imagesMacy’s and Levi’s hosted a gathering of fashion editors to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the iconic Levi’s 501 jean and to learn more about the history of this iconic jean company.  At the event, Lynn Downey, Historian for Levi Strauss & Co.  presented a fascinating historical overview.  Lynn Downey was hired as the first Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. in 1989. Lynn has published numerous books and articles about Levi’s jeans and the company’s history, including: This is a Pair of Levi’s Jeans, a coffee table book about the history of the Levi’s brand, and her most recent work Levi Strauss & Co., a corporate history for Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series.


Interesting facts include:

1873:  The birthday of the blue jean.

Levi Strauss and Nevada tailor Jacob Davis get together to reinforce a garment for working western pioneers by using copper rivets at the points of strain. This became the first iteration of the 501 jean, then called XX. On May 20, 1873, the original patent for using rivets on men’s pants was granted, and an America icon was born.

1890:  Lot numbers were first used to differentiate the various products made by the Levi’s brand. The 501 jean as it is now called, was officially named when the number was assigned to the now world famous “copper riveted waist overalls.” 

1936:  The first Red Tab device was placed on the right hand pocket to differentiate Levi’s jeans from imitators.

1943:  The famous Arcuate stitch design, which has graced the back pockets on the 501 jean since its debut, was registered as a trademark in 1943.  It is iconic in its own right, as one of the oldest clothing trademarks still in use today.


1950s:  The Rebels of the 1950s proudly wore the 501 jean – adopted from the laborers after the Great Depression – and made it a symbol of irreverence and solidarity.  Worn by everyone from James Dean and Marlon Brando to Jack Kerouac and Jackson Pollock, the 501 jean became the emblem of youth and a symbol of rebellion.  Emerging in Hollywood, style icons began to embrace the 501 after Marilyn Monroe is seen wearing them in hit film “The Misfits.”

 1964:  So significant is the cultural impact of the 501 that in 1964 a pair of 501 jeans entered the Permanent Collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

1980s:  Steve Jobs adopts his signature look of a black turtleneck, Levi’s 501 jeans and gray New Balance sneakers.

1990s:  Worn throughout the Grunge Movement, the 501 continues to remain at the forefront of change across generations, becoming a staple in Kurt Cobain’s wardrobe and other legendary rock stars.

2000:  Time Magazine names the 501 jean the “fashion item of the 20th century,” beating out the miniskirt and the little black dress.

2009:  President Barack Obama wears Levi’s 501s to throw out the first pitch at the 2009 All Star Baseball Game

 What’s your favorite pair of Levi’s?

-Kevin Feather

Kevin is the Lifestyle Editor and a contributing writer for LuxuriousPROTOTYPE.  He is also a contributing writer for the  He can be found on Twitter @Kfeat and also on Google+.

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