1. The birth of Jeans
  2. Levi Strauss jeans
  3. Levi’s Cowboys
  4. Denim: a symbol of subcultures


In Nevada, Reno, in 1871, Jacob Davis was the town’s tailor. One of his clients commissions him to work trousers for her woodcutter husband, wants some sturdy trousers that he’ll pay for three dollars. For the realization he uses a canvas from the wholesale Levi’s Strauss & Co., founded in 1853 by Levi and his brother-in-law David Stern. The fabric he uses is denim, in its raw form, and therefore white in color. Jacob uses rivets to reinforce tension points on his pants, such as pocket corners. Legend has it that Davis had the intuition in a stable, seeing the rivets that were used to join the blankets to the saddles and bridles.

The jeans come with four pockets, one on the back and three on the front, without belt loops, but with buttons to fix the suspenders. Many note the functionality and modernity of this model of trousers and so Davis soon realizes that in order to keep the idea he had authentic and of him, he will have to patent the garment. The patent costs 68 dollars and he does not have enough money to do it, he does not even have the necessary tools to be able to satisfy the numerous requests of the customers. Thus was born the collaboration between Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss, who paid him the patent and allowed him to produce in his factory.

Jacob Davis


The first indigo-dyed denim was found in a mine, with the addition of the fifth pocket. Significantly, the first models were made with a khaki canvas. Later, the model is slowly developed and improved to make it more technical. Notably, the selvedge was added, the internal reinforcement, a precious workmanship that increased the selling cost.

Depending on the needs of the workers, the types of garments begin to vary, dungarees are born, but also jackets. The Levi’s 501 model was one of the most expensive and so was introduced the cheapest model, the 201. Strauss began to sell by mail order, when the patch appeared in 1886, the label with the two horses trying to rip a couple of jeans, pulling them in opposite positions, in leather. The label is a marketing strategy to emphasize the indestructibility of Levi’s jeans.

Levi’s Strauss

Competitors begin to emerge, first of all Lee, who mainly produced overalls, with rivets, which, however, were not copper like those of Davis and Strauss. The Lee brand, however, already used zips at the time, instead Levi’s still applied buttons, in addition to the fact that the advertising techniques of the first brand were more effective, such as the Buddy doll, sold dressed in denim.

Jacob and Levi understand that they need to expand their market, so they create a model with belt loops, comfortable for cowboys, who become the testimonials of the Nevada song.

In the ’30s-‘ 40s the quality and attention to detail is refined, paying more attention to the seams and the cut of the model, which becomes slimmer. The famous Road Jacket is also born, an evolution of the classic work jacket, made with more resistant fabrics.


The figure of the cowboys is fundamental to the story of Levi’s, but also to the role in society they play, until the means of transportation improve. So to get the money going, the cowboys open the doors to their ranches, organizing visits and activities, for this occasion Levi’s creates a line that it baptizes with Dude Ranch . The brand focuses on the concept of life style and creates a series of shirts, also makes jeans for women, which however were worn only by the most revolutionary and rebellious.

Until the 1950s, America was never really ready to introduce denim into their wardrobes, they were garments intended for workers. With the beginning of the second half of the century, however, a real boom took place. Country music certainly influences the fashion of the moment, figures like Elvis Presley bring denim all over America and Europe.


The Pop Over is made, an apron for housewives, in dine, sold with a kitchen glove, so that a fabric that could not be worn in any other way can also be introduced into the female reality.

James Dean wears a Levi’s look

Cinema is also fundamental for the diffusion of these garments. Marlon Brando wears Levi’s, James Dean wears Lee. The two sex symbols of the moment become a real advertising medium, their uniform is jeans, t-shirt and leather jacket, which is copied by everyone, women and men.

We are in a moment where subcultures develop quickly and fashions are transformed into different styles and tastes, which coexist in the same historical period.

Bikers wear 501s, a white t-shirt or turtleneck , black leather jacket and boots. The Mods wear Levi’s with a more cigarette model, classic shoes, such as moccasins and military green parkas. It is also the time of the Beat Generation , artists like Pollock and Andy Warhol  wear a total look in denim.

With the 60s came the hippies , jeans became flared, with a very low waist. 1970s:   punk , the Sex Pistols and the Ramones are the major musical exponents. Malcolm McLaren , founder of the Sex Pistols, collaborates with Vivienne Westood in the creation of a style that will make history. Together they recover second-hand jeans and personalize them, with slogans, patches and details that are often disturbing, but with a strong communicative value. Jeans acquire a social, political and even sexual connotation, with the insertion of a front zip. Even Skinheads make denim their uniform.


In the female world, a radical change takes place. The skirts are shortened and there are many interpretations of the miniskirts in the indigo-blue fabric, as well as the birth of the Hot pants, initially considered blasphemous and with a strong sexual appeal by the most puritans. Oliviero Toscani is the photographer who creates a campaign for Fiorucci dedicated to Hot pants, “you will have no other jeans but me” , the slogan quoted. Fiorucci also introduces denim bikinis .

There are countless brands that are dedicated to the production and research of the most original version of Levi’s creation: Moschino , Calvin Klein , Diesel , Enrico Coveri . But not only that, since there are numerous uses of the fabric in the different models, the visionary Jean Paul Gaultier creates an evening dress in denim.

The Paninari , in the 1980s, wore high-waisted jeans and Moncler jackets . Still in the subcultures there is a strong presence of this garment as well as its variants. Hip Hop fashion offers very wide jeans, with a very low waist, Adidas shoes and gold necklaces.


Over the years, the brand has registered a strong success which has led to excellent results not only from an economic point of view but also and above all from a social point of view. Particularly popular, in the 50s and 60s, are the Levi’s model 501 which have always been produced and which confirm the company’s fame in casual wear.

By acquiring the Great Western Garment Co. (Canadian clothing manufacturer), Levi’s confirms that it wants to branch out its production and cross new frontiers of style with the innovative stone washed jeans, obtained with the stone-washing technique. Prior to the listing on the New York Stock Exchange, which took place in 1971 and with a collection of 50 million dollars, the family sold part of its listing to Simpkins while maintaining a majority stake. 

After the successes of the past, Levi’s collides with the first failures due to ruthless competition that forces the top management to close sixty factories. To overcome this long-standing crisis, in 1986 he launched the Dockers brand. Notably, on the market which helps keep the brand in business, in severe economic crisis. In Europe it will only be marketed ten years after its foundation. Over the years, in 2004 to be exact, Levi’s attempts to relieve some of the accumulated debt (about $ 2.6 billion). Mainly, by selling the Dockers division but with little success.

The black period reaches its peak in 2007. Despite the decline in sales, however, the brand invests in new production plants abroad which prove to be the winning key for the recovery. The power of the brand is evident. It is, if you think that a leather jacket worn by Albert Einstein, made by Levis’ Strauss , was auctioned at Christie’s for 110,000 dollars.


Riding the wave of success achieved through co-labs, in 2019 Levis’ signs a partnership with Wardrobe.NYC Denim for a total look consisting of four pieces and which includes a blazer, a denim shirt, a t-shirt and a pair of skinny jeans inspired by the classic Levi’s 501.

In August of the same year, the brand signs a new collaboration but with the Ganni label. Therefore returning, after 35 years, to be listed on Wall Street with a valuation of 8.7 billion dollars. In command, the founder’s heirs: Mimi and Margaret Haas.

Despite the strong recovery of the brand after the ups and downs of previous years. In 2020 the press makes it known that the brand is in crisis again and the future of the company is uncertain. In the year of Covid-19, the label lost 800 million dollars in the first quarter alone compared to 2019. According to Chip Berg, CEO of the brand, the turning point could be digital

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