Vintage Levi’s From The 1950s

In the 1950s, the Levi’s 501 jeans became a uniform for the teenage rebel. After World War 2, denim became more popular among youth thanks to actors like Marlon Brando and also Marilyn Monroe. They were seen in movies as ‘The Wild One’ and the 1960s film ‘The Misfits’. Jeans were still typical labor pants, but cultural figures picked them up and started to wear them in daily life. From bikers, and rock ’n roll musicians to Hollywood stars. The rockabilly scene started to kick off in the 1950s, and wearing a pair of blue jeans was also part of this new movement.

Jeans were still often banned to wear at school, but this made them even more popular among some youth. Wearing jeans became a form of rebellion. Together with a classic white t-shirt, leather jacket, and a sturdy pair of boots, this was the way to rock it. Even today, this outfit is embraced by many all over the world. Known as the rebel’s outfit. You can’t go wrong wearing these staple design classics.

The versatility, durability, and timeless style of jeans contributed to their widespread popularity during this 1950s era. Therefore, the 501 by Levi’s from this specific era is seen as the cornerstone of how jeans conquered the world. The fit of these 501 jeans is still relevant and most of the time used as the base for many denim brands and designers. This five-pocket style features the authentic details that are part of most pairs of jeans available at each (denim) store nowadays.

levi's 501

True Collector Items

The original Levi’s 501 jeans from the 1950s are a true collector’s item these days. Many denim collectors and denim enthusiasts are searching each day on platforms such as eBay, Etsy, and Vinted for an original pair. Also, thrift stores and flea markets are popular places to hunt for that ultimate worn-in pair that shows a lot of character in this 70+ years old jeans style.

Some know exactly how to identify a pair of Levi’s from the 1950s. Keep in mind that vintage clothing authentication can sometimes be challenging. So here are a 10 tips to help you to identify a true original.

levi's 501

Tip 1: Red Tab.

First, you can check the Red Tab on a pair of Levi’s. This smart branding element on the back of the right back pocket was introduced in 1936. It was Levi’s national sales manager Chris Lucier was came up with this idea to stay away from copycats. The Red Tab is a small red ribbon featuring Levi’s written in white. First, Levi’s was written on one side of the Red Tab. By around 1953, they used the word LEVI’S stitched in white in all capital letters on both sides on the Red Tab.

levi's red tab

Tip 2: (Leather/Jacron) Patch.

In 1886, the Two Horse brand leather patch was first used on the waist overalls. Levi’s was often nicknamed as the Two Horse brand due to this graphic design on the patch. This design’s purpose was to demonstrate the strength of the pants as two horses were trying to rip the jeans. The leather patch was used until 1955. The leather patch was followed up by the so-called Jacron patch. This looks a like leather patch that still shows ‘Every Garment Guaranteed’, the same as the Two Horse branding. Most pairs of the 1950s don’t feature a leather or Jacron patch anymore. They’re worn off during the years. If you find one still with a leather patch, this is the jackpot!


Tip 3: Care Label.

Original pairs from the 1950s don’t feature a care label inside the jeans. These care labels were first used in the early 1970s before all the info was printed on the inner pockets. The info is most of the time washed off.

levi's carelabel

Tip 4: Hidden Rivets.

In 1937, Levi’s started with the use of hidden rivets. Before all their jeans were made with exposed rivets on the back pockets. After many complaints about scratching furniture and leather saddles, they came up with the idea of covering their rivets with denim fabric. The hidden rivets can be spotted when you take a look inside the jeans. Later, hidden rivets were replaced by bartacks (A bartack is a machine-made stitch with a zigzag pattern used to reinforce areas on clothing that experience high stress). The switch from hidden rivets to bartacks came from the fact that the rivets came through the denim fabric over time.

Fun note: On each pair of Levi’s produced from 1937 onwards was a pocket flasher with the words: ‘The Rivet’s Still There’ as the introduction of the hidden rivets.

levi's hidden rivets

levi's hidden rivets

hidden rivets

Tip 5: Selvedge Fabric.

Since the beginning of the Levi’s brand in 1853, they have been using selvedge denim fabrics. Selvedge (also spelled as selvage and sometimes as salvage) fabrics are woven on authentic shuttle looms that are run by a wooden shuttle that flows back and forth. This means that the denim fabric is cleanly finished directly off the loom, with self-finished edges. So, they don’t need to be lock stitched afterward as they don’t fray. This weaving process is slow as they can ‘only’ produce around 100 meters of denim fabrics within 24 hours. And the fabrics are quite small, around 70 – 80 centimeters (27’’ – 28’’).

The selvedge fabric can be seen by flipping your jeans inside out. Most of the time, 1950s pairs of Levi’s show a white selvedge ID because the redline ID is washed out. Sometimes the red ID became lighter, like a more pink color.

On the inside of the coin/watch pocket, you can also see see the selvedge ID.

Learn more about selvedge fabrics in the previous article: 5 Reasons To Prefer Selvedge Denim Fabrics Over Non-Selvedge.

levi's hidden rivets

levi's selvedge

Tip 6: V-Stitching.

At the back of the top button, you will notice a v-stitching. It is stitched in a row of single-needle stitches. The top of the waistband stitching runs a few centimeters below the top button and then back up at an angle creating a v-shape. The v-shape is done in different shapes, always depends on the operator’s sewing skills. At the end of the 1960s, the v-shape disappeared and was replaced by straight stitching lines.



Tip 7: Single Stitched Back Pockets.

The horizontal double-felled seams on the top of the back pockets of vintage 1950s Levi’s jeans are single-stitched. Later 501 models from around 1987 and onwards are chain stitched. Flip the top of the back pocket to see if they’re single or double-stitched.


Tip 8: Digit Stamp.

On the back of the top button, Levi’s used digits and single letters that refer to a specific denim factory. In late 1950s pairs of Levi’s jeans, different letters were used such as A, E, L, or W for example. The letter referred to the first letter of the manufacturer’s factory name. This shown pair shows the letter W, which refers to Wichita Falls in Texas. In the 1960s, the brand used also single digits, like 2, 4, 6, or 8. Later, in the early 1970s, they used three digits as 524 for example.

button levi's

Tip 9: Twisted Legs.

Leg twisting became a signature on vintage jeans. It happened on jeans before the pre-skewing process was used on jeans. This is a finishing process that eliminates leg twisting. The twisting of legs becomes noticeable when you wash your jeans for the first time. Denim fabrics shrink, especially when they’re unsanforized. Unsanforized, which means they’re not sanforized, so not treated with water or steam to reduce the amount of shrinkage.

A twisting leg twists in the direction of the twill line of the fabric. As Levi’s jeans are made with a right-hand twill, it twists therefore also to the right. Nowadays an iconic element of vintage jeans. Some modern denim brands reproduce jeans with twisted legs to refer to the originals from back in the day. While at some denim brands, this would be seen as a factory error.

levi's leg twisting

Tip 10: Thread Colors.

Typical in this era pairs of Levi’s jeans is that they’re stitched with two different color threads, lemon, and tobacco. In various parts of the jeans, the different colors show up, giving the jeans a sort of ‘depth’.


Other Characteristics

Next to these 10 tips, take also a closer look at details such as; train tracks on the side of the legs due to washing, the roping effect on the hems as they’re stitched with a Union Special chain stitch sewing machine, and an overall vintage look of the jeans. Happy hunting!


Tip: Learn more of the long history of the Levi’s brand;

Written by Wouter Munnichs
I'm the founder of Long John. Next to running this daily magazine, I'm working as a freelance denim specialist for the industry. Titled as 'Denim Influencer 2020' by Rivet 50. Celebrated my 10th anniversary with Long John in 2021.