Levi’s Long History Within Denim

Levi’s is known for the invention of the rivet that was patented on the 20th of May in 1873. This date is seen as the kick-off of jeans as we all know today. After 1890, the rivet patent expired so all denim brands were allowed to produce their own versions to strengthen their jeans. To distinguish themselves, Levi’s introduced many more unique selling points on their jeans during the years.

levi's red tab

Back pocket on a pair of reproduction Levi’s jeans from 1878, also known as the Pantaloons. This pair didn’t had the Red Tab yet as it was first introduced in 1936.

The First Introduction Of The Red Tab

One of the most remarkable was the introduction of the ‘Red Tab’. It debuted on the 1st of September in 1936. This idea was born when National Sales Manager Chris Lucier came up with the idea to fold a red cloth ribbon in the seam of the right back pocket. Red was chosen as it was a good contrast with the dark blue denim fabric. After the introduction, Levi’s advertised the Red Tab in ads but also on the pocket flasher on their jeans with “Look for the Red Tab”. This branding element made it easy to find a genuine pair in retail stores. And when people were wearing their Levi’s, others would see in a blink of an eye what denim brand they were wearing.

On the Red Tab, the word Levi’s is written in white. First, with the introduction in 1936, Levi’s was written all in capitals. Later, in 1971, after a rebranding, the brand switched the ‘e’ in the Levi’s brand name to a lower case, this was the birth of the Red Tab as we all know them today.

The Main Red Tab Colors By Levi’s

Now, after 88 years, Levi’s is still using their Red Tab on their jeans. But, during all the years, the denim brand used many variations on their jeans and (denim) jackets. What are the main Red Tab’s that you should know? Let’s highlight them here below!

red tab

Levi’s Red Tab

The original Levi’s tab is the Red Tab. This tab is known by everyone, but even with this tab, there are several versions produced during the years.

  • Small e Tab

The small e tab is the most classic Red Tab on Levi’s jeans. Even today, each pair features this small but strong branding element. This tab version was first used in 1971 until now.

levi's red tab small e

  • Washed-Out Tab

Many vintage Levi’s jeans feature a washed-out Red Tab as they’re washed many times during all the years. It’s the classic small e printed Red Tab. Most of the time hard to read the brand name.

levis red tab

  • Big E Tab

The Big E tab was used when it first appeared on Levi’s jeans. All the letters of the brand were written in capital, so also the E, hence the name of the tab. This tab disappeared when they switched to a lowercase e in 1971. Since then, Big E pairs of Levi’s (and denim jackets) have been highly collectible pieces by vintage enthusiasts all over the world. It’s one of the first things denim collectors check when seeing an old pair of the brand.

levi's red tab big e

  • Single-sided vs double-sided Red Tab

When the Red Tab was first introduced in 1936, Levi’s was only written on one side of the tab. These Red Tab are now known as single-sided. Around 1953 – 1954, they switched to double-sided Red Tab’s, meaning Levi’s was written on both sides. They continued this to today.

levi's red tab single-sided

Single-sided Red Tab.

levi's red tab double-sided

Double-sided Red Tab.

  • R Tab

The Red Tab itself is trademarked by Levi’s. therefore, one out of 10 Red Tab’s on the back pockets feature a blank Red Tab with only a ® symbol. As only 10% in production feature this Red Tab, it is more special and rare to have these on your jeans.

levi's red tab r

Special Big ‘Big E’ Tab

  • Big ‘Big E’ Tab

Levi’s were heavily linked to the Western lifestyle. Therefore they marketed their brand in many different ways in this field. With the introduction of their 517 Saddleman jeans style, they produced a big promo jeans in size 46 waist. This jeans was made for their retail partners, but were also worn by rodeo clowns on rodeo events. These rodeo clowns were wearing oversized pairs of jeans during rodeo events in America.

levi's red tab promo tab

More about the 517 Saddleman jeans can be read here.

Mirror Red Tab

In 2018, Levi’s released a limited-edition pair of their 501’s, 1976 model. This pair was called the Mirror jeans as all the branding elements, from buttons, rivets, patch were mirror branded. Even on the Red Tab, Levi’s was written mirrored. And it was also placed on the left back pocket instead of the regular right back pocket. This idea was born when they received a left-hand fabric, while normally the brand is known for using right-hand denim fabric. As left-hand is the opposite of right-hand, they decided to mirror everything, so when you hold the jeans for a mirror, everything looks correct. This pair was produced in a limited run of 501 pairs worldwide.

levi's mirror tab

150 Years Celebration Tab

Last year, Levi’s celebrated their 150 years anniversary. In 2023, it was exactly 150 years ago that the founder of Levi’sLevi Strauss, got the patent on the legendary rivet together with the inventor of the rivet Jacob Davis (Read more about the origin of the Levi’s rivet here.). It was this couple that set a new standard within the industry and kicked off the blue jeans as we know today. For this celebration year, Levi’s created a special limited-edition denim banner 501 jeans with a special 150 Red Tab.

levi's 501 jeans banner

Golden Willy Wonka And Japanese Red Tab

Levi’s released in 2020 a special of, the 1971 model, with a Willy Wonka golden wrapped Red Tab. This is to promote the transitional year 501 jeans for their Levi’s Vintage Clothing – LVC collection. Only 5 pairs of this run were made with the Big E tab, while the rest featured the small e on the Red Tab.

In the last few years, Levi’s created a few special Japan releases of their 501. On these pairs, everything was translated into Japanese. Also on the Red Tab you could see Levi’s written in Japanese. More about this pair here.

Other Levi’s Tab Colors

Over time, Levi’s used many other tab colors on their items. The Blue Tab’s were associated with premium or limited-edition styles. It first appeared in the brand’s 1950’s collection called Denim Family.

The Black Tab was used with the introduction of the Levi’s STA-PREST collection in the 1960s. This collection was made with denim fabrics using wrinkle-free technology. The collection was promoted with the slogan: ‘’You will never have to iron this garment.’’ Older styles feature a Black ‘Big E’ Tab with golden letters, while more modern versions shows black with white letters with a small e.

During the 1970s, they used a tiny carrot to promote their Fresh Produce collection, and for the 1984 Summer Games, gold medalists received custom 501 jeans with Red Tab and gold letters. For their Pride Collection, they developed a Rainbow Tab and a Poké Ball Tab in red, white, and black for their special collaboration line.

Next to these, the Silver Tab was used for their more streetwear-related baggy styles in the 1980s and 1990s.

Orange Tab

The Orange Tab was introduced in the late 1960s, in 1969 to be precise. This tab color was used on more fashionable and trendy denim styles. Think of bell bottoms and flare pipe pairs of jeans, but also denim jackets with more modern designs. This collection was different from the original Red Tab and was mainly produced for the younger generation.

With the introduction of the Orange Tab, it was a so-called Big E tab. Produced from 1969 until 1971, as they switched to lowercase ‘e’ tabs then. After 1971, they continued the Orange Tab as a ‘small e’ tab.

White Tab

The White Tab was first mainly used to highlight their women’s collection in the 1960s and 1970s. This collection was called Levi’s for Gals. But, they used the White Tab also on corduroy jackets and non-denim pants.

You can find White Tab’s with different color lettering like black, green, blue, and red written Levi’s.

levi's white tab

Happy Denim Hunting!

Now you know the most common Levi’s Tabs, you understand the story better behind each pair that you will see and find in stores or fleamarkets. Happy hunting!

Tip! Learn more about jeans in the previous articles;

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.