Today, there are so many brands of jeans that Levi’s hardly seems like a standout. But a century ago, Levi’s were one of the most talked about jeans of the time. The brand was a leading force in the popularization of denim across America. Golden Age actors endorsed the brand, hippie-era rockers participated in their campaign, and vintage pairs from the 1800s are worth thousands today. Fame aside, the brand’s logo, belt loops, red tags, and more all hold hidden significance. Read on to discover surprising facts about one of America’s oldest and most coveted jeans.
Levi Strauss Was An Immigrant
The founder of the famous American clothing company was actually not himself born an American. Levi Strauss was born in Franconia, Germany. At the age of 18, he moved to New York with his mother and sisters.
His brothers had already set up a dry goods business in New York City, which they wanted to extend to San Francisco. Levi was picked to head the West Coast branch. This opportunity paved the way for Levi to start his own brand of denim pants.
Levi Collaborated With The Inventor Of Modern Jeans
While Levi Strauss was running the dry goods shop in San Francisco, modern jean inventor Jacob W. Davis began frequenting the shop. Davis had an idea to reinforce pants with a certain technique, which he wanted to patent.
He suggested collaborating with Levi Strauss, who had already begun making jeans himself. They received the patent, which they incorporated into the company’s jean advertisements. The new design incorporated copper rivets at the jeans’ points of strain. You can find these little devices at the corner of your jean pocket still today.
There’s Meaning Behind The Logo
Thirteen years after Levi Strauss filed Jacob Davis’ patent and put out their first pair of jeans, he came up with this long-lasting logo. The beige patch has red font that reads “Levi Strauss & Co. San Francisco Cal, Original Riveted Quality Clothing.”
It also shows two horses being directed by cowboys to head in opposite directions. Between each horse is a pair of jeans that appear to be getting stretched. The illustration was meant to imply that the pants are so durable that even horses can’t tear them apart.
The Numbers Mean Something
Have you ever wondered why Levi’s jeans are named with numbers? That method was actually put into practice by Levi Strauss himself. Similar to a thread count, the higher the number, the better the quality of the jeans.
Numbers that start with a “5”, such as 501, 511, etc., indicate that the jeans are of the highest quality available by the brand. The lowest quality jeans are the 200 series, and the 300 and 400 series are somewhere in the middle. The following numbers indicate the pants’ fit.
The Oldest Pair Of Levis Are Worth $80,000
The oldest pair of Levi’s that still exist today date back to 1879. Auctioneers estimate that they’re worth $80,000! Considering that these jeans have outlived humans, they still appear to be in impressive condition.
One thing you’ll notice is that there’s only one back pocket instead of two, which is how all of their jeans were initially made. You can also see that the patch has worn extensively over the years. The logo is worn off, but the V-shaped thread is still visible on the back pocket.
A Pair Of Levi’s From 1880 Were Found In A Mine
The second oldest pair of Levis known to date is just one year younger than the oldest pair. Dating back to 1880, these jeans were recovered from a mine in Nevada. The Levi’s corporation purchased the pants on eBay for a whopping $46,532.
The story suggests that it might not be such a bad idea to hold on to your Levi’s and pass them on to future generations. If the company is around for another 200 years, they may want to buy them back.
Levi’s Didn’t Have Two Back Pockets Until 1901
If you go back to the previous two photographs, you’ll notice something about the back pockets: there’s only one on each pair of jeans. That’s because Levi’s didn’t produce jeans with two back pockets until 1901.
According to the company website, a loss in records prior to 1906 leaves the reason why they decided to make the change a complete mystery. They speculate that the added pocket was due to a fashion trend or customer request.
The “XX” Came From New Hampshire
You would assume that Levi’s were produced in San Francisco where they were sold, but this wasn’t the case at first. The jeans were initially manufactured in New Hamshire at the Amoskeag Mills.
It was at this mill that the “XX” marking was created. The symbol was placed on the brand’s logo to indicate that the jeans were extra strong. Since the jeans emerged long before designer jeans, they were used as work pants, so durability was of the utmost importance.
Levi’s Switch To Cone Mills Broke Amoskeag Mills
After decades of working with their initial manufacturer, Amoskeag Mills, Levi’s made a business-altering switch. In 1915, the switched to North Carolina’s Cone Mills as their manufacturer. The Greensboro company is on top of the American-made denim industry.
By 1922, Levi’s received all of its denim from Cone Mills. Part of the switch was due to a labor strike workers went on after WWI, when the mill lowered its already unbearable pay. The company was also falling behind the times as they still used water power. The company went under about a decade after Levi’s moved on.
Levi’s Belt Loops Arrived In The 1920s
Today, suspenders are used purely as a fashion statement. Their initial function was to actually hold up pants. Though belts existed prior to the 20th century, belt loops were very uncommon, so many relied on suspenders as a more convenient alternative.
Levi’s put out their first pair of jeans with belt loops in 1922, but they still had suspender buttons. When WWII hit, suspenders became obsolete to save material for the war, and belt loops rose to prominence.
They Temporarily Painted On The Arcuates
As part of the war effort during WWII, manufacturers had to cut as many materials as they possibly could. In addition to getting rid of their suspender buttons, Levi’s also got rid of their cinched waist feature in the back and limited their stitching.
Removing stitching meant that they couldn’t stitch on the arcuates on their back pockets that the company remains known for. Rather than sticking to plain back pockets, the company hand-painted on the logo. The style is still available as the 1944 model of Levi’s Vintage Clothing.
John Wayne Wore Levi’s In Stagecoach
John Wayne fans are likely familiar with the film classic Stagecoach. One thing that you may not notice right away while watching the movie is that John Wayne is wearing a pair of Levi’s!
Though it’s obscure, you can barely make out the curve of the famous “V” on Wayne’s back pocket in this shot. You’ll also notice that the pants have belt loops and that he’s wearing a belt, not suspenders, not surprising considering the movie came out the same year that WWII began.
Lady Levi’s Came Out In 1934
A few years ago, a trend called the “boyfriend” jean came into fashion. The style consisted of loose-fitting jeans for women, meant to evoke the look of a girlfriend wearing her boyfriend’s pants. As it turns out, women actually did this decades ago before companies produced women’s jeans.
It wasn’t until six decades of production that Levi’s came out with their first line of jeans for women. Still, these female jeans were only advertised on ranches, where it would be socially acceptable for a woman to dress in such a way.
The Red Tab Didn’t Arrive Until 1936
Sixty-three years into their pant-making business, Levi’s decided to implement a marketing technique that follows the same strategy that stop signs and red lights use. Since the color red is one of the most eye-catching colors, they added it to their jeans.
In case you missed the emblem on the back pockets or the giant patch logo with the two horses, the red tag that says “Levi’s” on it should get your attention. The red tab is positioned on the inside of the right back pocket, so it lands right in the middle of someone’s bum.
Cary Grant Was A Huge Fan Of Levi’s
Cary Grant was one of the top names during the Golden Age of Hollywood, and even he preferred Levi’s to other pants. In his daughter’s 2011 book, she revealed that the Levi 501s were the only jeans the actor would wear.
Additionally, he wrote a thank you letter in 1968 to Art Roth for gifting him a few Western shirts by Levi’s. Grant comically writes, “I’m not all sure if I can swagger out in gold-threaded finery. I shall await a braver mood.”
Clint Eastwood Also Wrote A Love Letter To Levi’s
In April of 1960, actor Clint Eastwood also wrote a letter to Art Roth, a worker for Levi Strauss, expressing his love of Levi’s. He wrote, “Glad to hear you approved of the picture in Levi’s Continentals. I wear them a lot for casual dress, as they one of my favorites.”
Eastwood concluded the letter by saying that he looks forward to meeting Art when he’s in the Bay area, which has been the headquarters for Levi’s from the beginning.
Levi’s Produced A Denim Tuxedo In Honor Of Bing Crosby
Singer and actor Bing Crosby (pictured) was one of the top Hollywood fans of Levi’s. While on a hunting trip in Vancouver, B.C., he was denied a hotel room based on his outfit, which naturally consisted of Levi’s denim.
When Levi Strauss & Co. heard about what had happened to their loyal fan, they gifted Crosby a denim tuxedo that featured a lapel flower made of red Levi’s tags, nicknamed the Canadian Tuxedo. Levi’s president JC Curleigh wore the famous look to an event in 2016.
Levi’s Weren’t Available On The East Coast For Decades
Though jeans were a popular staple in American culture throughout the first half of the 20th century, Levi’s remained unavailable on the East Coast until 1950. The California Gold Rush and the Wild West became correlated with jeans, which meant that there was an apparent demand for them on the West Coast.
Levi Strauss had opened up shop in San Francisco, and it didn’t seem necessary to move east. Eventually, jeans became associated with more than just the frontier lifestyle, and Levi’s established themselves across that nation.
“White Rabbit” Was Altered For A White Levi’s Commercial
The song “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane was practically the hippie movement anthem. The band was wildly popular in San Francisco, as were Levi’s. So when Levi’s introduced their White Levi’s, they had the ingenious plan to collaborate with the band.
Jefferson Airplane altered the lyrics and recorded a special rendition of their hit for a Levi’s commerical. Lines of the song include, “White Levi’s come in black, flashing bravo blue, I love you right now with your white Levi’s!”
Levi’s Made The “E” Lower Case In 1971
When the 1970s rolled around, Levi’s decided that it was time for a change. They created a new logo that we still have around today called the Batwing. As you can see in this photograph, the shape of the red rectangle is slightly altered at the bottom.
The bottom line has two arches that look like wings, which echoes the arcuate present on the back pockets. In addition, the “e” was made lowercase so that it appeared more like a name and less like an acronym.