The Hardest Working Jeans in Town

She’s tuff, resilient, versatile, rule-breaking, gender-fluid, ageless, timeless and above all, still the coolest cat in town – and it’s not your hottest girlfriend, ex or sister we’re thinking of. We’re talking about the Levi’s 501. The work pant turned American icon, becoming a global phenomenon and everyone’s blue jeans, celebrating 150 years this very year.

(Note: The people in the pictures have no direct connection to Levi’s 501 and the content of the article. It’s just a walk down denim memory lane.)

Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg for Calvin Klein 1992

It began with a patent back in 1873. A way to add rivets to denim work pants, making them more durable for a tough day in the mines. But in their time, they’ve come to embody something you can’t patent: style. Personal style and freedom in a perfect balance. The kind that’s been defining cool for decades. The kind you can only find in a pair of straight-fit, button-fly jeans, loved and lived-in to perfection.

The story of the Levi’s 501 is the story of jeans itself.

Jeans in their modern form were originally created in the mid-to-late 19th century, comprising a blend of cotton, indigo dye, and rivets. The earliest form of jeans was intended as heavy-duty work pants for blue-collar workers. The first patent for jeans was issued in 1873, and they were manufactured by the Levi Strauss & Co. The most important distinction between the Levi’s 501 and other types of jeans is their fit. The Levi’s 501 is a slim-fitting leg jeans. This was a deliberate design decision by the company, inspired by the look of Victorian-era garments like riding pants. The Levi’s 501 was Levi Strauss & Co’s most iconic model, and was an instant commercial success.

Double denim Drew Barrimore
Madonna sporting denim jacket and shorts in the 80s
Ye and Julia Fox stepping up the denim game at the Kenzo Fall/Winter 2022/2023 show for PFW

Since its introduction, Levi’s 501, has become synonymous with American style and culture. It has been worn by generations of American workers, celebrities, and presidents alike – was the go-to pants for American soldiers during both World Wars – firmly establishing its place in the collective American consciousness. Despite falling out of fashion in the latter half of the 20th century, the Levi’s 501 made a comeback in the 21st century. The pant’s cultural impact has been felt throughout history, particularly during the 1960s Counterculture movement, as a symbol of anti-establishment sentiment, mostly due to its association with the musician and artist community of the 1950s and 60s.

Artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol were known for creating magic, wearing jeans in their studios, and they played an important role in manifesting 5-pocket jeans as a symbol of creativity and artistic expression. 

Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake wearing matching denim outfits to the 2001 American Music Awards
Thelma and Louise, starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in 1991
Punk rock blond Debbie Harry
Lady Di casual chic in 5-pkt jeans in 1997

Having seen numerous revivals over the decades, the Levi’s 501 is today a global fashion statement for any occasion and for everyone … stretching the truth a bit, since there are vintage Levi’s 501:s on the market for thousands of dollars, particularly those from the mid-1900 with unique features such as selvage denim and hidden rivets, many of them ending up in the hands of Japanese collectors with a fanatic appreciation for denim authenticity and attention to detail.

Twinning in cropped denim shorts. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
Nothing comes between Brooke Shields and her Calvins. Calvin Kleins controversial campaign in 1980

All image courtesy Pinterest

Published 23/05/2023

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