Founded in San Francisco in 1853, the Levi Strauss brand has a rich heritage and fascinating history. Originally designed for miners, denim was used as the classic workwear. After the patenting of the process of strengthening men’s work pants with copper rivets at “points of strain”, the blue Levis jean that we all know and love today, was born. Sturdy and strong these work pants were used by labourers, customised with extra pockets and details to help them with their work.

 

Today, the legacy has continued into the modern era to offer product that sets the bench mark for all denim. Levis Vintage Clothing is the premium vintage line that takes inspiration from the vast Levis archive and recreates the products with care and authenticity. Bringing the history of Levis back to life.

 

To find out where it all started we took a trip to the amazing archive in San Francisco, and discovered more about the story behind some of the oldest pairs of jeans in history.

 

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1875, 1879 - The XX
The oldest pairs of jeans in the archive are from 1875 and 1879 respectively and were named “double X” after the first denim used to make them, which were later renamed to the classic 501 in 1890. The XX stands for extra strong or double extra heavy. These were one of the first jeans that introduced the process of strengthening men’s work pants with copper rivets at the points of strain.

 


- Circa 1875/1879
- Cinch back
- Exposed rivets
- Buttons for suspenders

 

 

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1880 - Nevada Jean
These jeans got their name from being found somewhere in Nevada. All information about them was lost in the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906, but they are believed to be a Carpenters jean dating back to the 1880s. This was one of the most expensive pieces the archive acquired at just under £50,000.

 


- Circa 1880
- Carpenter jean
- Side pocket for holding a folding ruler
- Cinch back
- Exposed rivets

 

 

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1890s – Spring Bottom Pant
The Spring Bottom Pant was a tailored work pant which was the first piece of clothing to be used to distinguish hierarchy within the workplace, aimed at “middle management” types such as bookkeepers and factory managers. These jeans were made in a unique blue and gold denim, with rivets at the point of strain and the “spring”, or flare as it is now known, could be customized for each customer.

 


- Circa early 1890’s
- Tailored jean
- Flared leg
- Copper buttons and rivets
- Decorative pockets
- Cinch back

 

 

 

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1917 - Homer 501 Jean
Originally bought in the town of Wickenberg, Arizona in 1917 by a miner by the name of Homer Campbell, these jeans were acquired by the Levis Head Office in 1920, when he sent them back. He had worn them everyday for 3 years (except Sundays) but complained, stating: "I've been wearing your product for 30 years and this pair just hasn't held up". He had sewn a multitude of patches and padding onto the jeans, and underneath the original jeans were actually intact.

 


- Circa 1917
- Covered in patches and padding for added protection by the owner
- 2 back pockets with exposed rivets
- Buttons for suspenders

 

 

 

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1920s – Heath 501 Jean
The Heath jean was named after the student who found this pair of jeans in an abandoned mine in the Gold Hill region of Nevada in the early 1990s. It was not unusual to find jeans in mine shafts, as the workers would often change out of their work clothes while still in the mine. These jeans were one of the first pairs of 501’s to be made with red selvedge Cone Mills denim.

 


- Circa late 1920s
- Miners jeans
- Sewn over pocket detail
- Exposed rivets
- Cinch back
- Red selvedge denim

 

 

 

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1933 – Cowboy 501 Jean
These indigo jeans were owned by a Cowboy and date back to 1933. The cowboy was considered modern for his time, by cutting off the cinch and the suspender buttons so he could wear the jeans with a belt. These jeans have a National Recovery Act label underneath the leather one, which was a sign in the 1930s that you abided by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s government policies.

 


- Circa 1933
- Synthetic indigo colour
- Suspender buttons removed
- Cinch back removed
- Obvious crease lines around the crotch

 

 

 

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1874 – Triple Pleat Blouse
The first ever denim jacket, dating back to 1874 was found by Mike Harris in Nevada and acquired by the Levis Archive in 2008. Triple pleated at the front, with a titled waistband (shorter in the back), this jacket was made to fit like a shirt hence the name “blouse”, but still made in a jacket weight fabric.

 


- Circa 1874
- Three pleat front
- Round bottom pockets
- Exposed rivets
- Sew on buttons