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Decoding Eras: A Complete Guide to Identifying Vintage Levi’s Jeans

Decoding Eras: A Complete Guide to Identifying Vintage Levi’s Jeans - Vintage Superstore Online

Levi’s jeans have a rich history with distinct characteristics that vary across different eras. Identifying vintage Levi’s involves recognising unique design elements, labels, and manufacturing details specific to each period. Let’s explore the defining features of each era:

1. 501 Originals (Late 1800s-1960s): Classic Americana

  • Red Tab with “LEVI’S”: Early 501 jeans had a "Two Horse" patch and a red tab featuring “LEVI’S” in all caps.
  • Button Fly and Selvedge: Original 501s had a button fly and were often made from selvedge denim.
  • Arcuate Stitching: The iconic “Arcuate” stitching on the back pockets varied in size and shape over the years.

2. Denim Evolution (1970s-1980s): Cultural Shifts

  • Orange Tab Introduction: Levi’s introduced the orange tab, featuring “LEVI’S” in lowercase letters.
  • Slimmer Fits and Coloured Denim: Jeans during this era had slimmer silhouettes, and coloured denim became popular.
  • Pre-Washed and Stone-Washed: The advent of pre-washed and stone-washed jeans marked a change in denim aesthetics.

3. Brand Revival (1990s-Present): Modern Adaptation

  • Return of Red Tab Quality: Levi’s reintroduced the red tab, focusing on quality and reverting to earlier design aspects.
  • Vintage Reproductions: Levi’s began reproducing iconic vintage jeans, emphasising authenticity.
  • Expanded Range and Collaborations: The brand diversified with different fits, washes, and collaborations, catering to varied tastes.

Identifying Vintage Levi’s Jeans:

  • Label and Tag Details: Examine the red tab, orange tab, care labels, and other tags for manufacturing information.
  • Stitching and Design: Pay attention to the stitching pattern, pocket shapes, and details like rivets and buttons.
  • Selvedge and Fabric Quality: Authentic vintage Levi’s may feature selvedge denim and high-quality, sturdy fabric.

 

Style Numbers and Codes on Levi’s Jeans:

Levi’s employs style numbers and codes on labels or tags, serving as identifiers for specific models, fits, or production runs. Understanding these codes can help in dating and identifying vintage Levi’s jeans:

  • Style Numbers: Levi’s assigns unique style numbers to each product. These numeric codes often consist of four to seven digits and sometimes include letters. Older jeans might have shorter style numbers, while newer ones may contain longer sequences.

  • Codes for Specific Lines or Collections: Some Levi’s jeans have additional codes indicating specific lines or collections. For example, the 501 model might have different variations like 501CT (Customised and Tapered), 501STF (Shrink-to-Fit), or 501XX (Vintage).

  • Production Codes: Levi’s also uses codes to denote manufacturing details like factories or production runs. These alphanumeric codes can appear alongside the style numbers or on separate tags.

Understanding these codes involves referencing guides or resources specific to Levi’s, which document the variations and changes in style numbers and codes across different eras and collections. This aids in accurately dating and categorising vintage Levi’s jeans.

 

Identifying Selvedge Edges on Denim:

Selvedge denim is characterised by a tightly woven self-finished edge, often featuring a coloured stripe running along the outseam of the jeans. Identifying selvedge edges involves examining the following:

  • Outseam: Check the outseam of the jeans, particularly the edges. Selvedge denim has a clean, finished edge with a colored stripe. This stripe is usually red or white, though other colors might be present in rare cases.

  • Clean Edges: Selvedge denim is woven on old-style shuttle looms, resulting in tightly bound edges that resist unraveling. The edges have a clean, almost seamless appearance due to the self-finished weaving technique.

  • Quality and Feel: Selvedge denim tends to be thicker and more rigid compared to modern denim. The texture feels more substantial, and the fabric often displays characteristic irregularities in the weave due to the traditional production method.

Identifying selvedge edges requires examining the outseam edges for the distinctive finished appearance and coloured stripe, which indicates the use of this traditional weaving technique. It's a hallmark feature highly sought after in vintage denim due to its historical significance and quality.

 

Examining Patches and Labels for Age Indicators

1. Back Pocket Patches:

  • Two Horse Patch: Early Levi’s jeans featured the iconic “Two Horse” patch, often made of leather, showcasing two horses trying to pull apart a pair of jeans. Variations in the font, design, and details of this patch can indicate specific eras.
  • Red Tab Evolution: Changes in the style, size, and location of the red tab can aid in dating the jeans. Older tabs may have a capital “E” in Levi’s.

2. Care Labels and Tags:

  • Manufacturing Locations: Check for labels indicating manufacturing locations. Older Levi’s might bear “Made in USA” labels, while newer ones could show different countries of origin.
  • Style Numbers and Codes: Look for style numbers or codes on the labels. These codes often vary across different eras and can assist in dating the jeans.

3. Label Design Changes:

  • Logo Variations: Changes in the Levi’s logo and branding on the label or tag can indicate different eras. Font styles, graphics, and wording may vary over time.
  • Back Patch Modifications: Differences in the design, size, or color of the back patch over time can signify the age of the jeans.

 

Additional Indicators of Age:

4. Stitching and Hardware Details:

  • Arcuate Stitching: Note variations in the stitching pattern on the back pockets, particularly the arcs. Changes in the shape or style of the arcs can indicate different production periods.
  • Hardware Evolution: Look for differences in rivets, buttons, and zippers. Older jeans might have specific styles or shapes of hardware that have evolved over time.

 

Conclusion: Navigating Vintage Levi’s Jeans Eras

Vintage Levi’s jeans represent a journey through American denim culture and fashion. Each era reflects Levi’s evolution, from its iconic originals to adaptations responding to cultural shifts. Understanding the distinct features of different Levi’s eras allows enthusiasts to appreciate the brand’s influence on denim and its enduring legacy.

 

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