The Levi 501 has its origins in the California Gold Rush of the 1850s. Miners complained that due to the work involved in mining, ordinary trousers weren't up to the job. A California entrepreneur, Levi-Strauss bought a consignment of Cotton Twill originally intended for tent making and the first batch of what we now know of as the Levi 501s.
During the next 100 years the Jeans when through various stages of design including the incorporation of the red Levi's tab on the back pocket and V shaped back pocket stitching, the removal of back pocket rivets (it seems that the rivets heated up while miners were warming themselves against open fires.) but until the 1950s they were very much viewed as a utilitarian garment.
The rise of the teenager in iconic films starring James Dean and Marlon Brando who were seen on screen wearing Levi's brought about a new following for Levi's - The Teenager. Sales were steady throughout the 60s and 70s, but competition from rival jeans manufacturers called for a re-branding.
They had a particular appeal with gay men because of the unique shrink-to-fit design they figure-hug the body exaggerating natural contours of the body and giving the bubble butt look.
In 1985, a series of television and cinema commercials were created including the iconic "Laundrette" commercial where male model Nick Kayman strips down to his pristine white boxer shorts in a 1950s Laundrette. The advertisements featured iconic 1960s music, like Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine". Sales went through the roof and Levi's fortunes were destined for greater things. They were also popular with the British boy band Bros who sported ripped 501s which had been purchased by their designer from the London store American Classics where the used garments had been imported from US prisons.
Unfortunately, the appeal of 501s was a universal one and the paradox of creating an iconic design is that young men and their fathers were both sporting 501s. In the mid-1990s, 501s developed an image of being the jeans that ones father wore and with a greater availability on the high street of European and Japanese jeans designers, 501s gradually lost their youth credibility.
In 2001, Levi's introduced a new take on the 501 - the Levi's Engineered Jean which was described as a revolutionary new twisted seem jean for a new millennium. This also featured the iconic back pocket red tab. This was Levi's first attempt to take on new designers and the uptake of the new arrival was steady. But it was nothing like the uptake of 501s in mid to late 1980s.
In the fall 2008, Levi's introduced a new campaign along with web advertising called Levi's "Live Unbuttoned" along with 4 risqué advertisements, along with unknown models and endorsement by the Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar.
It remains to be seen whether the new campaign will boost Levi's image, but the Levi's 501 will forever be a design classic however much stupid your father looks in them.
Straight Leg, Boot Cut
V shaped back pocket stitching
Back right pocket red tab
12.5 oz cotton denim
6 copper rivets