing company known worldwide for its Levi's brand
of denim jeans. It was founded in May 1853. Jacob Davis, a Latvian
Jewish immigrant, was a Reno, Nevada tailor who frequently purchased bolts of
cloth made from denim from Levi Strauss & Co.'s wholesale house. After one of
Davis' customers kept purchasing cloth to reinforce torn pants, he had an idea
to use copper rivets to reinforce the points of strain, such as on the pocket
corners and at the base of the button fly. Davis did not have the required
money to purchase a patent, so he wrote to Strauss suggesting that they go into
business together. After Levi accepted Jacob's offer, on May 20, 1873, the two
men received U.S. Patent 139,121 from the United States Patent and Trademark
Office. The pants - called “waist overalls" - have one
back pocket with the Arcuate stitching design, a watch pocket, a cinch,
suspender buttons and a rivet in the crotch.
Created before the
invention of the
zipper, the signature button fly is a key detail which defines the 501
Jean. The perfect union of function and style.
The Levi Strauss & Co. Archives has two pairs of
jeans from the late 1870s or early 1880s, likely the oldest ones in
existence. They are called “XX" – the name of the first denim used to make
them, which was the best denim in the U.S. It came from the Amoskeag
Manufacturing Company in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was so famous
Levi decided to name the pants after them. The pants were made of
9 oz. XX blue denim, from
the Amoskeag Mill. Levi Strauss used a harder woven denim that would
be far more resistant to ripping and durable at the weaker points by
installing the famous Patented metal Rivet.
Vintage jeans are a hot item among die-hard
Levi's Big E jeans are sought-after pieces by collectors.
"Big E" refers to the capital letter "E"
on the jeans' red tag. The uppercase letter indicates that
the jeans were made previous to 1971, before the company changed to the
lowercase letter (see the
little e red tab). Wearing vintage Levi's Big E jeans is all about creating a
unique style, but also allows you to own a piece of American history.
In 1886, The Two Horse
brand leather patch is first used on the waist overalls. Its purpose
was to demonstrate the strength of the pants and reinforce our status as the
originator of patent riveted clothing. The iconic Two Horse patch
stitched on to the back of every pair of 501® Jeans illustrates the original
promise made by Levi Strauss: “It’s no use, they can’t be ripped" and
celebrates the strength and quality of the riveted denim (oh, yes, jeans can
In 1890, Strauss and Davis refined the style and
called it lot 501, a name that has stayed for more than a century.
Circa 1890, the rivet patent goes into the public
domain. At this point in time Levi Strauss & Co. is no longer the
exclusive manufacturer of riveted clothing. Around this time, Levi
moves from "XX" to a lot number system to help identify the jeans. Lot
numbers are first assigned to the products being manufactured. 501 is used
to designate the famous copper-riveted waist overalls. Unfortunately, the
Levi's company does records do not show why this number was chosen (they
lost historical records in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fires that
followed). In the years around 1890 they also made a 201 jean, which
was a less expensive version of the pants, as well as other products using
other three-digit numbers. Because of the loss of their records in 1906, the
reasons for many of these changes are unknown.
Approximately 1901, "Waist Overalls" became known
simply as "overalls". The company added a second back pocket (no, not
Circa 1910, Sometime during this decade the jeans are
sewn with a felled inseam. Prior to this time the inseam was “mock" felled.
In 1922, belt loops are added to the overalls, but
the suspender buttons are still retained. The cinch is also still used on
the pants, but some men cut if off in order to wear the overalls with a
Circa 1927, Cone Mills develops the 10 oz.
red selvage denim exclusively for the 501® jeans. The denim is
woven in 29" wide looms.
1936 to 1947 The famous Levi's red tag made its
first appearance in 1936, giving future jeans collectors an easy way to
identify and date their finds. The red Tab is first placed onto the
right back pocket of the overalls. The word “Levi’s is stitched in white
in all capital letters on one side only. The Tab is created to
differentiate Levi’s® overalls from the many competitors in the
marketplace who were using dark denim and an Arcuate stitch. The original tag from 1936 had all
capital letters on the front of the tag only.
look for the capital "E" as a sign of an older pair of jeans.
Looking on the inside of the jeans at the rivets also tells the story of
their age. During these years, rivets in seat pockets were concealed
from the outside and only visible on the jeans' inner surface.
During World War II the U.S. government told the
company that it could not stitch its “Arcuate" back pocket design on the
501® jeans, because it was decorative and not a functional use of
thread, an essential item for the war effort. So, LS&CO.
painted the Arcuate stitching on the
pockets of the 501® (men’s) and 701® (women’s) jeans
“For The Duration" of the war. Learn more about the
1947 to 1955 Levi's jeans evolved to their
classic form with five pockets, red tabs, belt loops, and fitted legs in
the post-war era. Their narrower profile made them distinctive and
stylish as casual wear. Early 1950s The word
LEVI’S is now stitched on both sides of
the red Tab. We are not sure why this was done.
- 1955 to 1967 Levi's 501s kept their overall
silhouette largely the same throughout the 1950s, but zippers appeared
in stores alongside button-fly versions. The Levi's name appeared on
both sides of the red tag but still had all capital letters. Bar tacks
replaced the hidden rivets on the back pockets; until 1966, they were
made of copper and had raised lettering. Once made of leather, the patch
on jeans produced after 1955 was a durable facsimile instead.
- From the early 1960s through the mid-1970s, Levi
Strauss experienced significant growth in its business as the more casual
look of the 1960s and 1970s ushered in the "blue jeans craze" and served as
a catalyst for the brand.
- 1967 to 1971 Until 1967, all 501s were
shrink-to-fit, but the company introduced pre-shrunk jeans that year.
Lower legs were wider, a nod to the bell-bottomed fashions of the era,
and had lower waists than the 1950s and early 1960s models.
1971 to 1980 In 1971, the big "E" red
tag got a redesign and became the lowercase letter familiar to
modern buyers. This logo change is one of the most reliable for dating
vintage pairs of 501 jeans. The 1970s also introduced care tags in the
jeans; before this year, tags were on the outside and had to be removed
by the consumer. Prior to 1980, the jeans still had a free selvage, but
a stitched selvage marked the jeans as a newer style or a reproduction.
Learn more about
Learn about the
The 501® Jean: Stories of an
Original | Full Documentary (Youtube)
History of the Levi's 501 Jeans.
Levi's has been worn by people from all walks of
life, from miners to Nobel Prize recipients including Albert Einstein
himself, whose famous leather jacket was made by Levi Strauss & Co in the
30's and has been sold at auction house Christies for £110,500
Lee - Lee
is an American brand of denim jeans, first produced in 1889 in Salina, Kansas.
The company was formed in 1889 by Henry David Lee as the Lee Mercantile Company
at Salina, Kansas producing dungarees and jackets. The growth of Lee was
prompted by the introduction of the Union-All work jumpsuit in 1913 and their
first overall in 1920. Later in the 1920s Lee introduced a zipper fly and
continued to expand. Around this time, the first children's overall line was
sold. In 1928 H.D. Lee, founder and president of The H.D. Lee Mercantile
Company, died. During the 1930s and 1940s the company became the leading
manufacturer of work clothes in the US. In 1944, the Lazy "S" became the
official Lee back pocket. The classic look and feel of Lee denim is hard
to deny. Vintage Lee brand apparel, including jeans, jackets, and even
shirts, fit into any fashionistas wardrobe.
Wrangler - Wrangler is an American
manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items, particularly workwear.
Wrangler Jeans were first made by Blue Bell, who acquired the brand when they
took over Casey Jones in the mid-1940s. Blue Bell employed Bernard Lichtenstein
('Rodeo Ben'), a Polish tailor from Łódź who worked closely with cowboys, to
help design jeans suitable for rodeo use. This was the origin of Wrangler Jeans.
The 13MWZ style, introduced in 1947 as lot number 11MWZ, is still available
You may also want to learn about Jordache, Gloria
Vanderbilt, and Calvin Klein.
What is the difference between retro fashion and vintage
What is the difference between vintage clothes and used
How to identify rare jeans?
Some of the above questions can be answered on our
Vintage clothing page.
Where to buy vintage
jeans? Vintage denim clothing can be previously worn
or never worn fashion from a previous ear. It is very possible to find
this type of clothing in thrift stores, garage sales, or high end fashion
boutiques. Popular places to buy vintage pant styles include charity-run
second hand clothing shops, consignment shops, yard sales, flea markets, antique
stores, estate sales, auctions, and vintage clothing shops. Vintage clothing shops are often
found in trendy or artsy neighborhoods of cities. You can search for
vintage clothing stores
in the Apparel Search retail directory. If you are looking for a delicious
pair of vintage jeans visit boutiques, garage sales, flea markets, and other
The popularity of the internet and growth in online
shopping for clothes has provided a great boost to the vintage clothing
industry. It has increased the availability of specific and previously hard to
find items. Online market places such as eBay, Etsy, and Craigslist are also
helpful tools for enthusiasts of vintage apparel & accessories. Most brick
& mortar clothing shops with physical locations now also sell their goods
Can wearing vintage clothing save the planet?
It may not save the planet but it
certainly can’t hurt. Wearing vintage clothes is essentially a method of
Learn more about
fashion in our fashion terms section.
You should probably read a bit more about
jean jackets and
jean shorts. They are important to the
vintage apparel market as well.
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