Levi’s is celebrating 140 years of a cultural icon – The Levi’s 501! It’s amazing to think that the classic 501 cut, which is still popular today, was first brought onto the scene back in 1873! For this little celebratory campaign (titled Happy Birthday, Mr. Blue Jean), Levi’s has put together some quotes from designers, even a timeline of the 501’s evolution and a cool video which you can watch above.
When Levi Strauss partnered with tailor Jacob Davis in 1873 on a patent for riveted pockets on work pants for Western pioneers, they couldn’t have dreamed of its impact on modern culture. The Levi’s┬« 501┬« button fly jean – the original and first ever blue jean – was born this coming Monday, May 20, 1873. And 140 years later, it is more popular and even more relevant to global culture and style than ever before.
“I wish I had invented the 501┬«.” – Tom Ford – “I wish I had invented blue jeans. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity – all I hope for in my clothes.” – Yves Saint Laurent.
Below, you can take an historical look at the 501’s impact on culture over the last 140 years! I also wrote a post myself on the history of denim, which does give a lot of credit to Levi’s as well, so if you like history, you can check that out here.
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 point 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 begin to embrace the 501┬« after Marilyn Monroe is seen wearing them in hit film ÔÇÿThe 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.
1960s & 70s Far from being simply a museum exhibit, millions of pairs of 501┬« jeans continue to be worn by young pioneers who are writing history, their ubiquitous presence seen throughout the peace movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
1980s Steve Jobs adopts his signature look of a black turtleneck, Levi’s┬« 501┬« jeans and gray New Balance sneakers.
1989 Pioneers continue to wear the 501┬« as seen atop the Berlin Wall as it came down in 1989.
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
Today The uniform of progress since 1873, Levi’s┬« jeans are still the first choice of modern pioneers: the artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, activists, bloggers, and even presidents trail blazing the modern frontier in their 501┬« jeans.