The History of 501s: The Original Blue Jeans

501 Jeans Stories of an Original 2

Jeans. They’re the one piece of clothing that you’ll find in every person’s wardrobe; the one piece that can be worn for almost any occasion (provided the style is right); and the one piece that has documented the change through history like no other – from the original styles worn by workers at the turn of the 20th century, to the advent of the ‘teenager’ in the 1950s, hippies in the ‘70s, punks in the ’80s, hip hop culture in the ’90s and the rise of the skinny in the noughties.

That wouldn’t have been possible though, without Levi’s 501s: the original blue jean that changed our wardrobes forever and came to encapsulate modern history in one piece of clothing. The story began in 1873, when Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis created the first pair of blue jeans in San Francisco for gold miners, adding rivets to durable denim trousers. Featuring that iconic arcuate stitching that remains today and given the lot number 501 in 1890, these jeans (or ‘waist overalls’ as they were called at the time) soon went from being tough work wear garments to fashion icons in their own right.

A man wearing Levi's 501 jeans and a denim jacket.

In the 1930s and ’40s, Levi’s 501s became the cowboy garment of choice, but it was 1950s Hollywood that really brought the jeans into the mainstream. Worn by the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando, 501s became a fashion must-have, associated with youth, rebellion and cultural change in America.

Since then, 501s have been adopted by every generation, with subtle changes made to the design every so often to remain relevant and suit the needs of new wearers. The original design stays strong though, and that’s probably what is most appealing about them; living in a time of fast fashion, quick trends and an unpredictable cultural landscape, you know you can always rely on your 501s.


Watch each part of the Levi’s 501 documentary below.

Shop the Levi’s men’s collection on Coggles here >>

Shop the Levi’s women’s collection on Coggles here >>

Sarah Atkinson

Sarah Atkinson

Writer and expert