Since introducing the iconic riveted denim jean over a
century ago, Levi’s® has been refining the fit, fabric and
features of the 501® in response to each succeeding
era. Sometimes subtle and only apparent to a discern-
ing eye, the differences between each of the historic
501s® help tell the story of the Levi’s® Brand and the
ever-evolving landscape of the American frontier.
Levi’s® Vintage Clothing reproduces each of the most
historically significant 501s® from the past 123 years
exactly as they were when they were first introduced.
Details – including the fabric, fit and packaging – are
true to the original. The denims are recreated on the
original shuttle looms. The pattern for each jean is ac-
curate to the last inch. The garment itself is meticu-
lously sewn true to era. And finally, once the jean itself
is reconstructed, the exact packaging, including any
hangtags or pocket flashers, is reprinted and affixed.
While this obsession with detail gives us the pleas-
ure of reliving our Brand's history, it also has a more
practical benefit for our customers, giving each one of
them the chance to step outside the limits of fashion
and discover the exact 501® that is right for them, their
body and their lifestyle.
“The historic Levi’s®
The 1890 501® Jean was the first style created after the Levi’s®
patent for riveting clothing expired that same year. This meant
that other companies could start to copy Levi’s® famous pat-
ented riveted overalls, which had been made only by LS&Co.
since 1873. To answer the coming competition, LS&Co. printed
the inside pocket bag with information about the strength and
originality of the XX overalls.
1890 was the year that the 501 number was first assigned to the
famous pants – likely done because the company no longer had
an exclusive on patented clothing, and also because there was a
good-sized line of clothing by this time. It was easier for retail-
ers to order their products by number, rather than by a simple de-
scription, as had been done in the past. Any product made with the
highest quality materials was given a lot number beginning with
5: 501 for the overall, 506 for the jacket, etc. Made with XX 9oz
denim from the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, the 501® was
at the head of the class.
9oz Plain Selvage Denim (12oz after wash) / One back pocket with
exposed rivets / Cinch / Suspender buttons / First “Two Horse” leather
patch / Crotch Rivet / Single needle Arcuate / Pocket bag print
“Every garment guaranteed”
A loose, anti-fit waist overall
1922 marks the year when belt loops were first used. Belts began
appearing on fine clothing soon after World War I and eventually
became important to younger workingmen. Although belt loops
were added, the suspender buttons remained till 1937 and the
cinch till 1942. The 1922 501® Jean offered the best of both worlds.
One could maintain the cinch and use suspenders or eliminate
both and wear a belt. Younger men cut off the cinch in order to
wear a belt, while more traditional users kept the cinch and wore
suspenders. Retaining both ways of wearing jeans ensured that
more people could be persuaded to try Levi’s® jeans, many for the
Around 1915 LSCo. started hanging a small paper label from
one of the suspender buttons on the waist overalls. This label,
which was carried over into the early 1920s, advertised the fact
that LSCo. had won prizes at the Panama-Pacific International
Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915.
11oz Cone Mills Plain Selvage Denim (12oz after wash) /
Two back pockets with exposed rivets / Belt loops / Cinch /
Suspender buttons / “Two Horse” leather patch / Crotch rivet
/ Single needle stitched Arcuate / Pocket bag print
“Worn wherever hard work is required”
High waisted with a wide leg fit
A pair of jeans from 1933 had belt loops, but still had the cinch
and suspender buttons, offering a variety of ways the pant could
be worn. Some owners wore their jeans with a belt. They cut off
the cinch right at the rivet, and removed the suspender buttons,
choosing to wear their jeans not like the older generation did with
suspenders. Some Levi® Brand retailers even kept a big pair of scis-
sors at the cash desk to cut the cinch off for their customers. The
1933 501® Jean also featured the redesigned “Guarantee Ticket” on
the back pocket of the jeans. The company had trademarked the
name “Levi’s®” in 1927 because any pair of denim pants was be-
ing called “Levi’s®” no matter who made them. Instead of reading,
“This is a pair of them,” as seen on the original ticket from 1892,
the new ticket read “This Is A Pair Of Levi’s®.”
Also under the leather patch was a small white cloth label print-
ed with a blue eagle and the letters “NRA”. This was the National
Recovery Act logo, which Levi Strauss Co. was allowed to use
because the company abided by the labor rules of President
Franklin Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration during the
Depression years of the 1930s.
Cone Mills 10oz Red Selvage Denim (12oz after wash) / Two
back pockets with exposed rivets / Belt loops / Cinch / Suspender
buttons / “Two Horse” leather patch / Crotch rivet / NRA (National
Recovery Act) label / Single needle stitched Arcuate
“This is a pair of Levi’s®
A wide and relaxed fit
the 501® Jeans of 1937 evolved into a mix of old and new. 1937 was
a challenging year for America. The Great Depression was in full
swing. Work was scarce and many Americans lost their farms and
homes. But ever the optimists, the people of San Francisco per-
severed. The iconic Golden Gate Bridge was finally completed in
1937. And like the Levi’s® 501® Jean, it was held together with riv-
ets — 1.2 million of them.
The 1937 501®Jean still came with a cinch back, but the suspender
buttons on the waistband were removed. Press-on buttons were
given to customers who just couldn't live without them. On the
right back pocket, the 501® Jean was adorned with the now-fa-
mous Red Tab. First introduced in 1936, this device was meant to
differentiate Levi's® jeans from competitors in the marketplace.
And in response to consumers who complained that their jeans
were scratching their furniture and saddles, Levi's® began sewing
the back pockets so that they covered the rivets.
To emphasize this point, they introduced the first pocket flasher.
Made in the famous salmon color and placed into the right back
pocket, the flasher had arrows pointing to the corners of the pock-
ets with the words, “The Rivet's Still There.”
Cone Mills 10oz Red Selvage Denim (12oz after wash) / Two back pockets
with concealed rivets / Belt loops / Cinch / “Two Horse” leather patch
/ Big “E” Red Tab / Crotch rivet / Single needle stitched Arcuate
“Look for the Red Tab”
Rounded top block and a straight leg
Everything changed during World War II. The United States gov-
ernment told all clothing manufacturers that they had to remove a
certain amount of metal, fabric and thread from their garments in
order to conserve the raw materials for the war effort. Levi Strauss
Co. did what they could to abide by the rules. Off came the watch
pocket rivets, the crotch rivet and the cinch along with its two
rivets (which eliminated both fabric and metal). Buttons became
standard issue during the war, and featured a laurel leaf design.
Sometimes the buttons were branded; sometimes the waistband
had the laurel leaf and the fly buttons were plain. The only expla-
nation is that delivery of sundries was hit and miss during the war
years and the Brand sometimes had to use what it had on hand.
There was one rationing rule that was a little harder to bear: the
order to remove the Arcuate stitching, because it was considered
decorative and meant that it didn’t have a function. Well, LSCo.
thought it did: it was one of the prime identifiers of the classic 501®
Jeans. Rather than lose this important design LSCo. worked out a
system to paint the Arcuate stitching on every pair of 501® Jeans
that came out of the factory. The paint eventually washed off but
having that stitching visible when buying the jeans was the im-
Cone Mills 12oz Red Selvage Denim (14oz after wash) / Two back
pockets with concealed rivets / Big “E” Red Tab / “Two Horse”
leather patch / Painted Arcuate / Pocket bag material varied during
wartime / Unbranded rivets / “Laurel Leaf” unbranded buttons
“When there’s work to be done, wear Levi’s®
High waisted and a regular fit
When World War II ended and raw materials were available again,
Levi Strauss Co. leaped back into heavy production to meet the
growing post-war demand. Slimmer fitting, with no extra details
like the cinch or suspender buttons, this was a jean that was ready
to rock and roll.
The watch pocket rivets came back after their wartime hiatus and
the Arcuate was stitched on the back pockets again, after being
applied with paint throughout the war. But it came back in a differ-
ent form: Thanks to new, double needle technology, the famed dou-
ble arching stitch was now uniform in size and design, no longer
subject to the skill of the individual sewing machine operator and
her single needle machine.
The Red Tab with its capital “E” had never gone away, thanks to
its status as a trademark. The red selvage, 12oz. Cone Mills den-
im was still the bedrock of the jean, as it had been for nearly two
decades. By the end of the 1940s Levi’s® Jeans were aimed at the
new, emerging middle class. The 1947 501® Jean was the jean of a
Cone Mills 12oz Red Selvage Denim (14oz after wash) / Two back pockets
with concealed rivets / Big “E” Red Tab / “Two Horse” leather patch / Twin
needle stitched Arcuate / Watch pocket rivets returned after the war
“It’s lucky they’re Levi’s®
Classic slim fit with a straight leg
In the mid 1950s Levi Strauss Co. started selling the 501® Jeans
on America’s east coast for the first time (the western states had
been the only sales territory since the jeans came out in 1873).
Many folks had already been introduced to the jeans at dude
ranches, but to some, this button fly work pant was something
they had never encountered.
In order to make potential consumers comfortable with the com-
pany’s products, LSCo. introduced a zipper version of the button
fly Shrink-To-Fit® jeans in 1954: the 501Z®. It had everything long-
time wearers loved: the silhouette, the tough but flexible fabrics,
rivets, etc. Retailers carried both the 501® Jean and its zippered
brother, the 501Z® Jeans, and everyone got the pair that worked
best for them.
The 501Z® Jeans had many fans. It was given the new number
502 in 1967 and remained in the line until 1976, when the pre-
shrunk jean surpassed it in popularity. However, when it first came
out, LSCo. received a letter from an oldtimer somewhere in the
West who wasn’t too thrilled with the innovation. The actual letter
has disappeared, but company legend has it that the writer said;
“Why the heck did you put a zipper in your jeans? It’s like peeing
into the jaws of an alligator.”
Cone Mills 12oz Red Selvage Denim (14oz after wash) / Zip fly /
Two large back pockets with concealed rivets / “Two Horse” leather
patch / Big “E” Red Tab / Twin needle stitched Arcuate
“The original Western overall”
Zip fly and a narrow tapered leg
The 1955 501® Jeans have a quintessential 1950s shape, with a
square top block, a more “anti-fit” in the seat area and a slightly
fuller cut around the leg. Like the classic cars of the day, the silhou-
ette is boxy but tough.
They’re the first 501® Jeans to bear the leather-like Two Horse
Label and a double sided Levi’s® capital “E” Red Tab. The zinc but-
ton fly and copper rivets remained standard issue. Like it’s prede-
cessor from 1947, the 1955 501® Jeans had belt loops as the only
method of waist adjustment, hidden rivets on the back pockets
and zinc buttons on the fly.
Levi’s® became exceptionally popular with school age boys in the
1950s. They started calling them “jeans” instead of “overalls.” The
company ran ads in support of their interest in wearing their jeans
in class despite the fact that many East Coast schools banned den-
im as part of dress codes. A letter from an East Coast professor to
the company read as follows, “While I have to admit this may be
‘right for school; in San Francisco, in the west, or in some rural ar-
eas I can assure you that it is in bad taste and not ‘right for school’
in the East.” The taboo only made the youth of the day want to wear
them even more.
Cone Mills 12oz Red Selvage Denim / Button fly / Two back
pockets with concealed rivets / “Two Horse” leather-like patch /
Double sided big “E” Red Tab / Twin needle stitched Arcuate
“Right for school”
Square top block and a straight leg
The 1966 501® Jean represents a snapshot in time. This style – bar
tack instead of rivets, big “E” Red Tab – only existed from 1966 to
1971, just a blink of the eye in a very long life of the original and
definitive blue jean.
When the back pocket rivets were covered in 1937, everyone
thought that would solve the furniture-scratching problem. But
those rivets were tougher than they looked, and after a few years
of hard wear they just wore right through the denim, scratching
things up again. By 1966 technology had caught up with history
and it was possible to bar tack the pockets so that they were as
sturdy as they had been in their work wear days.
In 1971, the name “LEVI’S®” on the double-sided Red Tab would
change to read “Levi’s®”, making the 501® Jean of the late 1960s
the only ones with bar tacks and a big “E” Tab. Which means that
a guy who hitchhiked his way to San Francisco in early 1967 and
brought a pair of 501® Jeans was not only experiencing a once-
in-a-lifetime event, but was wearing a unique pair of jeans; a pair
which would change again when the Summer of Love was just a
Cone Mills 1960s 12oz Red Selvage denim (14oz after wash) / Two
back pockets with bar tacks instead of rivets / “Two Horse” leather-like
patch / Twin needle shallow Arcuate / Double sided big “E” Red Tab
“A legend does not come apart at the seams”
Rounded top block and a tapered leg
A pair of 1978 501® jeans shared the world with a lot of earth-shat-
tering events: the first test-tube baby was born, American artist
Norman Rockwell died, and the Sex Pistols performed their last
concert—all in San Francisco, the home of the 501® Jean. The 501®
Jean of the late 70s also shared shelf space with pants made in
a dizzying array of fabrics that had become popular in the Me
Decade: denim Big Bells, corduroy Big Bells, denim Straight Legs,
brushed twill Bell Bottoms, corduroy Boot Jeans, polyester/cotton
slacks masquerading as jeans, and beyond.
Despite the turbulent times, Levi Strauss and Co. stuck to the ba-
sics when it came to its most iconic style. The 1978 501® Jean had
a straight but still generous twisted leg. It sported a lower rise than
earlier 501® Jeans and had a little “e” Red Tab, which was first in-
troduced in 1971. But like the other 501® Jeans from the century
before it, the 1978 501® Jean still came with the always-classic
button fly and red-orange contrast stitching. Many vintage en-
thusiasts who grew up with this 501® remember it not for its fit
or details, but for the special Cone Mills denim that it was made
from. Rumor has it that Cone Mills began adding sulfur during the
dye process to get more distance out of the petroleum-based in-
digo dye that they were using. This new recipe resulted in a truly
unique fabric that was a bit brighter and faded out faster, a wel-
come change for Levi’s® fans who wanted to fade their jeans as
quickly as possible.
Cone Mills 12oz Red Selvage Denim (14oz after wash) / Two
back pockets with bar tacks / “Two Horse” leather-like patch
/ Twin needle Arcuate / Double sided small “e” Red Tab
“Quality never goes out of style”
Slim fit, square top block and a low rise
The following guidelines are considering law of averages
with our Levi’s®
Vintage Clothing 501®
jeans. Each denim
will shrink and skew in a slightly different way. Different
temperatures will also have an effect. The options for how
you wash, wear and care for your 501®
jeans are vast.
It’s up to you to make your choice and stick to it.
Enjoy this journey and long-term love affair.
GET THE RIGHT FIT
one that suits you best
Keep ‘em Rigid
Some folks like to wear their rigid 501®s without washing. The wear effect on a
true rigid jean will always give the most dramatic look. You can dry-clean, but that’s
only if you don’t mind chemicals being used on your denims. Some people spray vinegar
when their jeans hang inside out to remove any odour. Some simply hang their jeans
outside for a few days. Folding jeans into the freezer also does the same job.
If you don’t plan to wash your 501®s,
buy one size smaller in the waist and true
size for length. After a few wears the waist
will stretch to your size.
DIP IN THE ‘TUB
The very first time you wear your 501®s, climb into the bathtub and let them soak
on your body for up to half an hour. Drain the tub, squeeze the excess water from
your legs then get outside in the sunshine to dry them into your shape. Otherwise, bend
and stretch while wearing them indoors until you can carefully slip out of them and dry
them over the back of a chair. When your jeans are dirty, simply climb back into the
bathtub and wash with a little soap.
If you plan to shrink your 501®s in the
bathtub, buy your true size in the waist but
two sizes bigger in length. After shrinking in
the bathtub, make sure to stretch the waist
back out while still wet: this method will
help achieve a slimmer silhouette.
WASH ‘em GOOd
If you prefer a thorough wash and simply don’t have the time for handwashing,
wash inside out at 86° F / 30° C. Don’t tumble-dry: it’ll shrink too much. Dry in the
open air if you can, or hang them in a warm place until crispy dry. Long-term shrinkage
will occur over several washes.
If you plan to wash your 501®s, buy two
sizes bigger in the waist and length and
wash to achieve your size.