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Original Levi’s 501XX Jeans From 1940s (WW2 Period)

Levi’s 501XX jeans produced during World War 2 have an interesting background story. Its the front runner of how most of the 5-pocket jeans are produced nowadays. Most of the modern jeans are inspired by its follow-up, the 501XX from 1947. The pair shown in the article is an original version of the 501XX from 1944, its cut into a short by its previous owner, and is part of my denim archive.

The Story Behind The 501XX Jeans From 1944

During World War 2 brands were forced by the government to eliminate elements in production to save material. So, elements that were part of jeans as decoration, without any function, had to be removed. Levi’s skipped their original branded fly buttons into laurel leaf buttons or plain donut buttons as you can see on this vintage example. Only the top button shows the brand name.

For the inner pocket bags, they used different fabrics during this production period. Fabrics that were available at that moment. Some examples are made with herringbone fabrics, while others have a check fabric. This version in the article still has the usual ecru plain pockets.
Also, the rivets were removed on the coin or watch pocket, same as the buckle back, and the crotch rivet.

Read more about an original pair of Levi’s 501XX from the 1930s here, so pre-War period, which was the last 501XX with buckle back, and crotch rivet.

Printed Arcuates On Back Pockets

The 501XX from 1944 is most known of the printed arcuates on the back pockets. To save thread too, they printed the legendary arcuates on the pockets instead of sewing them. They printed the arcuates on the pockets so consumers still saw that they were buying a pair of genuine Levi’s in the store. The painted arcuates disappeared when people washed their jeans a few times. This explains why most of these vintage examples have plain back pockets without any arcuates.

A funny fact is that Japanese brand Evisu inspired their painted seagull on their back pockets by this pair of Levi’s.

Hidden Rivets

The back pockets are reinforced with hidden rivets, something Levi’s introduced in the mid-1930s. They used these hidden rivets after they received too many complaints about horse saddle and furniture damage.

Single Side Written Red Tab

The Red Tab on the right back pocket has single side written Levi’s on it, which refer that its produced before the early 1950s. From the beginning of the 1950s, they switched to double written Red Tabs. The Red Tab on this pair is a so-called ‘Big E’ tab as Levi’s is written in capitals. They switched in 1971 to a lower e in the word Levi’s on the Red Tab.

These pairs are less valuable than the ‘Big E’s’. ‘Big E’ jeans are true collector items nowadays.

Classic V-Stitch & Lemon Thread

At the closure of the back of the fly, you will see the classic v-stitch. The entire jeans is sewn with yellow, lemon, thread.

Cone Mills White Oak Selvedge

The jeans is made with redline selvedge by American Cone Mills White Oak mill. Levi’s started using Cone Mills White Oak fabrics from 1915 and onwards. As you can see on the pictures, the redline is totally washed-out, so the selvedge looks plain now.

Historical Denim Story

All in all, this original pair of WW2 jeans by Levi’s captures a great historical denim story. An one of kind American denim story that was produced during the Second World War. The period before jeans became worldwide a big hit outside of America too.


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.