Levi's Jeans: An Introduction

Photo courtesy of Levi.com

Photo courtesy of Levi.com

If you're from the USA (or nearly anywhere else in the world), Levi's is probably a household name, but what makes the little red tab on your back pocket so special?

How about a brief history of the company? Well, in the mid-18th century, a man named Levi Strauss traveled to California in the midst of the gold rush hoping to make his fortune; however, his fortune would be not gold, but blue. 

In 1872, Strauss received a letter from a friend describing a method of creating pants with rivets instead of traditional thread, but he needed a business partner. Strauss loved the idea and jumped at the opportunity. On May 20th, 1873, the blue jeans as we know them were born.

Now, fast-forward several generations to the modern day, and Levi's has established a quality brand name at an economical price point - denim for the working man. A lot has changed since the introduction of Levi's jeans, including an assortment of washes, fabrics, colors, and cuts.

Now that I mention it, the sheer variety of cuts and fits of Levi's jeans is pretty incredible:

  • 501 - The original classic, straight fit with button fly
  • 505 - Regular fit with a slightly (1/2in) narrower leg opening
  • 510 - Skinny fit with the smallest leg opening (13.5in)
  • 511 - Slim fit with a tapered leg opening. -- My personal favorite cut of Levi's and in my opinion, the most modern and stylish
  • 513 - Slim fit with straight leg opening.
  • 514 - Regular fit with straight leg opening
  • 517 - Slim fit with a boot cut
  • 541 - Athletic fit with straight leg. I've heard these called the "squatter's cut," so they could be a great fit if you have muscular legs
  • 550 - Relaxed fit with a tapered leg

Another thing to mention is that these numbered cuts aren't only for denim, but for chinos and other pants made by Levi's as well. I personally love my Levi's 511 chinos and they're at a price point where it's more than feasible to grab a couple in different colors. That being said, Levi's makes far more than just pants. Over the years, you may have noticed their redirection as a sort of "lifestyle" brand (e.g logo t-shirts, hoodies, jackets etc...) as the company broadens its foothold in the fashion industry.

However, there is certainly a major drawback from the Levi's brand and that is its quality control. Levi's is an industry giant  and sells millions of pairs of jeans all over the world. Because of this, their quality control suffers considerably meaning there is a significant amount of variation between each "identical" pair. All Levi's jeans are NOT made equal. The company has factories all across the world that manufacture these jeans, and while the working conditions are generally fair for workers, quality of the denim produced can range widely. 

For example, I have a pair of 511 Rigid Dragons that I totally love and that particular pair is made in Cambodia. They're a good weight, well-stitched, and fit perfectly. I liked them so much that I picked up another pair of 511s from Levi.com. Once they arrived, I immediately noticed that the quality was not nearly up to par with my Rigid Dragons; the stitching had errors and the fit was significantly less comfortable. I looked at the tag and noticed they were made in Kenya, so I assumed that particular factory's quality control was inferior to that of the Cambodian one.  I'd definitely recommend trying on a pair before purchasing! Here is a great Reddit post going further in depth about Levi's quality and variance.

Photo courtesy of selectism.com

Photo courtesy of selectism.com

Let's talk about another Levi's classic: the trucker jacket. Now, despite its initial introduction as workwear-oriented outwerwear, the trucker is a piece that can in every man's wardrobe. Warm enough to be a light Fall jacket yet light enough to make a sweet layering piece, the denim trucker can be a great addition to the wardrobe of the Americana enthusiast. Just be careful wearing a trucker that's the same color as your jeans; the Canadian Tuxedo is generally not a very fashionable look ;)


Photo courtesy of Levi.com

Photo courtesy of Levi.com

Recently (~2011), Levi's has introduced its new Commuter line. Essentially, it's similar style to the traditional collection, but with a focus on being "bike-friendly." For example, my 511 commuter pants have a band of stretchy fabric in the back meant to hold a bicycle U-lock while riding, which I think is pretty convenient. It also has reflective tape where the inside stitching is on the pant leg, similar to where the selvedge would be. This reflective 3M tape acts as a safety feature to protect the cyclist from passing vehicles, because no one likes being hit by cars, you know? The pants are have much more elasticity than my regular 511 chinos or jeans, which is great for peddling and provides far less restrictive movement than normal pants.

A personal favorite of mine from the collection is the Commuter Trucker jacket, which is a sort of modernized version of the classic trucker. The piece features a concealable hood, extra pockets, and a few more details that make it a pretty unique jacket. This trucker has been pretty popular in tech and streetwear centered outfits, which makes sense given the jacket's appearance. 

All in all, Levi Strauss & Co. is a well-rounded brand with a lot to offer. The company's focus on competitive MSRPs makes it easily obtainable without sacrificing form or function. The poor quality control is definitely something to look out for, but generally isn't a problem as long as you're able to try on a pair in a brick & mortar store or return it for an online order. 

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