Levi’s 501 - the most iconic jeans model of them all

Levi’s 501 - the most iconic jeans model of them all

Jonathan Cheung, Head of Design at Levi’s once said: “Levi’s is synonymous with jeans and the 501 is the granddaddy of them all. It’s the most iconic jean there is”. And it could not be better said!

Levi's 501 jeans have been a staple in fashion for over a century. Known for their classic style, durable construction, and iconic details like the button fly and copper rivets, Levi's 501 jeans have stood the test of time and continue to be a popular choice for people of all ages and styles. Therefore in this article, we will explore:


The origin story of Levi's 501 Jeans

 Levi's 501 original fit

Levi's jeans have a history dating back to the 1850s when Levi Strauss began selling denim work pants. In 1873, Strauss partnered with Jacob Davis to add copper rivets to the pockets of jeans, making them more durable.

By the 1920s, Levi's jeans had become popular as casual wear, and in the post-war era, they became a symbol of rebellion. Today, Levi's jeans are an iconic fashion staple worn by people all over the world, with the original Levi's 501 remaining a classic and enduring symbol of American denim culture.

 What is so special about 501 Levi's?

The Levi's 501 has been worn by everyone from miners and cowboys to rebels and fashion icons. It has been featured in countless movies, songs, and fashion campaigns, and has inspired numerous imitations and adaptations over the years.

In addition to its cultural significance, the model has historical importance as a pioneering denim style. The addition of copper rivets to the pockets of jeans, which was first introduced in it, revolutionized the way that work trousers were made and paved the way for the modern jeans we know today.



The Design Elements That Make the Levi's 501 Jeans Stand Out

If you've watched any video or photo from earlier decades, especially the 80s and 90s, you can probably spot the Levi's 501 immediately.

This model is renowned for its timeless design, featuring a straight-cut and relaxed fit. The 501's classic mid-rise means the jeans sit at the natural waistline, looking good on any body shape. 

Other elements such as the button fly, stitching and the famous red tab are all hallmarks of the 501's design, adding a distinctive touch that references the brand's origin and reflect Levi's commitment to authenticity and craftsmanship.

So what's so special about the 501? Let's dive deeper into the 5 design elements you should know about:

  1. Levi's 501 Original Red Tab
    Levi's Red Tab is a cultural icon. For over 85 years it has been one of the most famous fashion features, sought after by many vintage fashion buyers.

    According to Levi Strauss, the red tab was originally introduced to help consumers differentiate and spot Levi's jeans from the competition, significantly improving the brand's presence.

  2. The Iconic Levi's Button Fly
    When you look at the 501 jeans, one thing that stands out is the button fly. Instead of the usual zipper you see on most jeans nowadays, the button fly gives them an old-school, genuine feel.

    This design choice doesn't just show respect for the brand's past. It adds a distinct and touchable element when you put on these jeans.

    It's like a little nudge that takes us back to times when clothes were made with more care.

  3. Pockets and Distinctive Stitching
    The pocket design in Levi's 501 jeans isn't just for looks – it's also a reminder of where they came from.

    The back pockets are set a bit higher than what you find on modern jeans, and that's a nod to denim's original use as work clothes. And guess what - these pockets are roomy enough to actually be useful, beyond their stylistic value. 

    Another thing you'll notice is the stitching that looks like two arches on the back pockets. It's not just there for decoration; it also makes the pockets stronger, so the jeans can endure for long.

  4. The Classical Mid-Rise Jeans
    When we talk about the rise of jeans, we mean how it sits around your waist.

    The Levi's 501 features a classical mid-rise, sitting midway between your belly button and hips. This makes the jeans versatile and lets them sit nicely at your waist, which makes them perfect for any body type.

    And don't forget, they have a straight-leg cut that gives you the Goldilocks fit: not too tight, not too baggy, just straight-up comfortable.

    mid-rise vintage jeans

  5. Levi's 501 Denim Fabric
    The heavy duty, 100% cotton denim makes these jeans last long. You vintage lovers would also appreciate its one-of-a-kind texture that gets even nicer with time.

    And here's something neat: the fabric can be treated in different ways, like staying natural or being made to look worn and faded, or even distressed. 


A few words on sustainability: In recent years, Levi's has made a conscious effort to improve the sustainability of its jeans. This has led to the use of more eco-friendly materials, such as organic cotton and recycled denim, and the adoption of more sustainable production practices.


chart depicting the history of Levi's 501
(Source: superfuture.com)

The cultural impact of The Levi’s 501

The Levi's 501 has had a significant influence on fashion and style over the years. Here are some of the ways in which it has impacted fashion:

  • The birth of casual wear: Originally designed as men's jeans for work, Levi's 501 soon became popular for casual wear. This helped to usher in the era of casual dress that we know today.
  • The symbol of rebellion: In the 1950s and 1960s, the 501 became a symbol of rebellion and non-conformity. It was often worn by actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando, who were associated with counterculture movements.
  • The rise of denim as a fashion staple: The popularity of the 501 helped to establish denim as a fashion staple. Today, denim is worn in a wide range of styles and settings, from casual wear to high fashion.
  • The influence of vintage fashion: The 501 has a classic, timeless look that has inspired vintage fashion trends. Many people still wear them today, and vintage-inspired denim is popular in modern fashion as well.
  • The democratization of fashion: Levi's made the 501 widely available at an affordable price, which helped to democratize fashion. People of all backgrounds and income levels could afford to wear the same jeans as their favorite movie stars and cultural icons.

Why Does Levi's 501 Jeans Endure

Levi's jeans are known for their durability and quality. Here are some reasons why:

  • Materials: Levi's uses high-quality materials to make their jeans, including sturdy denim and strong hardware. The company is also committed to using sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled denim.
  • Production: Levi's takes great care in the production of their jeans, using quality control measures to ensure that each pair meets its standards. The company also invests in innovative production technologies to improve the quality and durability of its jeans.
  • Design: The design of Levi's jeans is carefully crafted to maximize durability. For example, the brand's signature stitching and rivets reinforce the stress points of the jeans, ensuring that they can withstand wear and tear.
  • Fit: Levi's offers a wide range of fits and styles, so customers can find a pair of jeans that fits their body shape and personal preferences. When jeans fit well, they are less likely to wear out quickly.
  • Longevity: Many customers report that their Levi's jeans last for years, even with regular wear. This is because the jeans are designed to be durable and are made with high-quality materials and production techniques

Talking about longevity, buying second-hand is a great way to put your hands on a pair of this iconic model. For a budget-friendly option, check our collection of vintage Levi's 501.


Old Levi's jeans advertisment
(Source: Heddels.com)


How to Style My Levi’s 501 Jeans?

The Levi's 501 is a versatile pair of jeans that can be styled in many different ways. Here are some tips for styling your pair:

  • Classic casual: For a classic, casual look, pair your straight fit 501s with a simple t-shirt or button-down shirt. Add sneakers or sandals for a comfortable, laid-back look.
  • Elevated casual: If you want to dress up your 501s a bit, pair them with a blazer or jacket. You can also add dress shoes or boots to elevate the look.
  • Retro vibe: To channel a retro vibe, pair your 501s with a vintage band t-shirt or graphic tee. Add sneakers or boots and a denim or leather jacket for a complete retro look.
  • Streetwear style: For a streetwear-inspired look, pair your regular fit jeans with a hoodie or sweatshirt. Add a bomber jacket and high-top sneakers for a cool, edgy vibe.


men wearing loose Levi's
(Source: Asos)



woman wearing vintage Levi's jeans
(Source: Funkycatshop on Pinterest)


How to take care of my Levi’s 501 Denim?

Here are some tips:

  • Wash them infrequently: Levi's 501 jeans are made of high-quality denim that doesn't need to be washed after every wear. Washing them too frequently can cause the denim to fade and lose its shape
  • Wash them inside out: Turning your jeans inside out before washing helps to protect the color and prevent fading. It also helps to reduce friction between the denim and the washing machine.
  • Wash them in cold water: Hot water can shrink and damage denim, so it's best to wash your Levi's 501 jeans in cold water. Use a mild detergent that's designed for denim.
  • Don't use fabric softener: Fabric softener can damage the cotton fibers in denim and cause them to break down. Instead, use a little bit of white vinegar in the rinse cycle to help soften the denim.
  • Hang dry: Levi's 501 jeans should be hung to dry rather than put in the dryer. This helps to preserve the shape and color of the denim.
  • Iron if necessary: If your Levi's 501 jeans are wrinkled, you can iron them on a low heat setting. Be sure to iron them inside out to protect the color and finish.

Signing Off

At the end of the day, it is evident that Levi's 501 jeans have stood the test of time and remain an iconic piece of American fashion.

From their humble beginnings as workwear for cowboys and miners to their popularity with counterculture movements in the 1950s and 60s, to their continued presence in modern fashion, the 501 has cemented its place in history.


*cover photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash