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    

Superb Vtg Levis Big E 1950s Suede Leather Motorcycle Jacket Western Medium40s 50s Vintage Levi's Big E Demin Jean Jacket One Pocket Buckle Cinch Back Lvc Levi's Vintage Clothing 501xx Selvedge Cone Denim Made In Usa 32 X 34Original Vtg 1950's Levi's 501 Zxx Hidden Rivets Sz 32 X 29 Dark BlueVtg 60s Levi 505 Redline Single Stitch Denim Jeans 33x30.5 No Big E Rare 70sVintage Levis 501 No Big E No Redline Dark Indigo Denim Jeans. Size 33x30Huge Lot Girls Size Large Extra Large 12 14 Clothes Gap Levis Jeans Shorts Tops Levis Vintage Clothing Lvc Sunset Two Pocket Shirt Size MLevi Vintage Jacket - James Bond - Sky Fall - Rare Large SizeVintage Levi's Redline Big E Jeans - Original - Distressed Levi's Jeans 501 Jeans - 36x32 Dark BlueLevi's Commutter Cycling Trucker Jacket Dark Blue Denim Size Large Stretch JeansVtg 70s Levi's 501 Red Line Selvage Denim Jeans 34x31 - Lots Of IndigoLevi's Levi Strauss Denim Jean Trucker Jacket Mens Size M Big Label BlackLevis 511 Slim-straight Denim Jeans! Mens W32/l30! Black! Skinny! Red Tab! Vintage Big E Levi's 502 / Selvage /single Stitch / Usa /33w 30l, Tagged 36w 33lLevi's ( Red Tab ) Men's Blue Long Sleeve Denim Button-front Shirt Sz M MediumLevis 501 Men Jeans Straight Leg Button Fly Waist 32 Inseam 32 32x32Vintage Men's Denim Levi Jacket Size Medium! The Real Deal!Vtg 60s Levi's Denim Bag Big E Single Stitch Pocket Made In Usa - Nice Blue!Vintage Levis Black Denim Classic Trucker Jean Jacket Mens XlVtg Levi High Waisted Shorts Black Nasty Gal Urban Outfitters Brandy MelvilleLevi's Made And Crafted Eagle Stitch Backpack Duffle Indigo Denim Rrp £205Levi's Jeans Original Fit 501 Jeans Straight Leg Button Fly W 33 L 30 Levis 501 Denim Jeans! Mens W34/l32! Dark Blue! Straight Leg! Red Tab! Size 6 8 Small Levi Denim Vintage High Waisted Shorts Distressed BlueLevi's Denim Ripped Shorts Size 6/8Levi Strauss & Co Vintage Blue Denim Jean Jacket Usa Made Cotton Size Medium EucLevi Jeans 501 Jeans - 34x32Levis Mens Jean Denim Jacket #70507 Size S Levi Strauss Co Mens Vintage Trucker Denim Jacket L Blue 57508-02 Usa Size LargeVintage 70's Levi's Heather Gray Ringer T Shirt Size Medium Nice Thin Soft !!!Vintage 70s Levi's Jean Jacket Size Large Denim Faded Trucker Ranch Retro MensLevis Check Shirt! Mens M/l! Slim-fit! 42-44 Chest! Blue & White! Red Tab! Levi Vintage Denim High Waisted Shorts W28Levis Men's 517 Jeans 32 X 32 517 Original Red Tab Levis Strauss Riveted JeanLevis 511 Slim-straight Denim Jeans! Mens W36/l32! Dark Blue! Red Tab!Mens Levi Strauss 501 Jeans Size W30/l34! Black Regular Straight Fit Levis 501Levi's 9761 Mens Harrison Tan Leather Work Boots Shoes 9 Medium (d) BhfoLevi's 5151 Mens 527 Denim Low-rise Tumbled Rigid Bootcut Jeans 34/32 BhfoLevis Trucker Jacket Made In Usa Cone Selvedge White Oak Sz Medium Bnwt DenimVtg Levi's Red BandanaVintage Levi's Women's Orange Tab Bell Bottom Hippie/boho Jeans Jacket Medium 8Levi's 527 - Mens W34 L32 Loose Fit Bootcut Red Tab Button Fly 501 Jeans Levis Vintage Overalls Men's Jeans Orange Tab L1Women's Levi's Strauss & Co. Denim Stretch Cropped Capri Jean's Size 14Levi's Clothing Lvc Denim Big E 501 Z Xx Selvedge Jeans 36x34 Hidden RivetsLevis Vintage Jeans 1947 501xx Rigid 32 X 34Levi's Men's Two-horse Brand Selvedge Matchstick Jean Straight Slim 31 X 34 Levi's Blue Jeans 505 0217 35 X 31 Original Riveted Straight Leg Red TabLevi's Selvedge 501 Jeans,made In Usa . Selling For Horse Sanctuary Funds.34 W.Levis 550 Relaxed Fit Denim Jeans! Mens W42/l32! Blue! Red Tab!Levi's 5 M Jr 512 Slim Fit JeansWomen's Levi's Denim JacketLevi's 3241 Mens Tan Mid-rise Five-pocket Straight Leg Jeans 33/32 BhfoVintage 70s Levis 684 Bellbottom Jeans Orange Tab 32x32Levi Strauss - Signature - Blue Denim - Jean Jacket - Men's - Size Xl - Nice !!Levis 501 Denim Jeans! Mens W34/l30! Dark Blue! Straight Leg! Red Tab! Excellent Womens Levis 515 Stretch Denim Shorts Size 12!Levis 514 Slim Straight Denim Jeans! Mens W32/l32! Black! Red Tab! Skinny!