Levi-Strauss has bummed me out over the last few years. As a decades-long customer over the age of 50 who prefers straight or slim jeans made with good, raw, selvedge, non-stretch denim, it sometimes feels like the company is ghosting me.

I’ve always liked Levi’s (or at least I’ve wanted to). It’s one of those American heritage brands that you’d like to think you could always count on. But recent years and trends have produced a collection of offerings aimed at a decidedly younger, trendier crowd, leaving me feel a bit left out.

But some years ago, Levi’s took a dive into their archive with their “Vintage Clothing” line, producing faithful recreations of jeans from bygone days. While the iconic 501 has been around for quite a while, it has undergone some tweaks here and there over its storied timeline. The vintage collection details some of those iterations.

Back in 2018, the last pair of jeans I bought came from the Levi’s vintage collection. They were a reproduction of the 1966 501s, made with sturdy and stiff raw denim from the Cone Mills White Oak plant in Greensboro, North Carolina, the last selvedge denim mill in the United States. I still have them and wear them regularly.

Just recently, I bought my first pair of jeans since then. They’re a pair of 1967 505s, which are basically the same as 501s but with a zipper instead of a button fly. Unlike my 1966 501s, these were made with a pre-shrunk selvedge denim from an artisanal Japanese mill that will only shrink about 5% when washed or soaked. Out of the box, they’re definitely a bit slimmer than the standard shrink-to-fit 501s, which is nice. I absolutely love putting on a new pair of jeans made with good, stiff, untreated raw denim and earning my own fit and fade marks. Over time, they become truly mine. I love them already.

Levi’s Vintage Clothing – 1967 505 jeans

The only drag with these vintage reproductions is the price tag. They currently range from $240 to $595, depending on the source of the denim. That’s very steep for most guys. But here’s the thing: unlike the disposable stretch bullshit or pre-treated washes that come with factory made fade marks and holes, good denim will last a lot longer. My 2018 501s are hanging tough and will be with me for many more years to come. The same will be true of the 1967 505s I just bought.

One wonders why a $250 pair of Levi’s shrink-to-fits would be any better than a $70 pair. In my experience, it goes back to the denim itself. Cheap denim is just that: cheap, which feeds into the unfortunate state of disposability in the way people buy today, yielding more trash for landfills. I try to buy for the long haul, not just for the moment or an impulse. Since the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters on the planet, why play into it? A model of more conscious consumption, even if it costs a bit more up front, is better in the long run. (In terms of overall cost-per-wear, I’m the same way with my dress shoes.)

 

And speaking of sustainability, a word about stretch denim…
As an old-timer, it bums me out that there is a generation of young ones who’ve been trained to think denim is supposed to stretch. I assure you: clothing with rubber or plastic in the fabric – which is what makes the “stretch” – is good for no one in the long run. Stretch denim is made with some form of elastic, which is rubber, which is plastic. It doesn’t stretch forever. It eventually blows out, stops stretching and does what all plastic does when it starts to break down: it becomes toxic. I’m neither a fan nor an advocate. If you want a good pair of jeans, get the real thing.

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12 Comments

  1. Those 505’s look great! A while back I bought a nice pair of raw selvedge jeans from Okayama Denim. I went with them because I prefer skinny fit jeans that fit a little snugger with more taper then 501’s/505’s. Levi’s offer the 510’s, and while I like the cut I also am not a fan of the stretch stuff(although I do admit to buying a couple pairs not long ago because I like how I look in them). The Okayama’s are great fitting and I’m going to purchase again from them soon. Lots of offerings also not cheap but they were great to deal with.

  2. Timothy Oliver Reply

    Any thoughts on belt loops? The Levi’s I grew up in had seven belt loops. They now have five. Wranglers, which I do not care for, are the only jeans I can find with seven belt loops. Five doesn’t cut it. My belts rises above the jeans waist in between the side and back loops. My lack of an ass aggravates the situation. I’m considering harvesting the belts loops from a pair of cheap jeans and having my trailer sew them into the long gaps on either side.

  3. Must be nice to be able to afford $250 pair of pants. I shop thrift, and if I’m lucky, I get the same pants for about $15 – or less, if the Lady Luck really smiles on me. Same goes for shoes. Most people I know, shop thrift these days. The economy tanked for the Joneses.

  4. Thank you for sharing your denim purism stories. Maybe you can also share the sizing you buy and how you wear yours in? I remember the formula of buying the Levi’s 501 unwashed raw denim from the Cone Mills 3-4 sizes larger and wearing them while taking a really hot bath so the denim would slowly shrink to your own body’s nooks and crannies. What is your experience?

    • With unshrunk, raw, shrink-to-fit denim, I buy my actual size in the waist and 2” longer in the length. I wear them new/unwashed for as long as I can stand it, then soak them in the tub in warm water. Air dry.

  5. Do you find the quality of the denim to be the same as when we were teens on the vintage 501s? I carried 501s around with me forever as I became older using them as my “goal” jeans. Never really happened after I had a child, but I agree with you on stretch. I don’t like it. Also, would you do a blog on men’s casual fashion now that you don’t have to wear a suit and tie everyday? My guy needs a wardrobe update, but I’m hesitant to buy anything that isn’t going to stay around for awhile. He’s not into polo shirts. He could probably do this on his own, but he always comes to me for my opinion, so I usually just get to choose the clothes for him. Thanks

  6. There is nothing like the feel of really high quality, un-processed denim jeans. That said, I can’t share your dislike of a little elastic in jeans. I have a pair of uniqlo jeans with 1-2% elastane that I’ve worn since 2010. The fades look great. I had to start patching them last year, but I’d say that’s a pretty long run, in spite of the stretchy comfort. Regardless, I appreciate your approach, and you always look great. We’d be better off if more people bought for the long haul.

  7. You/fellow readers might check out Gustin. Their stuff is made in the USA and they do a lot with stock from Cone Mills. They have a preorder model, but also have a store with leftover stock. I just preordered a pair of unsanforized Cone (they say buy 3 sizes up for a 30-min cold soak!). Hope I’m still excited in November when they ship.

    Not sure if the link will be an issue, but these are the jeans:
    https://www.weargustin.com/store/jeans-176-cone-american-unsanforized
    The order period closes soon, but they resurrect styles pretty frequently (and you can sign up for notifications).

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