Levi Strauss & Co. was founded in 1853, and may be known the most for it’s riveted jeans, but the company itself has dabbled in manufacturing nearly every type of apparel for men, women and children save underwear (update in 2015 – Levi’s is actually now making underwear for men, for sale in some of their stores). Today I’ll focus on their men’s apparel, with a bigger spotlight on their classic jeans and women’s apparel in later posts.
Levi’s made men’s apparel, both jeans and shirts since it’s early days. They were primarily sold to ranchers, miners, railroad workers and other hard-working men, as they were second to none in their quality and durableness (hence the leather patch on the back of the jeans of two horses failing to pull the jeans apart). Levi’s became popular with rebellious youth in 1950’s after James Dean wore the jeans in “Rebel Without a Cause”. On college campuses nationwide, students collected their red tabs with pride (and under the false rumors that sending in a collection would win you a free pair of jeans).
Levi’s developed and grew their casual lines more and more through the 60’s and 70’s, diving into slacks, sportswear, suit coats, and accessories. Some of the experiments and labels flourished, others failed.
-They tested bright colored jeans in 1959 under the label “Orange, Lemon and Lime”
-Sand colored jeans were introduced in 1961, corduroy pants in 1962
-Permanent press wear was created under “Mr. Levi’s” in 1963
-Under debate that the western shirts were losing popularity, the company did not produce any western shirts from 1968-1971. In 1971, the company resumed production both under the Levi’s name, and Levi’s Panatela. The Panatela brand included both westerns and other sportswear, and was discontinued in 1977 – making it a collectible label today to some vintage Levi’s fans.
-From 1969-1973, Levi’s experimented with licensing their name to branch out even more. A manufacturer called “Now and Designs” made denim covered clipboards, address books, notebooks and denim aprons with the Levi’s tab. In 1973, there was even a Levi’s interior trim package available in the AMC Gremlin.
-In 1977, they created Levis for Feet and Levis socks, and their “Activewear” line, carrying jogging, golf, and ski wear.
And while there are many Levi’s fanatics that look for the more obscure items, still the average vintage collector still is just looking for the perfect Levi’s western shirt and jeans. For those of you, here are some of my favorites we’ve sold over the years.
1977 Panatela western shirt.
Levi’s changed the look of their famous tab in 1971 on their jeans, but the change did not occur on their shirts until two years later.
A great pair of Orange Tabs from the 70′s!
A belt buckle of the classic back patch.
Right now we have for sale:
For more information on Levi’s and their history, I highly recommend two books
both are out of print, but can be found on Ebay, or through your local used bookstore.
Looking to buy some vintage Levis jeans, shirts or jackets? See what is in my shop here.