I was in 5th or 6th grade, 10 years old, when I started making my own money. I’d go with my Mom on the weekends to the restaurant where she was working at the time out at little ol’ Litchfield Airport in Arizona. The place was called Barnstorm Charlies. I’d bus tables there, re-stock, clean-up, help out in the kitchen– whatever they needed. It made me feel independent, and like I had something to offer the world. I worked hard and didn’t complain– I was proud to have a job, and wanted to be the best employee I could be.
With my hard-earned little fistful of cash, the first thing I remember buying was a pair of Levi’s 501s. I still recall heading to the local Smitty’s, going through the stacks of shrink-to-fits looking for my size, doing the shrinkage calculations printed on the Levi’s tag in my head, holding that dark, rigid denim in my hands– and feeling a wonderful inner glow that’s hard to explain. It was the birth of an intense Levi’s ritual that is still a part of my life.
The preamble is meant only to let you know that denim, Levi’s in particular, probably means more to me than it does to most people. It may sound strange, but denim represents all that I consider to be good and of value in the world. It’s pure, honest, unpretentious, reliable, hard-working, American tradition that gets better with age. It doesn’t get any better than that in my book. The story of denim is forever entwined with the story of America. It’s part of our heritage, and a genuine American Icon.
Jack Benny, Dick Powell, Ken Murray, Bing Crosby (in head-to-toe denim) on drums, Shirley Ross. Tommy Dorsey is just out of sight on the right on the trombone. Amateur swing contest, ca. 1939.
Classic shot of writer Mickey Spillane in Levi 501 jeans.
Sometimes it is as simple as that- a white tee and a well-worn pair of jeans. Mickey Spillane isn’t trying too hard here– but sometimes we do. Let the jeans do the heavy-lifting. Keep them classic, but do be selective. I love a great old pair of Levi 501s with that classic leg twist and a lived-in personalized patina that can only come from wearing them in yourself. It’s all about making it your own– not buying it off the shelf. We’ve all probably seen guys ruin this look by over-thinking, over-accessorizing, over-shooting, over-posturing– what have you. White tee, blue jeans, belt optional, classic watch recommended, personality required.
K I S S– Keep it simple, stupid. A mantra that still works with just about anything. Like today– I was over-thinking what I would write. Well, sometimes it just is what it is, and if you force it– it becomes contrived. Today I feel like a white T and jeans. I’m learning to listen everyday and go with the flow a little more. When you’re obsessed with trying to control everything and everybody– you can leave a trail of brokenness and missed opportunity behind you.
It’s become pretty obvious through the search queue, that there are many among us looking for a way to repair our favorite jeans. I know that I definitely have a couple pairs of vintage Levi 501s in need of some serious mending. I have a few others that I can’t even wear for fear that with my next squat I may unleash a bountiful Sunday turkey dinner with all the fixins’.
Now, it goes without saying that not all of us are as skilled a craftsmen as Carl Chiara here, and it’s also possible that we want our rips repaired in a more discreet manner. That being said– we need the assistance of a reputable and professional denim repair service.
Recesionista is one of those buzzwords of 2008 that’s getting a little overplayed. In my small world, it’s feeling more like Great Depressionista— in regard to fashion and the economy. Looking at these pictures from the 40’s, they look like what you see in a lot of Soho shops & vintage Americana brands these days like– RRL, LVC, Warehouse, etc. There are great, rugged pieces, and little, honest details not to be missed– like our friend’s chambray workshirt (above) that’s been mended time and again over the years– out of necessity, not for fashion. That looks like a great old pair of Levi 501s. I like how the front belt-loops are placed nice and snug to the fly.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Sid Mashburn at the Warwick Haberdashery Show. He stopped by to see the Robert Redd line and hung out for awhile.
This is just an incredible read from the January issue of Outside magazine. It’s all about mining for the vintage denim and duds of old miners!
Brit Eaton is the best of a curious breed of fortune hunters combing old mine shafts and barns across the West for vintage denim. He’s discovered $50,000 worth of clothes in a single day, and his clients include Ralph Lauren and Levi’s.
1950s Levi’s Vintage 501 – front. Check the leg twist you’d get with old, un-sanforized denim.
Back view of a vintage Levi’s 501 jean.
Why do I love vintage Levi 501 jeans you ask? Let me count the ways-
- The capital “E’ on the red tab, introduced in 1936 and produced up until 1971.
- The brown leather patch- changed to “leather-like” cardstock in the mid-late 1950s.
- The red selvedge 10 oz denim woven by Cone Mills, North Carolina on 29″ wide looms. I wish it were a little denser- but I’m not complainin’.
- The incredible leg-twist that you get on a pair of vintage non-sanforized 501 jeans.
- The great tracks produced by the selvedge outseams from wear and bruising of the denim.
- The Arcuate stitching or “double arcs” on the back pockets- one of the oldest apparel trademarks still in use today. During WWII it was actually painted on to due to government rationing.
- The very narrow hem at the bottom leg opening, and all the great bunching and bruising from shrinkage and wear.
--Carl Chiara, design director LEVI'S CAPITAL E and RED COLLECTIONS
“I like the process- from a brand-new unwashed pair of jeans until they’re ready for burial. I really do wear them hard. I start off by doing a lot of squats to get the wrinkles in nicely. But the number one trick is wearing your jeans every single day and letting your sweat and oils start to morph the denim, so it becomes a very personal shape. I think the key difference with the 501 is that it fits around your body. I like the way that 501’s don’t follow your every curve; they evolve to fit your body. Also, as they move along, I repair them so I can get more wear out of them. They really do become a part of you. Once you break a pair in, there’s no alternative. You just can’t put on another pair of jeans.”
– Carl Chiara, design director LEVI’S CAPITAL E and RED COLLECTIONS