This week on Tee Time, we unleashed the comprehensive history of Levi's Jeans. In this post we're going to get down to the nitty-gritty, giving you cold hard (probably) facts to help you determine whether your Levi's are vintage or not.
19th Century (1873-1899)
Single back pocket. If you are somehow lucky enough to stumble on a pair of riveted denim trousers, with a single back pocket featuring The Arcuate Design... You my friend have struck gold. These Levi's are from the 19th Century and you can send your kids to college.
No Belt Loops. Belt loops were introduced in 1922. This may not be a tell tale sign, so read further to see if your jeans make some more of the following criteria.
No red tab. Levi's introduced the red tab in 1936. There are Levi's out there that don't have the tab on them that were made after this era, so beware of the imposters.
Visible back pocket rivets, after 1937 Levi's began to sew over the rivets to hide them.
The crotch rivet. Levi's riveted their jeans to add extra strength in areas of strain and wear. One of these areas was in the crotch where the legs meet. Levis removed the crotch rivets in 1941 because the rivet would heat up and cause discomfort. If your jeans have a crotch rivet, they we made before 1941.
Covered back pocket rivets. After 1967, they did away with the back pocket rivets all together.
No Care Label + The Big "E". Care labels were deemed mandatory by the US government in 1971, so Levi's had to start adding them to the jeans (things like how to wash, how to dry, don't bleach, etc.) This same year, 1971 Levi's introduced the new tab logo script which featured a newfound little "e". Although care labels can be easily torn out, the tabs tend to stick around. Big "E" Levi's are still around you can find them, so keep your eyes peeled.
Before the mid 1980s
The style of inseam on almost all Levi’s made before the mid-1980s featured a single felled inseam, which is a single stitch running down the inner thigh. The double stitch was added later in the 80s for additional strength.
Hard to Tell, But Definitely Vintage
"Made in USA" printed on the waist-patch. Levi's closed its last US plant in 2004, but the overwhelming amount of jeans were made overseas for sometime before that. If you have a pair of "Made In USA" Levis, odds are they are at least 20 years old.
The Orange Tab
Orange tab Levi's were produced from 1969-1999. From Levi's official website, "[Orange Tabs were] Used on fashion and non-basic items such as bell-bottoms and boot cut jeans. Our orange Tab garments differed from our traditional 501® jeans. Some were adorned with fancy pocket stitching instead of our famous Arcuate design, while others sported pin-tucks or other unusual design elements."
Some styles of orange tabs were rereleased in 2017, but it's pretty easy to tell the difference between vintage orange tabs and the rerelease. Moral of the story, if you pick a pair of Levi's orange tab... they are vintage.
The Number on the Button
Levi's imprints a number on the back of its button. The corresponding number can also be found on the care tag (if present) and is a good way to double check if the imprinted number had begun to fade. Here is a relatively complete source on what the button number means, and where the jeans were made. This is a good method to figure out whether the jeans are vintage because the less digits in the number, the older they are (in general).
The Step By Step Checklist (The Further Down the List, the Older They Get)
- Waist patch says "Made in USA" (<2004)
- Inseam has a single felled thread (<mid 1980s)
- Care label (<1971)
- Big "E" on pocket tab (<1971)
- Back pocket rivets, covered (<1967)
- Crotch Rivet (<1941)
- Back pocket rivets, uncovered (<1937)
- No Pocket Tab At All (<1936)
- No Belt Loops (<1922)
- Only One Pocket (19th century)
That is our best shot at a checklist to determine if your Levi's are vintage, there are probably things we missed, there are probably some things you didn't know. The best advice we can give is figure out what your system is and stick to it. We hope this guide can help out a little.
Check out the full episode on the "History of Levi's" here or stream it at the top of the page.