Levi’s 501 Jeans Enjoy Fashion Revival on the 140th Anniversary

Levi's Historian Lynn Downey told colorful tales about the evolution of the blue jean, sharing historic product and collateral from the Levi’s® archives

By Roenna Nepomuceno Del Rosario
Photography by Carl Simpson 

May 20, 2013, marks a milestone for both in the world of fashion and in American history. 140 years ago, the original denim tailor Jacob Davis and San Francisco-based businessman Levi Strauss received the patent to their copper riveted waist overalls, marking the birth of one of the world’s most celebrated garments: the blue jeans.

Levi’s has ensured that their history of manufacturing timeless products is never forgotten. Safely preserved inside their headquarters in San Francisco lies an archive of over 20,000 rare and unique examples of Levi’s clothing and artifacts dating back as early as 1873.  Lynn Downey, who for the past 24 years, has been acting as Levi’s in-house archivist, overseeing the preservation and documentation of the company’s revered archival collection. Some of the key pieces included one of the earliest 501s dated back to 1880 worth 150k, the 1890 501 “Calico Mine” found in the Mojave Desert in 1948, as well as more novelty pieces like an ’80s 501 signed by none other than Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.

Historian Lynn Downey has been travelling for months all over the world taking an in-depth retrospective of Levi’s history of the 501, educating small crowds along the way on the evolution of key features of the jeans on display, as well as reciting a few tales behind each of the pieces. Her enthusiasm and passion behind the product, quick wit and excellent sense of humor made the already rich history even more pleasant to hear. After Lynn’s exceptional presentation, the audience was invited to take an up-close look at some of the “roped off” relics.

In true birthday spirit, Levi’s presented a special “501 Themed Birthday Cake” to commemorate the 140th Anniversary of the original 501 Jeans.  Levi’s has also chosen to mark the event by breaking the tradition of the iconic garment and introduced the first four-piece collection of the next generation of the 501 jean, which features subtle and thoughtful changes to the design. Check the official Levi Strauss store where you can now own the next generation 501 Jeans.  Make sure you keep them – you never know when a historian might need them, say, about 150 years from now.  I wish I kept “my shrink to fit 501 jeans” from back in the 80’s 😉

Levi’s Vintage Ads

Lynn shows audience the oldest pair of Levi's jeans The XX, one of the world’s oldest pairs of jeans (1879) 150k. Restored

Jeans signed by Mick Jagger and his band in 1995

Levi's Historian Lynn Downey with designer Roenna Nepomuceno Del Rosario and model Yulia Riera