The Grand Levis 501 Turned 149 This Year. The Longest Running Fashion Product Ever Created. The Denim Bible India Goes Down Memory Lane And Explores The History Of This Indisputably The Greatest Jeans Ever Made. 


The iconic Levis 501 was introduced in 1873 to rivet the pocket corners on men’s work pants in order to make them stronger and more durable. The idea came from a Reno Nevada tailor Jacob Davis and he wrote to Levi Strauss, a seller of common dry goods products, including clothing, who had a good business reputation, to partner him. And, these two founders of Levis were granted a patent on the process of riveting pants via patent number 139121 on 20th May 1873.

The original copper rivets for Levis were made by LS&CO since 1873.

These pants were made with 9 ounce XX blue denim, sourced from the Amoskeag Mill in Manchester, New Hampshire. The twin Xs perhaps referred to extra plus extra strong.

The products thus created were calle “waist overalls” and had features like one back pocket, arcuate stitching design, a watch pocket, suspender buttons and a rivet in the crotch. In 1886, the 2-horse leather patch was introduced to symbolize the strength and strengthen the identity of the originators. In 1890, the patent of riveted clothing expired and other companies too could copy make riveted clothing. In the same year the lot number 501 was introduced for the famous copper riveted loose anti- fit waist overalls. Eleven years later on customer requests Levis added two back pockets for more practical functionality to Levis 501 jeans in 1901. The two back pockets have changed fashion forever as we know.

After World War I belt-loops became popular among younger working men and started appearing in fine clothing. Levis introduced them in 1922; however Levis also continued offering suspender buttons and cinch. It was also revised as high-waist with wide-leg fit. In the same year the Levis fabric also went all-American. It began to be bought exclusively from Cone Mills, Greebsboro, North Carolina.

Five years later Cone Mills went on to develop new 10 oz. red selvage denim exclusively for the 501 jeans. The denim was woven in 29” wide looms. In the same year-1927, Levis also finally got its trademark. In 1936, the red Tab was first placed onto the right back pocket of the overalls. In the period between 1933 and 1937 the belt loops had defeated cinch and suspender buttons and the Levis 501 was now a blend of old and new through a series of updates. The back pockets were also sewn to cover the rivets.

The Second World War saw the US government telling clothing manufacturers to economize on amount of metal, fabric and thread and conserve materials for the war effort. Levis 501 responded by removing features like crotch rivet, watch pocket rivets, back cinch and even the arcuate stitch. After the end of the war, rivets and watch pocket were re-introduced, but the cinch was removed forever, and the Levis 501 had become slimmer fitting jeans with no extra details. In meanwhile the arcuate stitch also won its registration as a trademark and was now stitched with a double-needle machine.

In 1954 a zipper version of the button fly shrink-to-it jeans named 501Z was launched to cater to the East Coast where people were unfamiliar with the button fly. This model was renamed 502 in 1967. The following year, the leather patch was replaced by a heavy- duty card stock, known as the “leather like.” While the younger users had begun using the word “jeans” in the 1950s, the company formally started using the word jeans in advertising as well as packaging in 1960. Teenagers adopted the phrase and it became popular among all the manufacturers. Pre-shunk jeans were introduced in 1961 and in 1966 Levis released the first television commercial for 501 jeans. Also, back pocket rivets were replaced by bar tacking. 1981 saw the famous “Levi’s® Jeans that helped build America” television commercial. The year also saw the introduction of Levis 501 jeans for women with the popular “Travis –you’re a year too late,” television commercial. The Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984 saw the renowned ‘501 Blues’ television advertising campaign. In 1986, the first series of innovative television commercials for the 501 jeans was aired in Europe featuring classic American rock music mixed with nostalgia and romance. On the product side, in 1993, Cone Mills introduced XXX denim through the use of 60” wide looms. In the same year the company also promoted a contest to find the oldest pair of Levi’s jeans in the United States. The winning pair was from the late 1920s. A vintage line was launched in 1996 capitalizing on the interest.

In 1996, “The original 501® button fly–seen in all the wrong places” commercial, directed by brilliant India-born Tarsem Singh, was aired and widely appreciated. In 1997 the company bought a pair of 1890 501 jeans for $25,000. Two years later in 1998 Levis 501 jeans celebrated its 125 year of originality and in 2003 its 130th anniversary.

Then in 2001, the “oldest known” pair of Levi’s jeans in existence, an authenticated 1880s jeans, was bought by Levis for $46,532 through an widely publicized auction.

Denim Bible India salutes the Levi’s 501 and looks forward to 2023 for the 150th anniversary.

Synopsis – The iconic Levi’s 501 jeans, first introduced in 1873, is going strong even after 149 years. Why is it called the greatest jeans ever made?

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