To celebrate the anniversary of 75 Years of Women’s Levi’s we have an interview with Lynn Downey, who is the Levi’s Historian.
1) Boyfriend jeans have been phenomenally popular over the last 18 months, levi’s were actually responsible for the first pair of boyfriend jeans back in the 1900s when women started wearing men’s 501 as there was nothing else available. Can you tell us more about this?
In the early 1900s, women wore men’s 501 jeans while working on ranches and farms, just like their men did. To these women, a sturdy pair of men’s pants like the 501 meant that they could work side by side with their husbands, brothers and sons, and contribute to the success and prosperity of their families. Levi Strauss & Co. saw that this was happening and decided to create a jean just for women in 1934.
2) Which were the first pair of jeans specifically designed for women?
Lady Levi’s, introduced in 1934. They were lot 701 (as opposed to the men’s lot 501), and were cut with a more feminine flair. They were meant for women to wear for everything from ranch work, to dude ranch vacations. They were very versatile and started what has become the biggest category in jeanswear.
3) In the 60’s, Levi’s introduced the slimmer fitting women’s jean which became the pre-cursor of the ever popular skinny jean. Which other women’s styles from the levi’s past do you think can still be seen in contemporary denim.
Many of today’s styles are looks that have evolved from past trends (such as the boyfriend discussed above). For example, the boot cut jean was originally created for men in 1969, to fit over their cowboy and other boots. Women begin wearing this fit around 2000 and it remains one of our top sellers today.
4) Men’s Levi’s are often associated with non-conformity and rebellion would you say the same is true of women’s Levi’s.
It was certainly brave and fashion-forward for women to wear jeans in the 1930s, and even into the 1960s. Denim was so associated with masculinity, and even though lady Levi’s were a more feminine cut, it was still a bit subversive for women to jump into a pair of jeans. Women like katharine hepburn were wearing trousers in the 1930s, scandalizing society, and denim on women got the same reaction. Women wore them at places like dude ranches and in western towns where it was a little more appropriate. Western women had worn denim for a long time, and it was when eastern women adopted lady Levi’s that they took off. In the 1930s, stores like best & co. In new york, as well as kaufman’s riding goods, carried the jeans, knowing that women wanted the denim look.
5) What has been the most important technological advancement in terms of women’s denim over the last 100 year.
The most important technological advancement in denim was the addition of ‘stretch’ to jeans. In the 1960s, nylon was woven into denim fabric, which changed the wearing occasions and experience for women. This new ‘stretch’ made denim more functional, sexy and feminine.