Enshrined in the pantheon of truly iconic American brands, Levi’s has been making jeans ever since Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis shook hands in 1872. The former, a dry goods wholesaler with means, was contacted by the latter, a struggling Latvian tailor, who had come up with the bright idea of reinforcing his pants with rivets along the pocket and seat, creating a durable garment that could stand up to the rigors of the ranchers, miners and cowboys of the West. The two successfully filed a patent for waist overalls, and history was made. Of course the beloved Levi’s 501 jean wouldn’t come into play until 1890, and an incarnation of the model that we’d recognize today, complete with two back pockets, belt loops, cinch-less back and signature red tab, wouldn’t materialize until the late 1940s.
Levi’s is quintessentially American, up there with baseball and apple pie as basic cultural signifiers. Over the decades, the brand has managed to stay relevant while staying true to its roots. The new 501 CT is evidence of a willingness to evolve, while repro silhouettes, homegrown materials and American manufacturing, all hallmarks of Levi’s Vintage Clothing, keep the rich history of the brand alive. Check out our primer of 10 iconic Levi’s pieces in the following pages
Produced by: Dan Hwang
Levi’s Vintage Clothing 1954 501 Jean
The 1954 Levi’s 501 was the first model to be officially released on the East Coast. To ease newcomers to its denim products, Levi’s introduced the 501Z, replacing the button-fly on its shrink-to-fit jeans with a zipper fly. Otherwise, the signature details, including concealed rivets and double needle arcuates, remained intact, used on a tapered down silhouette with narrow legs. To this day, the 1954 501 jean is the only make in the 501 lineup with a zipper fly.
Levi’s Made in USA Modern Sawtooth Shirt
While the shirt gets its name from a prosaic source — its distinctive pocket flaps, which are cut to resemble the teeth of a saw blade — its aesthetic is wholly emblematic of the rugged American West. Complementing the classic style is premium Cone Mills selvedge denim, cut and sewn in the states and equipped with an original western yoke and snap-front closure.
Levi’s Made in USA Trucker Jacket
Almost as identifiable as the 501 jean, the Levi’s Trucker as we know it — originally dubbed the Type Three — has been around since 1962. Back then, the jacket was only available in rigid raw denim form. This edition is handcrafted with premium Cone Mills selvedge denim, treated with a garment rinse that maintains the fabric’s dark coloring. Rest assured it’s guaranteed to look better with age.
Levi’s 501 CT
Launched this year, the 501 CT (customized and tapered) is the most recent iteration of the 501, featuring a tapered leg from knee to ankle. Inspired by a long tradition of wearers taking to the sewing machine to tailor their 501s themselves, the 501 CT is finished with a slightly roomier waist, meaning it can be sized down for a slim, modern fit.
Levi’s Vintage Clothing 1950s Shorthorn Shirt
Constructed from heavy stone washed 100% cotton flannel, this Western workwear shirt gives away its 1950s pedigree with a shorter body, bib hem and slightly boxy fit. The garment was formerly a fixture in the wardrobe of cowboys and rodeo hands, signified by the bull on the label that gives the shirt its name.
Levi’s Vintage Clothing Type I Jacket
As the name suggests, this was the first incarnation of what would go on to become the Levi’s Trucker Jacket. Introduced in 1936 and built with Cone Mills red selvedge fabric for the first time, the pleated-front jacket features exposed copper rivets, a copper-pronged cinch-back and single breast pocket.
Levi’s Vintage Clothing 1947 501 Jean
In many ways, the 1947 edition marked a significant turning point in the history of the 501. This was the first model produced after WWII, which meant that the details lost during wartime austerity — including watch pocket rivets and stitched arcuates — would make their return. New double needle technology also meant the arcuate was now uniform in size, while the slimmed-down silhouette was free of the cinch-back and suspender buttons. The 12 oz Cone Mills red-line selvedge and red “E” trademark tab remained intact.
Levi’s Vintage Clothing 1950s Sportswear Tee
This simple tee was a symbol of American prosperity in the 1950s, a period that allowed for increased leisure, and consequently, a more relaxed attitude toward dress. Reminiscent of the tee worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, the 100% cotton top bears the original Levi’s Sportswear of California label from the ’50s.
Levi’s Vintage Clothing 1960s 606 Jean
Considered the original skinny fitting jean, the 606 was made for a new generation of Levi’s customers looking for slim fitting denim at a lower price point. Like other models bearing an orange tab, the 606 was made using Line 8 construction, which meant cost effective measures like bar tacks instead of copper rivets, a zip fly instead of buttons, a leather-like patch with black ink and a single thread color throughout.
Levi’s Vintage Clothing 1967 505 Jean
Setting it apart from its 501 counterpart, this 505 comes pre-shrunk with a lower rise and zipper fly, though it does keep the signature big “E” red tab. Considered a slim fit during its introduction during the “Summer of Love,” the silhouette would be considered more a regular fit by modern standards, featuring a straight leg all the way from thigh to ankle.