You may have wondered why it has taken this long before we write about the most famous clothing brand in the world, Levi Strauss & Co. Well, we’ve our reasons, one being we just got a fucken great batch of vintage Levi’s washed and ready for you misfits. Levi’s is as big and influential as Coca Cola and as American as apple pie. Levi’s jeans have become a symbol of the cultural supremacy of the United States. Despite its now legendary name this two-horse brand has a somewhat modest backstory that they’ve embraced till this day.
Levi’s is yet again a brand with rich and looong history which as in many cases leaves some room for guesswork. This is because back in 1906 much of the company history was destroyed and lost in the aftermath of the earthquake and fire in San Francisco. Despite that we’re able to dig out quite a bit of info of this legend.
The first thing we know about the origin story dates back to 1872, when a legend named Jacob Davis, a tailor from Reno, wrote a letter to our main man, a dry goods hustler named Levi Strauss. The letter contained a business proposal quite like in the Godfather, Levi couldn’t refuse. To give you some backstory, Davis was a Levi’s longtime customer, buying rolls of denim to turn into work clothes for the miners in west Nevada. But Davis’ customers, the miners, were constantly coming back for repairs because the stitching at the stress points didn’t hold up. To get rid of this problem our guy Davis took rivets from a saddle to reinforce those stress points, and the iconic jeans were born. The end…
Nah, just kidding. Davis wanted to patent his invention, smart man as he was, but he didn’t have the means to do it. So, he took his quill and wrote his denim supplier Levi a letter, asking if he would team up with him and fund his patent. Levi, a Bavarian businessman didn’t hesitate. He put down the dough for the patent and the following year the XX (extra, extra strong) riveted overall was created and patented by the Levi Strauss & Co. This meant that these dudes had exclusive right to the toughest workwear of the era.
A bit over a decade after they got the patent, the dudes created the iconic Levi’s patch in 1886. Levi was a marketing guru of his own time and wanted his patch to be so simple that even the illiterate would recognize it. They came up with the now iconic picture of two horses attempting to rip a pair of jeans in half. As a result, the company was known for years as the ‘two-horse brand’. Fucken genius. Years went by and in 1890 the overalls were given their famous name: Lot number 501.
And now we tread onto the unknown waters. The reason and the story behind the arc stitching on the back pockets were lost in the fires, in 1906. Next thing we did find out was that back in 1915 Levi’s scored their ‘golden handshake’ deal with the iconic Cone Mills, who started supplying heavyweight selvage denim with red yarn in the edge, which later on distinguished Levi’s merch. Jeans got their belt loops in 1922, and the classic red tab made its debut in 1936.
Thanks to the Great Depression in the 1930’s, many ranchers turned their ranches into so called ‘dude ranches’ which were like theme parks for the upper-class tourists from the East Coast. That played a crucial role in the Levi’s story, because that was first time ever the fashionable folk outside the wild wild west encountered Levi’s jeans. Even though Levi’s advertised on the New York Times and Vogue they didn’t become mainstream until after the World War II.
Like we know from the history lessons, the wartime is a time for restrictions, which in Levi’s case meant that they had to get rid of the extra rivets and the back cinch. They even got rid of the baggy fits and large cuffs in order to save resources and help the war effort. These modernizations are most notable in the 1944 edition of the 501, where even the back pockets arc stitching was painted on to save thread. As an American company, Levi’s left many of the wartime changes on to save manufacturing costs even after the war.
Today it may seem kinda weird that something as basic as a pair of blue cotton pants called jeans could be considered a rebellious act. But back in the 1950’s denim was nothing but a workwear for the working man. And after the war things were changing in the American society. Levi’s’ tight shrink-to-fit 501 jeans become a scandalous in the deeply moralistic 50’s America. Crime and juvenile delinquency were on a rise because many of the WWII vets didn’t get the excitement in the peace time society, that they were used to during the war. So, in order to fit in, these misfits formed clubs where they rode motorcycles and hanged around doing all kind of mischief. This movement was then later brought up to the big screen by the Hollywood, in 1953. That was when the ultimate heartthrob Marlon Brando starred in a film called The Wild One. The Wild One tells a story about a bunch of motorbike riding hoodlums terrorizing a small town somewhere in the US. The following quote from the film sums up the angst of the youth that were eager to break the social norms of the 50’s:
Someone asks Brando’s character Johnny: ‘Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against? In which Brando replies: ‘Whadda you got?’
You may wonder what the heck some old flick has to do with the Levi’s!?! Well, guess what Brando was wearing in that film? White tee and a pair of 501’s. This whole problem with the youth rebellion also caused jeans to be banned in schools, which only fuelled the flames and made the jeans even cooler. They became the symbol of rebellion. This was also the point in time when jeans cemented their status across social structures. During this era Levi’s was struggling because the East Coast fashionistas didn’t want the rigid unsanforized denim, and other denim companies like Lee and Wrangler were putting up stiff competition.
By the late 60’s everything changed. In 1967 to be exact. Levi’s became the undisputed champion of the jeans industry. They fought their way from the west by putting their attention to the fastest growing customer demographic, the teenagers. In order to meet the demands of the youth Levi’s started innovating. They came up with stuff like pre-washed jeans, bell-bottom jeans (1969), slimmer silhouettes and the now iconic ‘Batwing’ logo. They also did collabs with rock bands, such as The Jefferson Airplane. Now Levi’s was nationwide, ready to take over the world.
Levi’s is still a privately owned company, which is pretty rad. Although they did go public for a bit over a decade in 1971. Being a private company allowed Levi’s to concentrate on the long term, which they did. The same year that the company got back to private, they made a game-changing tv ad.
Yes, finally we arrive to the 19 bloody 90’s. In today’s world you really can’t unsee 90’s influence. Nirvana, N.W.A., Friends and basically the whole red carpet was wearing Levi’s. 1990’s was a big crossover and experimentation in music, movies and style. And yes, Levi’s has yet again made its way into the middle of all that.
Although Levi’s 501 coined its status already decades before, 1990’s style was definitely defined by it. Everyone on the cultural landscape embraced its rugged look. One of the reasons why Levi’s 501’s became so influential during the 90’s, is because they were so embedded in the various subcultures. Another one is the different cultural and stylistic approaches to the already legendary jeans. Some wore them as a statement against the Regan era’s America and for others they were a blank canvas like they were in 60’s for the San Francisco’s hippies.
To conclude our banter about all mighty Levi’s we’ve a quote by a Levi’s archivist, Tracey Panek who describes Levi’s success with the simple: ‘being in the right place at the right time’. From workwear to teen rebels, and finally a high-fashion phenomenon. It doesn’t get any more iconic than this, the most famous piece of clothing ever made, Levi’s 501.
The must-have of all must-haves. The reason why every bloke around the globe owns a pair of blue pants. The reason we’re even talking about jeans. Five pockets, red tab, mid-high rise, button fly and straight leg, what else do you need. Quality and the width of the fit has certainly changed many times during its time, but a timeless classic and a true icon, nevertheless.
TYPE III TRUCKER JACKET
Maybe the most well know denim jacket design out here. Type III, is as you may conclude third edition of the Levi’s denim jacket, introduced in 1962. Another absolute must-have in every aficionado’s closet.