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Taking a look back at the history of Levi’s iconic 501 jeans

IN PARTNERSHIP WITH LEVI’S
WORDS BY RUBY STALEY

Truly timeless.

There are few styles that travel through the fashion universe and are able to transcend space and time. From Dr Martens high cut boots and Chuck Taylors sneakers, to styles like the plain white tee and LBD, no style in history has had the stamina to stick around like the classic Levi’s 501 Jeans have.

Worn by literally everyone from the most influential of musicians, politicians and movie stars, to everyday people like you and me, the 501 is the definition of iconic design. 


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Complete with a simple straight cut leg, button fly and mid-rise waist, the 501 transcends cyclical and gendered trends. Basically, they’re made for all to wear and to love. 

A great starting point for just about any outfit no matter how outlandish, the 501 style has the potential for total creative expression. Crafted from durable denim with an extremely versatile silhouette, they can easily be dressed up or down, worn oversized or perfectly fitted, brand new or vintage and distressed.

And so, it only makes sense that the style has become synonymous with youth culture since the mid-twentieth century. Variations of the style are one of the most searched for and bought items on resale apps like Depop, solely thanks to their sparkling reputation, with rare vintage styles selling for far over the original price tag. 

If you’re not already convinced of the sheer power of the 501, take it from my personal experience. As the happy owner of a vintage dyed black pair, I can confirm they’re simply the best jeans on the market.

The straight leg meant I could wear them with just about any shoe, and the mid-rise waist meant any top from cropped to oversized looked great. Although I grew out of my much-loved pair recently (thanks to COVID for the extra few kgs), I still managed to wear them to death when they did fit.

Where other denim styles would have disintegrated from the absolute abuse I put my 501s through, they’re basically as good as new and could still be loved by a new owner (any takers?). They’re that good. 

And it’s not just me. Take a look back through history, and you’ll notice the 501 design appearing again and again in movies, TV shows, and popular culture. 

Even from the very beginning, the 501 was the chosen uniform of creatives. Old Hollywood stars like Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s were considered responsible for bringing Levi’s 501 jeans to the mainstream, a trend that continued into the 1960s by rock’n rollers and freedom loving artists of the Summer of Love movement. 

From there, 501s established themselves as the denim of choice within the 1970s punk and hip-hop movements, and were worn oversized, baggy and distressed by the same groups in the ’80s.

Although present throughout previous decades, the ’90s was really when the 501s had their moment. Embraced by not only trendsetters, but also the general public, during this time period, Levi’s most iconic design became a household name.

Quickly making its way into the hearts and wardrobes of a staggering amount of wearers across the world, the 501 became the ‘it’ denim staple. 

And this sentiment rings true even today. After the many eras and iterations worn and loved over the last century and a half, they are arguably even more popular than ever before. 

This year, Levi’s celebrated the 148th birthday of the original blue jean and all the various iterations since then. To commemorate it, they spotlighted seven young creatives and talents to each show their favourite ways to style the 501s.

From Naomi Osaka, Hailey Bieber, Emma Chamberlain and Barbie Ferreira, to Jaden Smith, Marcus Rashford MBE, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the enduring influence and sheer versatility of the 501 is clear across the board. 

On the occasion, Levi’s own Chief Marketing Officer Karen Riley-Grant said of the iconic style, “The 501 is the original blue jean so it made sense to celebrate our icon with this cast of originals. We are inspired by the emotional connection they each have with the 501, their personal styles and stories make the jean so uniquely their own.”

For those who shop with sustainability in mind (it’s 2021, don’t we all?), I’m sure you already have a pair in your rotation. But even for those who don’t, the timeless nature of Levi’s 501s makes them an essential for even the most sustainable of closets. 

 

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Not solely due to the iconic design, all Levi’s fall into the sustainable category because they are crafted as they always have been, with the intention to last and get better with age.

For an added environmental bonus, the modern 501 is a part of Levi’s Water Less range which means they use up to 96 per cent less water than in typical denim finishing. 

For the eccentrics, the creatives, and the function-first buyers alike, no two pairs are the same, making each one a true original from the next. Join the movement, and grab yourself a pair, or another for your collection, because I have a feeling they aren’t going out of style any time soon.

To learn more about Levi’s iconic 501s, head here.

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