On this day in 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis were granted the patent on metal riveted jeans

The oldest known pair of Levi XX jeans, dating from 1880

On this day [20th May] 1873, San Francisco businessman Levi Strauss and tailor Jacob Davis were granted a patent for making work trousers that were reinforced at the stress points with metal rivets. Originally called “XX” as they were considered extra, extra strong, they have continued to be manufactured ever since, taking the world by storm. Originally they were called waist overalls or britches and sold as working wear to miners, cowboys and general workers in central California.

In 1890, they began to be termed “501’s”, after their “lot”number.

The term “jeans” comes from the old name for a similar woven fabric from Genoa called “Gene fustian” in the 16th Century. The material was used to make working trousers for sailors. It seems that the name “jeans” was so strongly associated with pants and trousers that it evolved from a fabric name into the name of a garment. The term “denim” went through a similar process. The town of Nîmes in France  gave its name to “serge de Nimes”that originally was a form of woollen cloth.  In the 19th century however, the term was associated with a cotton twilled fabric that was made in large numbers into trousers for navy of the Republic of Genoa.

Levis were originally made in blue and brown but the darker colour was not popular although they are still available. http://www.langstons.com/levis-501-00501-31671.html

"Tootsie" Bailey, a cowgirl in 1922

Women have always worn jeans, but Levi jeans styled specifically for the female form were only invented in 1934, when “Lady Levi’s” went on sale. They were given the lot number of 701 and were aimed at women working on ranches. They were originally sold in just a few Western states.

After James Dean popularized them in the 1955 movie Rebel Without a Cause, wearing jeans by teenagers and young people became seen as a symbol of rebellion. It has been suggested that because of this and their association with “working” clothes, they were often banned in theaters, restaurants and schools.

I have worn jeans all of my life. My Mother bought me my first pairs when I was a child and they were always Levis. I stopped wearing Levi’s during the 1990’s however, when I became aware that the company employed child labour [through their sub-contractors] in their factories based in Asia and Africa. This happened after rising manufacturing costs caused the company to close the American factories. Since that time however, the company have made the following declaration:

 Child Labor. Use of child labor is not permissible. Workers can be no less than 14 years of age and not younger than the compulsory age to be in school. We will not utilize partners who use child labor in any of their facilities. We support the development of legitimate workplace apprenticeship programs for the educational benefit of younger people.


Me in Levi trousers and jacket on Clacton Pier with friends Naomi and Vic in 1977

As I have gotten older, I have found that the cut of Levi jeans doesn’t do much for my stocky, mid height frame any more and as such, I have transferred by allegiance to Wrangler. Only they seem to make the 29 inch leg, 34 inch waist variety that fits me perfectly… Mind you, if you are long and leggy, Levis do look good, especially when shrunk to fit!

So, on that note, I’ll say “Happy Birthday Levis” and take my leave of you with this Youtube clip of Roy Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers in their song “Levi Britches”


About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
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