Levi’s are usually associated with the 19th-century San Francisco firm of Levi Strauss & Co., which made the famous, blue, copper-riveted “waist overalls,” as pants were originally known, and sold them to miners in the gold fields of California. When introduced in 1873, the pants were labeled as “XX”, which was a textile-industry designation for fabric of the highest quality. By 1890, the jeans were named after their lot number, 501.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Levi products—from jeans to jackets to shirts—were not sold east of the Mississippi River until the 1950s. Still, throughout its history, Levi’s had strong connections to the east coast, thanks to the fact that its sources of cotton duck and blue denim were based there.

The company’s first supplier of denim was the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company of New Hampshire, whose fabric was designed for the wear and tear of outdoor work. By 1922, Levi was buying all of its denim from Cone Mills of North Carolina.

For collectors of vintage jeans, Levi’s 501s are a rich category. The first pants featured buttons for suspenders and copper rivets at the pockets (in the beginning, there was only one pocket in the back). By 1886, a leather patch with a picture of a pair of horses trying to pull the pants apart was sewn onto the back of the pants at the waist. A second back pocket was added in about 1901 and belt loops appeared in 1922—the pants would sport both loops and suspender buttons until 1937.

In the 1930s, Hollywood stoked the nationwide demand for Levi’s as stars from John Wayne to Cary Cooper to Bing Crosby wore the apparel at work (in other words, in the movies) or at play. By the end of the decade, Levi’s was marketing a complete line of “Dude Ranch Duds” for men and women.

The push east in the 1950s caused changes to the now-famous 501s. For example, until 1954, all Levi’s 501s had button-up flies, but as the brand moved into New England and the Southeast, customers there demanded zippers so a 501Z was introduced. That was also the year Levi’s introduced its classic Sawtooth shirt, so named for the jagged shape of the stitching on the shirt’s breast pockets.

The red tab on a pair of 501s’ right-back pocket is another way of dating a pair of Levi’s. When these tabs first appeared in 1936, the word “LEVI’S” was stitched into the tab. T...

Other landmarks in Levi’s history include the introduction of pre-shrunk Levi’s in 1963 and the enshrinement of a pair of 501s in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution in 1964.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

MyVintageVogue

MyVintageVogue

The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

The VFG is a non-profit international educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vinta… [read review or visit site]

Fashion-Era

Fashion-Era

Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 1950's Levi's Big E Denim Pleated Type Ii 507xx Selvedge Jacket Rare Stunning Vtg Levis Straus Brown Leather Motorcycle Jacket Western MediumSuperb Vtg Levis Straus Brown Leather Motorcycle Jacket Western MediumVintage Levis Redline Single Stich 505 Blue Jean Deadstock Made In UsaLevi's S501xx Big E Made In Usa Vintage Redline Selvedge Jeans W36 L36 DenimVintage Levis Denim Jacket Punk Trucker Jean Jacket Mens Size Medium Light BlueVintage Levi 501 Redline Jeans Single Stitch 1966 Deadstock Store Display 60/36Vintage 60's 70's Levis Kids Super Slim Jeans Orange Tab Big E Talon Dead StockLevis 501 Denim Jeans! Mens W36/l32! Dark Blue! Straight Leg! Red Tab! Vtg Levi's San Francisco Trucker Sherpa Jean Denim Biker Farm Jacket Size L 40rVtg Levis Sherpa Lined Black Denim Jacket Size M 05447Vgc Vintage Mens Levis Brown Stone Washed Denim 70598 4826 Us Made Medium JacketVintage 1950s Big E Levis's 501 701 Women's Denim Jeans Hidden Rivets RedlineVintage Levis Big E Orange Tab Talon 42 Zipper Indigo Denim Jean. 36x28Boys Size 3t Jeans Lot, Levis, Joe'sVintage 70s Levis Jean Jacket Size Large Denim Distressed Orange Tab TruckerLevi's Re/done High Waist Jeans Size 26 Gorgeous Vintage 501 Levis 505 Jeans-vintage Pre-1970 Red Tab Big E Selvedge Double X Leather PatchLevis 501 Denim Jeans! Mens W34/l32! Dark Blue! Straight Leg! Red Tab! Vintage Levi Big E Denim Late 60's Early 70's Shirt Jacket Leisure Mod Men's MLvc Levi’s Vintage Clothing Cotton Flannel Buffalo Plaid Red Black Shirt XlLevis 501 Classic Fit Black Jeans, Waist 38" Length 32" - Rrp £90Levi 501 Denim Jeans! Mens W40/l32! Dark Blue! Straight Leg! Red Tab! Vintage 60's Levis Leather Type 3 Jacket - Big E- Suede Rough Out Size M 36/38Vtg Levis Sherpa Lined Denim Jacket Size L 05450Boy's Fall / Winter Clothes Lot ~size 5t~ Gap Levis South Pole MoreLevis 501 Denim Jeans! Mens W34/l32! Dark Blue! Straight Leg! Red Tab! Button!1940s Levi's Jeans White Selvedge, Pocket Selvedge, Raised Rivet Mens 30 X 32Killer Lvc 1950's Bowling Shirt Vintage Repro Levis Rockabilly Levi's Men's (l) Vintage '80s Usa Acid Wash Black Jean Trucker Jacket 57508 0256Levis 551 Zxx Selvedge Denim Jeans 33 34 Raw Self Edge Straight Made In Usa Pre Vintage Levi's Western Shirt 70s Disco Snap Front Leisure Jacket Cowboy Mens 38Levis Red Tab Blue Denim Truckers Jacket Men's SmallVtg 60s 70s Levi's Orange Tab Big Bell Bottom Overalls Button Fly JeansPerfect Levi Mens Black Denim Trucker Rancher Jean Jacket Red Tab Size Xl 70598Women's Jeans Jacket Levi Strauss Levi's Dark Denim Size Xl Great!!Vtg Levis Sherpa Lined Denim Jacket Size Xl 05446Vtg Levis Sherpa Lined Denim Jacket Size L 05439Levi's Women's Blue Denim Jean Jacket Sz S SmallSupreme X Levis Moleskin Zebra Trucker Jacket Men's Levi's Relaxed Trucker Jean Jacket Small DenimLevi's Levis Men's 511 Denim Jeans Size 36 X 30Vintage Levis 501s In Size 28/31Vtg Deadstock Indigo 501 Xx Levi's Jeans Made In Usa Tag 35 X 33 Measure 33 X 30Levi's Men's 70506-0214 Denim Blue Jean Jacket Size 40 Made In UsaLevi's 511 Slim Fit Jeans Rinsed Playa Men's 34Mens Vintage Levi's Usa Made Button Up Denim Trucker Lined Jean Jacket Size 2xlKiller Lvc 1950's Bowling Shirt Vintage Repro Levis Rockabilly Space Age AtomicYouth Vintage Levis Denim Jean Jacket Orange Tab 2 Pocket 34" Chest Sz 16Levis 501 Denim Jeans! Mens W34/l34! Dark Blue! Straight Leg! Red Tab! Vintage Levi Strauss Men’s Large Blue Denim Chambray Button Down L/s ShirtMen's Levi's 70411 Blue Jean Denim Trucker Jacket Plaid Flannel Lined Sz 48Vintage Levi's 501 Jeans Denim Boyfriend Super Destroyed Distressed 28x30 Sz 25Mens Vintage Usa Made Levis 501 Button Fly Jeans Tag 34 X 40 Measured 33 X 36Levis Levi's Men's Sherpa Fleece Lined Black Trucker Coat Jacket Sz L / Large Men's Levi's Western Denim Shirt Sawtooth Pearl Snaps Quality Size X LargeLevi's Men's Blue Denim 514 Slim Straight Jeans Sz 34x34Vintage Levi Denim Strauss Jacket Big Pockets Trucker Men's L Wpl 423 Xx WesternVintage Levi Strauss Blue Denim Trucker Jacket Sz M/l WomensLevi's 3503 Womens 524 Gray Cotton Denim Skinny Jeans Juniors 9 Medium Bhfo