THE LAYERS OF LEVI'S
December 23, 2021
Rare items of clothing, such as blue jeans, have the power of a statement piece. Jeans are everyday trousers made from denim, a cotton fabric woven from twill, often with indigo, grey, or mottled white yarn. However, the story of jeans is much more layered because it was used for both utilitarian and fashion purposes. For example, consider the popular flare jeans (jeans with wide legs) of the 1970s, the "carrot cuts" of the 1980s, or the extensive models of the late 1990s that defined the hip-hop era. However, there is no doubt that the creators of jeans, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, whose innovative creation, originally intended for miners, today remains synonymous with high-quality denim and has a cult status.
Levi Strauss' story is one of the more intriguing stories of nineteenth-century immigration to the United States and success in the New World. Strauss, then eighteen, left his native Bavaria in 1847 for New York, where he joined his brothers in establishing a textile wholesale business. During the "gold rush" period, when most immigrants were looking for gold - Strauss' gold was denim. He soon relocated to San Francisco, where he sold clothing and supplies to miners in need of tough clothing for the arduous work of prospecting for gold. For the next twenty years, he ran a successful business selling trousers, which at the time were called waist-overalls. The trousers were still intended solely for miners, as evidenced by a rare preserved early example of Levi's covered in wax. Namely, the miners held a lighted candle tied around their heads with a ribbon.
Parallel to Strauss' success, a miner's wife requested that a local tailor, Jacob Davis, make pants for her husband that would not fall apart (which often happened with previous mining equipment). Davis tried to figure out how to strengthen the pants and came up with the idea of using metal rivets to reinforce the stress points. He patented his invention after realizing he had created pants of exceptional durability, but he lacked a business partner who would financially assist him in achieving serial production. Davis remembered Levi Strauss, from whom he purchased fabric for new riveted pants, and in 1873 they jointly patented blue jeans, a key product of the Levi Strauss company.
Levi's jeans remained popular as workwear at the turn of the twentieth century, particularly among miners, cowboys, and other manual laborers in the American West. As ranches became more popular vacation destinations for urban residents, Levi's jeans first appeared in the world's most famous fashion magazine Vogue in 1935, with advice to readers on what to wear on a trip to the ranch. However, Hollywood westerns made their true mainstream entry possible, which made them a modern symbol against the status quo in the turbulent 1950s. In films starring James Dean and Marlon Brando, jeans symbolised youth rebellion: students began wearing them to protest the Vietnam War and, more broadly, the American establishment. Thus, Jeans were prohibited in schools, theatres, and cinemas. However, because they were inexpensive and it was challenging to prohibit specific items because doing so only encouraged further rebellion, everyone soon wore jeans.
Andy Warhol, a key figure in pop culture and a member of the generation that witnessed denim's transformation from workwear to a fashion statement, is an important example of his Levi's commitment. According to Bob Colacello, executive editor of Interview magazine (a magazine of intimate conversations with the world's most creative people founded by Warhol in 1969), he wore them every day. He mentions that Warhol was once invited to the White House and dressed in Levi's jeans for the occasion. No one noticed because he wore them under his tuxedo, claiming that tuxedo pants are uncomfortable against the skin.
The original Levi's 501 jeans, which are still produced today, have unfortunately changed significantly since they began to be widely produced, and the cut has not remained consistent. Fortunately, finding a good pair of 501 from the second half of the twentieth century became a big hit among vintage enthusiasts (and those who love good jeans). A straight leg, a regular waist, and enduring appeal will always stay in style; they are hallmarks of many generations' styles. Jeans are undeniably the most popular pants in Western culture today, and this is unlikely to change in the future. Created to last, old Levi’s jeans have a unique look and atmosphere of a turbulent past. They show the character of the wearer more than any other piece of clothing, which is what makes them so popular after all. Have you ever had a bad time at Levi’s? reads the advertising slogan from the beginning of the seventies, which insists on Levi's made-to-last symbol. Indeed, is it necessary to change what is good?