A Rough Guide To Levi’s 501 Vintage Jeans – 1873 to 1944

1922lvc501

1922 Levi’s Vintage Clothing 501 – Complete with belt loops, suspender buttons and back cinch

The 501 is undoubtedly Levi’s stand-out jean; and to be the icon of a company as old as Levi”s (founded in 1873!) is no mean feat. It has become the go-to denim of choice for a great many people, particularly of late as a number of the vintage cuts and styles have been making a comeback.

Today’s post is a prequel to our recent history of the Levi’s 501 from 1947 to 1966. Also, we hope it can act as a guide to those looking to get into a new pair of vintage 501, starting from 1890 and moving eventually to the more current 1966.

1890 Model

After the original Levi’s patent came up in 1890, the first proper pair of Levi’s 501s (named so as to make ordering simpler and to give cohesion to names in their burgeoning collection). These were a loose fitting edition, with an anti-fit waist, single back pocket and back cinch for fit.

Details

  • Denim: Amoskeag selvedge denim
  • Weight: 9 Oz.
  • Fit: Anti-fit waist, Loose legs
  • Single back pocket
  • Single needle arcuate
  • Button fly
  • Cinch and Suspender Buttons

Photos (via Levi’s Vintage Clothing)

1890lvc501

1890lvc501cinch

1890lvc501patch

1890lvc501patch

1922 Model

Following the 1890 model, the 1922 version was the next iteration of the Levi’s 501. In a move to remain relevant, the cinch-back and suspender buttons were both retained while belt loops were introduced to keep up with an increased use of belts. A second back pocket was also added in this edition.

The 1922 model is a higher waisted, wide legged jean cut quite differently to its predecessor in terms of the waist but keeping relatively similar in the leg. The 1922 is also the first iteration in which Cone Mills selvedge denim was used.

Details

  • Denim: Cone Mills selvedge denim
  • Weight: 10 Oz.
  • Fit: High rise waist, wide legs
  • Two back pockets
  • Single needle arcuate
  • Button fly
  • Belt loops, Cinch and Suspender Buttons

Photos (via Levi’s Vintage Clothing)

1922lvc501

1922lvc501loops

1922lvc501patch

1922lvc501pocket

1933 Model

The 1933 501s bear a number of similarities to the 1922 with the NRA (National Recovery Administration) tag below the leather patch (a tag small enough that it only showed itself after the patch began to shrink with age), the overall fit and the fact that most stores carrying Levi’s around the country began to keep a pair of scissors in stock to cut off the cinch, which had become obsolete.

The NRA tag was awarded to Levi’s as they met the guidelines set out by President Roosevelt’s NRA during the great depression of the 1930s. The cut of the 1933 model is a bit slimmer than either the 1890 or the 1922 with a slightly lower waist than it’s cousins.

Details

  • Denim: Cone Mills red selvedge denim
  • Weight: 10 Oz.
  • Fit: Wide and Relaxed
  • Two back pockets
  • Single needle arcuate
  • Button fly
  • Belt loops, Cinch and Suspender Buttons

Photos (via Levi’s Vintage Clothing)

1933lvc501

1933lvc501back

1933lvc501patch

1933lvc501pocket

1944 Model

Of the first four editions of the Levi’s 501, the 1944 model was the one with the most sweeping changes. Released during the Second World War, legislature had been passed to limit the amount of metal, thread and raw material that was allowed in garment manufacture to save materials for wartime efforts.

This rationing meant many of the rivets which had adorned previous iterations of the 501 were lost, as was the cinch-back and suspender buttons. Interestingly there is a great deal of variation in the buttons and pocket bags among 501′s produced during this time as material deliveries were hit-or-miss and Levi’s had to make do with what they could get.

Disappointingly for Levi’s, they were also asked to lose the single-stitched arcuate on the back pockets. While they (temporarily) stopped doing the stiched arcuate, they felt the arcuate itself was too valuable to loose and thus painted it on instead. This would eventually wear off in time, but it was present in stores when customers were looking for the Levi’s they’d come to recognize and love.

In further compensation, though seemingly defying logic, Levi’s also introduced the red big ‘E’ tab sewn into the side of the back pocket for the first time in the 1944 model.

The fit of the 1944 continued the trend toward slimming, and the waist higher, once again having come down somewhat in the 1933 edition.

Details

  • Denim: Cone Mills red selvedge denim
  • Weight: 12 Oz.
  • Fit: High-Waisted, Regular Straight
  • Two back pockets
  • Painted arcuate
  • Button fly
  • Belt loops
  • Big ‘E’ Red Tab

Photos (via Levi’s Vintage Clothing)

1944lvc501

1944lvc501back

1944lvc501patch

1944lvc501redtab

1944lvc501pockets

Additional Resources

Stay Raw!

- Connor

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Connor

Based in Vancouver, BC, Canada, Connor grew an interest in raw denim thanks to the process, maturation, patience and craft that goes into each individual pair. He also writes at REPOSITORY which he started alongside Rawr founder Nick Coe.

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