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Why These Are The Only Jeans You’ll Ever Need…

In Partnership with Myer

One hundred and fifty years after their introduction, Levi’s 501 jeans are among the most recognisable items of clothing on the planet. From the iconic red tag to the arcuate stitching design across the pockets, a pair of Levi’s is easy to spot and even easier to wear. While each generation has added its own twist to the 501 formula, those faithful jeans of yours have never and will never go out of style. Now, in order to celebrate a century and a half of immaculate looks, hard-worn practicality, and unassailable craftsmanship, Levi’s has launched its latest range of 501 jeans, further refining the definition of must-have clothing. All of which just goes to show that even after all this time you can improve on perfection.

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Initially referred to as “waist overalls”, the whole Levi’s 501 story really kicks off with an 1873 patent for copper rivets on canvas work pants, the effect being that the rivets made the pants stronger and more durable. But you can still trace a direct line from that very first pair of overalls to the jeans this writer is currently wearing.

That genius idea of combining metal and fabric was conceived of by a tailor, Jacob Davis, who took his invention to dry goods supplier Levi Strauss. The two partnered up, secured the aforementioned patent and set in motion a series of events that would change not just the world of clothing, but the world period.

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An Evolving Ideal

501 jeans have consistently evolved over their 150-year history. That very first 1873 design featured a single back pocket (the arcuate stitching design was in place from the very beginning), a watch pocket, cinch, suspender buttons and a rivet in the crotch. They were also made with 9 oz. XX blue denim, so the jeans we now wear are just a subtle evolution of that initial blueprint.

One of the first major changes was the 1886 introduction of the famous Two Horse brand patch, which has since gone on to become a Levi’s staple. This was likely done due to the looming end of the patent, which would enable other brands to start manufacturing riveted clothing. To counter this, the brand wanted to reaffirm its position as the original and the best when it came to hardy workwear – like there could be any doubt about that.

Around 1901, a second rear pocket was added, bringing them one step closer to the jeans we know and love today, and just over two decades later, in 1922, belt loops were added.

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Seeing Red

That unmistakable red tab we can now spot a mile off was added to the back right pocket for the very first time in 1936, but at that stage “LEVI’S” was stitched in all capitals on just one side of the tab. This was done to differentiate Levi’s jeans from imitators who were copying the brand’s dark denim and arcuate stitch pocket decoration. The cheek!

The arrival of World War II saw further changes made in order to conserve materials for the war effort. Metal and fabric were saved via the removal of the crotch rivet, watch pocket rivets and back cinch, while the arcuate stitching design also needed to be removed as it was purely decorative – Levi Strauss & Co (LS&CO) got around this by having sewing machine operators paint the design on each pair.

With the allies victorious, post-war 501 jeans started rolling out of factories and proved to be a defining iteration. Gone was the cinch (let’s be honest, nobody misses it), rivets were returned to the watch pocket, and the arcuate pocket decoration was stitched using a double-needle machine, giving it the “diamond” shape where the lines meet that we’re all familiar with today.

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The popularity of Levi’s continued into the age of rock ‘n’ roll, with the introduction of a zip – careful, fellas – in 1954 and “LEVI’S” starting to be stitched on both sides of the red tab.

In 1960, the term “overalls” was officially replaced by “jeans” and the following year pre-shrunk Levi’s were introduced; previously wearers would buy their jeans a few inches too big to allow for when the fabric would shrink in the wash, and by 1964 Levi’s 501 jeans were added to the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., indicating what a stalwart part of American culture they had become.


The early ’70s saw one of the final tweaks to the 501 formula with LS&CO’s introduction of the lower case “Levi’s” on the red tab. Only the “L” would remain capitalised.

1981 brought with it the introduction of 501 jeans for women (although we imagine many ladies had happily pinched the blokes’ ones up until that point) and interest in the classic jeans has continued unabated ever since. Indicative of this is the fact that in 1997 LS&CO had to spend USD$25,000 to buy back a pair of its own 1890 501 jeans!

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Forever Changing, Forever the Same

Now, Levi’s 501 jeans have entered their 150th year with LS&CO launching a new range that reintroduces some classic washes and styles along with some exciting new ones. No matter which pair you’re drawn to, you can’t go wrong with that untouchable 501 look.

Perhaps you’re into the 501 ’54 Original Jeans in Blue, which were inspired by a pair of jeans pulled directly from the Levi’s archives. This pair features that distinct 501 anti-fit, but with a slimmer straight leg, and heritage details. The light indigo wash tops off the styling for a perfect example of the iconic look the world has fallen for over the last century and a half.

Alternatively, the 501 Original Jeans in Blue offer a harder-wearing look, while maintaining a classic straight leg, regular fit through the seat and thigh, along with the historic button fly and 5-pocket styling.

Or for the ladies, there’s the 501 81 Jeans in Blue. Boasting the highest rise and most tapered leg in the 501 family, these maintain everything that made Levi’s ’80s 501 jeans for women such a hit, but with a modern, updated fit.

Whether you choose to add one of the jeans mentioned above to your wardrobe or something from the broader Levi’s 501 offering, only Levi’s can provide that timeless look. After 150 years, the future of 501 jeans has never looked brighter. To discover the full Levi’s collection, visit your local Myer store or check out the link below.

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