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May 20, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mr. Blue Jean – Levi’s Celebrates 140 years of a Cultural Icon

by Tyler Durden

The Birth of an American Icon

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.

A historical look at the 501®’s impact on culture over the last 140 years


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 ‘The Misfits’.


1964 – So significant is the cultural impact of the 501® that in 1964a 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.

posted by: Tyler Durden
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