SAN FRANCISCO (September 16, 2009) – Seventy-five years ago, Levi Strauss & Co. took a risk that forever changed the course of women’s fashion. In the fall of 1934, the company introduced “Lady Levi’s® jeans” – the world’s first jeans made exclusively for women (www.womensjeans75.com). Originally created as men’s workwear, jeans are now a fashion must-have around the globe, with women’s jeanswear leading the way in denim trends each season.
Jeans were originally created by Levi Strauss & Co. for working men in 1873, but the category has since seen a dramatic shift with the advent of the first jeans for women. Today, new fits, fabrics and finish innovations are typically first developed to meet women’s needs and tastes and are driven by the demands of the women’s market. In fact, sales of women’s jeans surpassed men’s in 2000, making women the leading consumers of denim in the United States.
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of women’s denim, Levi Strauss & Co. Historian Lynn Downey will host store events in New York at the Soho store (September 26th), Los Angeles at the Beverly Hills store (October 3rd), San Francisco at the Union Square store (October 17th), and Chicago at the Michigan Avenue store (October 24th) where shoppers can see historical women’s jeans and memorabilia and receive special discounts.
Despite the latest high-tech finishing techniques for women’s jeans, today’s most popular styles – the Boyfriend and Skinny jeans – trace their ancestry back to the earliest jeans developed by Levi Strauss & Co.
Last year, the Boyfriend jean exploded on the fashion scene when trend-setting celebrities were spotted in Los Angeles wearing men’s 501® jeans. Women across America quickly adopted this look, which originated in the early 1900s when women wore men’s 501® jeans because there was no other option. Today, Levi’s® Boyfriend jeans for women are one of the most popular styles in the market, offering a relaxed, straight leg and comfortable fit in a range of washes that can be dressed up or down.
Levi’s® Skinny fit jeans are another fashion must-have this season. Though the fit was originally created by the Levi’s® brand in the 1960s, the jean has been redesigned to offer a more flattering look to women, with a slim leg and fashionable washes.
“The Levi’s® brand has a rich heritage of making jeans for fiercely independent and original women – from the pioneering women of the American West who first adopted men’s jeans and inspired the creation of a women’s jeans range, to today’s movie icons,” said You Nguyen, Senior Vice President, Levi’s® Women’s Merchandising and Design for the Americas. “Women have truly embraced jeans and made them the cornerstone of their wardrobes. We are just as focused today as we were in 1934 on creating great fitting jeans that make women feel unstoppable.”
Fourteen years after women won the right to vote nationally, women’s jeans were born in September of 1934 when Levi Strauss & Co. created Lady Levi’s® jeans. The line was developed for Western women who had begun wearing men’s Levi’s® jeans on ranches and farms, and for women to wear to a popular new vacation destination – dude ranches. Soon afterwards, Levi’s® jeans became a popular fashion trend for women on the East Coast and were featured in a 1935 article in Vogue about dude ranching that illustrated two women in Lady Levi’s® jeans.
“Levi Strauss & Co.’s decision to create a line of women’s Levi’s® jeans was very progressive at the time,” said Lynn Downey, Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. “Pants still weren’t an acceptable part of a woman’s wardrobe, let alone a style of pants considered to be men’s workwear. The Lady Levi’s® line offered forward-thinking women a new sense of freedom – and though this new-found liberation started in the West, it eventually became a nationwide phenomenon.”
Women’s jeans have evolved substantially in the 75 years since Levi Strauss & Co. created the first pair. But at their core, modern women’s jeans trace their lineage back to the earliest pairs. Today’s most popular styles are interpretations of the daring and progressive styles first made popular in the 1930s. And the women who wear jeans today are just as unstoppable as those pioneering women who first donned Lady Levi’s® jeans.
The evolution of women’s jeans:
Pre-1934: Women in the West began wearing their husbands’ or brothers’ Levi’s® 501® jeans, the original blue jeans first created in 1873. These pants were sturdy enough to handle the rough life of a rancher. These original Levi’s® 501® jeans worn by women foreshadow the current “Boyfriend” jeans popular today.
1934: The first pair of women’s jeans, Lady Levi’s®, are created. Assigned lot number 701 to distinguish them from men’s jeans (Lot 501), the original pairs were aimed at women working on ranches and sold in several Western states.
1930s and 1940s: Sales of women’s jeans begin to take off due to the growing popularity of dude ranches. High-end department stores Best & Co. and H. Kauffman & Sons Saddlery Company carried Levi’s® jeans to meet this new demand. Women’s jeans also switched from button-fly to zipper.
1950s: Lady Levi’s® jeans are sold throughout the United States along side men’s Levi’s® 501® jeans and the classic denim jacket.
1960s: Amid a tumultuous cultural revolution, denim becomes a staple in women’s wardrobes. Jeans become a icon of rebellion that’s adopted by both men and women. The brand introduces a slimmer fitting jean – the precursor to the modern Skinny jean. Stretch women’s jeans became popular among teenage girls.
1970s: Levi’s® women’s jeans range offers a variety fashion fits, including the “full” and “straight” leg jeans, and the “jean cuffs.” Flares and bell-bottoms also become popular styles. Levi’s® jeans for women are introduced for the first time overseas.
1980s: The Levi’s® brand introduces the famous 501® jeans for women in 1981. The brand introduces stonewashing to women’s jeans just two years later in 1983.
1990s: The Levi’s® brand offers a series of premium denim and continues to make a wide range of jeans – including the 501®, 550®, 512® Slim fits.
2002: The Levi’s® brand launched Super Low jeans for women, driving the trend to new heights.
Today: The Levi’s® brand remains the top seller of women’s jeans worldwide and continues to offer the hottest styles for the fall and holiday season 2009, the Boyfriend and Skinny fits.
Levi Strauss & Co. is celebrating another milestone this fall — the 75th anniversary of its introduction of the first women’s jeans.
The San Francisco-based denim giant introduced Lady Levi’s to the world during the fall of 1934 with the 701 style. The initial target market was women of the West, who were more likely to be engaging in regular outdoor activities or working as ranchers, and had been making due with wearing men’s 501s. It’s a story the company believes deserves more attention.
“People don’t know the women’s Levi’s story as well as they know the men’s story,” said Lynn Downey, the company’s historian.
“I think the Levi’s brand has always been known to be a men’s wear jean,” said You Nguyen, senior vice president and creative director for the Levi’s brand. “We sort of take for granted that it’s men’s wear until we dig back into the archives. We were the first brand to really create a jean for her.”
Downey has combed through the company’s extensive archives to help put together a fuller picture of how Levi’s helped spur the women’s denim market.
While the initial target for Lady Levi’s may have been a more rugged and forward-thinking woman, the market quickly shifted due to the rising popularity of dude ranches in the Thirties and Forties. As more East Coast city slickers headed out West for vacations, larger department stores saw the need to stock more jeans for men and women. Downey said a pair of Lady Levi’s in the company archives are believed to be the oldest in the world and were found at a dude ranch.
“We believe they’re from between 1937 and 1942 and we actually know the name of the woman who wore them,” said Downey.
Harriet Atwood left a pair of Lady Levi’s she had purchased at Best & Co. behind after her stay at the Soda Spring Dude Ranch in Rimrock, Ariz. Levi’s was able to purchase the jeans and was confident in their authenticity, since Atwood’s name was stitched into them, most likely to assure they were returned to the rightful owner after being washed. And like other high-end stores of the day, Best & Co. had affixed its own label inside the jeans.
Downey will bring Atwood’s jeans, as well as other women’s items from the archives, to Levi’s stores across the country beginning at the end of the month. She will give presentations at stores in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago through October. Stores also will offer some discounts around the events.
Article and photo from WWD.com
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