My Life in Levi’s

Research Department
May 16, 2018

Volunteer Alice Labourg discusses her experiences of the changes in Levi jeans that have taken place over the past decades as part of the ‘fast fashion’ model.  

Written by Alice Labourg, Volunteer

Jacket by Alpha, jeans by Levi Strauss, late 1980s, Britain. Museum no. T.619 to 624-1994. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Jacket and jeans by Levi Strauss & Co, 1970, U.S.A. Museum no. T.586 to 590:1&2-1994. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I love the cut, shape, feel, colour and specific details of this particular pair of Levi’s. This is one of the last pairs of Levi’s 501 of that kind that I have. I bought them around 2005-06. I have been wearing Levis’s 501 jeans since 1989. They regularly slightly change the cuts without mentioning it but still sell them as original Levi’s 501. I used to buy a new pair every 5 to 6 years as they used to last so long. But now it is a complete different story. Sometime around the late-2000s, they completely changed the cut and started using a thinner denim that wears out quite quickly (another instance of programmed obsolescence). What used to last 6 years (with a little mending in-between) only lasts 6 months now. They even stopped sewing them the same way, using a single seam for the inside legs instead of the stronger double seam. They also changed the lower hem, shortening it and using a different technique to sew the reverse.

All of that has completely changed the shape, look and feel of the 501. I don’t like the new, tighter cut which, despite what they are advertising, is not “straight” anymore (I never went for the lady’s “curvy” cut, I liked the straightness of the man’s version) nor all the changes in the details they have implemented (a return to the “original” version apparently…). To me they are simply not 501 anymore. This pair is the absolutely perfect pair of Levi’s 501 jeans. I love the colour and the particular way the weft draws thin lines that make your legs look longer. It even has threads of different colours for the seams, the usual orangey one, a whitish blue, and one of a slightly pinkish hue. They all subtly harmonise together and with the soft blue and white weft of the denim… I have never seen anything like that in any other pair of Levi’s I have ever had! I still have two other pairs from the same period with the same cut and material which I have also mended in the same manner. They are my ultimate (in all senses of the term) pairs of Levi’s 501 jeans!

Courtesy of the writer
Courtesy of the writer

The repair is at the crutch. I used pieces from an old pair of Levi’s 501 that I had cut off to turn into a pair of shorts. I had kept the cut-off legs. I cut the worn-out fabric from the jeans with a pair of scissors, making circular holes around the tear. Then, on reverse, I fixed the pieces with pins, trying to make the weft match, and sewed them on with a sewing machine.

I have always mended my jeans as they always tear at the same place. In the early 90s, I used to darn them by hand and then cover the repair with pieces cut from light blue bandana handkerchiefs I bought especially for the operation. I carefully selected the paisley pattern to be on display. Then as I grew older, I stopped covering the darns until I found this method on an online tutorial. It is quite simple and works really well to give an extra life to your favourite pair of jeans!

Outfit featured in Fashioned from Nature. Levi Strauss & Co. jacket, before 1971, USA. Museum no. T.715-1974. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The next post by volunteer Lydia Caston will look at the use of whales in fashion and perfumes and the effect on the species.

Fashioned from Nature

About the author

Research Department
May 16, 2018

Yona Lesger is currently working as Assistant Curator on the V&A East Museum. She previously worked as Curator of Modern & Contemporary Performance in the Theatre & Performance department and...

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