Accessibility, heritage, and versatility are all words that come to mind when I think of a classic Levi's jeans. Now, a good pair of denim is something that has not and probably won't go out of style anytime soon. But to be fair, over the last year or two I've definitely noticed an increased interest particularly in vintage pairs of Levi's jeans. I think there are a few reasons for this "trend", and I'm mostly here for it.
I think I would be safe saying that if you're reading this article, you're most likely to own a pair of Levi's, vintage or not. I any case, because the brand has been mass producing for such a long time, naturally, there is an incredible amount of jeans in retail, thrift, and vintage stores with the infamous red tag on the right back pocket. This means that the brand itself is almost as accessible as it gets. Anyone can walk into a shop and find a pair. The thing is that it depends on what you are looking for, as from what I've seen prices can range from a 5$ thrifted pair, all the way to a possible 500$+ resold for particularly rare or sought after details. This is where my fascination begins. How is it possible for a pair of Levi's jeans to be worth so much? Well, I believe the short answer is vintage.
Identifying vintage Levi's
There are a few easy authentication signifiers that can help easily identify whether a pair of jeans is from a particular era or not. The first easy one is the small tab typically stitched onto the right back pocket of the jeans. Whilst most of us know this to be a standard red one, there are actually a few different styles which correspond to different periods of production. Within the vintage clothing community, I would say that the most relevant are the notorious orange tabs, and the big 'E' tabs.
Orange tab Levi's are widely recognized as a line produced in the 60s and 70s specifically meant to be more experimental. The reason why an orange tab was applied was so there could be distinctions made between classic cut jeans, which of course featured the standard red tab.
This is why the orange tabs are deemed to be more fashionable denim at the time, moving away from standard straight cuts which to this day are fundamental to the brand. Notably, Levi's have recently released a remastered line of orange tabs, meaning that not all orange tabs are necessarily vintage. Still, nowadays, in the context of a vintage reselling market, the orange tabs are an easily recognizable sign that a pair of jeans is genuine vintage. This is why you see so many sold at higher prices than regular red tabs. In all honestly, I love the look of an orange tab. I think that it's a really nice detail, especially considering that it means the jeans themselves are around 50-60 years old. Does that mean that they are worth the price you are paying? I guess it depends on what you are after. I say this because the experimental styles that were brought through Levi's orange tabs are mostly some which continue to be produced with a red tab nowadays. In other words, you don't need to look for some orange tab Levi's if you want flared denim. Still, if the historical significance is something that matters to you, then of course, these can be a really interesting option.
As for the infamous Big "E", we are talking about some of the most sought after vintage Levi's there are. As you may or may not know, most Levi's now feature a lower scale "e" on their tabs. The ‘Capital E’ tab was introduced in 1936 and ran until 1971, and has not since been reintroduced. This means that any pair with this tiny detail is guaranteed 50+ years old by now—insert vintage collectors and resellers. Unlike the orange tab Levi's, there is nothing necessarily special design-wise regarding Big "E" tabs—their value is solely historical. Still, because of how old they are, they tend to be quite difficult to find, which makes them particularly expensive when it comes to today's reselling market. Generally speaking, they'll easily go for a few hundred dollars, although they also tend to rise into the 4 digit range given the right model. So, unless you are really interested in Levi's brand heritage, I wouldn't really say that these are otherwise worth your money.
So why vintage?
As I've briefly mentioned previously, there is some historical significance to wearing vintage Levi's instead of more recently produced models. To be fair, I've only briefly discussed orange tabs and Big "E" tab Levi's, but these are definitely not the only vintage jeans that exist. I mentioned these two because they are amongst the most recognizable ones, and are very popular within the vintage community. But, there are tons of second-hand Levi's available all across the internet, thrift stores, and vintage shops at very affordable prices. I'd say that generally speaking, they're almost always under the retail price of brand new Levi's, which I think is the first reason why I'd choose second-hand or vintage over a fresh pair.
Also, although Levi's heritage is exceptional, and their quality is undeniable, it is no secret that the company is a massive contributor to overproduction and consumption in todays wasteful Fashion industry. Levi's continue to produce millions of new pairs every single year. As someone who has owned both vintage and new pairs of jeans, I can safely say that there is nothing remarkably different about what they produce now versus what they've done in the past. So, I'd argue that there is no need or real benefit to purchasing a brand new pair of jeans, considering the ridiculous amount of second-hand options readily available for anybody's budget in almost every single style.
Another reason I'd choose a second-hand pair of Levi's is because of the story behind the garment. In our mass-produced, fast fashion climate, I am quite drawn to the idea of wearing something as old as a pair of jeans anywhere from the 60s to the 90s. Levi's has built a lot of its brand identity on its longstanding heritage, which I think makes it particularly interesting to invest in some of this story. It's amazing that such an iconic brand has so much of its history available for purchase, and I think it's appealing to be able to own some of these pieces in a wardrobe. Given the opportunity, I'd rather own a pair of jeans with many lived years, even if I don't know the specific details. The mere idea of it existing so long and contributing to the influence of Levi's as one of the iconic denim producers is quite significant, and personally, adds a lot of value in contrast to newly produced garments.
Finally, I would choose vintage over new because personally, with jeans I like the worn look and feel. When I think of denim, I must say that the perfect pair would never come fresh off the rack. I like them worn in, a little discoloured, and simply put, with more character than something brand new. Maybe it's just me, but truly, a pair of jeans looks best after at least a few years of wear. They fit better, are more comfortable, and just look superior.
What to look for!
Let me conclude this article by quickly sharing a couple of my favourite Levi's styles. Of course, everyone knows about the classic 501s. But, consider these two alternative silhouettes the next time you shop for a pair of second-hand Levi's. They are underrated and therefore tend to be cheaper than your classic cuts.
550s - These are a relaxed fit style, perfect for those who like more oversized looks, or want to stray away from skinny jeans in general. They tend to be much cheaper than 501s, but can be just as good if they suit your style. I'd say they look really good with chunky footwear, and tend to fall perfectly on boots. Plus, if you're going for that 90s/2000s vibe, you need to look into getting a pair of these.
517 - I swear boot-cut Levi's don't get enough love. Thing is, flares are coming back onto the general public's radar, and I'd keep a lookout for a nice pair of 517s. If you want to experiment with a 70s aesthetic, or have a pretty pair of heeled leather boots, these Levi's might just be the perfect match.