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.
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.
A little favor…
This little blog, my social media nonsense and my occasional podcast runs on elbow grease, midnight oil and the occasional bad idea. Access is totally free. Any help you can give so I can continue to produce content and keep the lights on would be immensely appreciated. Thank you so much!!!