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150 years of Levi’s 501 blue jeans

At San Francisco’s Eureka Innovation Lab, experiments are underway, but you won’t find a white coat in this lab. Here, you’re more likely to find a pair of jeans – denim jeans, loaded into a tumbling machine with pumice stones or set on fire with a laser.


A pair of blue jeans set on fire. It’s science.

CBS News

“Levi’s, to me, is like the birth of cool,” says Paul O’Neill, Levi’s design director. And protecting that “cool” is his mission. He considers himself a guardian of many of the company’s legendary styles, including a superior fit: the 501. This year the iconic duo celebrates 150 years.

“We try not to touch the 501 that much,” laughed O’Neill. “From its beginnings in 1873 until the late 1940s, all the changes that took place were real.”

Compared to other Levi’s jean styles, the 501, O’Neill said, “is always a straight blue jean. When we look at other fits, we’ve got, like, skinny, flare, bell bottom, you know, all the bells and whistles. But the 501 Always very simple and classic.”

Finding a reliable and durable pair of pants was the goal of businessman Levi Strauss and his tailor Jacob Davis. Levi’s historian Tracy Panek says these faithful pants weren’t possible until Davis added a rivet, creating the modern-day blue jeans. “He came up with the idea of ​​adding a little metal to the pocket, where your hands go in and out, to stop them from tearing,” Panek said.


In 1873 Levi’s blue jeans with their distinctive pocket rivet were introduced.

CBS News

But why the number 501? “It’s simply too many numbers,” he said. “The 501 is the best, top of the line.”

Top of the line, but the 501 was made for the everyday blue-collar worker. “At the time, they were called overalls, ’cause you pulled over your clothes for this protective outerwear,” Panek said.

These days, almost everyone from presidents to hippies to Hollywood is wearing a pair of Levi’s. They were even part of Steve Jobs’ uniform, though he added buttons himself, to attach his suspenders.


Steve Jobs favorite jeans.

CBS News

As for the most effective way to break in a new pair of 501s? Paul O’Neill has a secret: “You can sit in the bathtub in them. If you buy a pair of jeans that are the right size for you, but maybe a little too long in the leg so they don’t shrink, if you sit in the tub, the jeans fit your body. will go into the mold. So, you get a really unique pair of 501s.”

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Story created by Julie Krakow. Editor: Remington Corper.


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