How To Date Levi’s 501 Jeans

A Study of Levi's Patches: 1967-1968

“I just found a pair of what appears to be an original vintage Levi’s 501, but how can I be sure that it’s the real deal?” Some of the most frequently asked questions we get are related to determining the authenticity of vintage jeans, especially Levi’s 501s. This article focuses on what you should be looking out for with late-1960s 501 jeans, exemplified with this rather rare pair produced between 1967-1968. But how can we be sure about this? Well, for starters it’s difficult to put an exact production date to a pair of vintage 501s, but by following the check liste below you will be able to get pretty close.

With this particular pair the give-away is the leather-like patch: With an ‘A’ above the lot number, only found between 1967-1969, and ’1501-0117′, of which ’0117′ only appeared on some patches between 1966-1968. Based on this analysis these jeans were produced in the limited time slot between 1967-1968. But before reaching this conclusion you have to analyse the jeans based on this check list that moves chronologically back in time.

1) The first thing you should look for when inspecting vintage 501 jeans is whether it’s a selvage denim. If so, the jeans are likely to be produced before the mid-1980s.

2) Inspect the red tab. If there’s a Big E on it you’re well on your way to the big jackpot. If the red tab only has lettering on one side (the one facing the front) the jeans are pre-1955. Still, if it’s a small e red tab has your find might still be worth buying.

3) Inspect for a care tag, if you find one the jeans are post-mid-1970s. Be aware that fakes and Levi’s Vintage Clothing jeans can have both Big E and care tag.

4) Does the jeans have ‘single stitch’ back pockets, i.e. lock stitches and not chain stitches on the horisontal double felled seams on the top of the pockets? If this is the case, the jeans were produced before 1976 (roughly).

5) Inspect the rivets. If the back pockets have hidden rivets (replaced by bartack around 1966) and if the back plates of the rivets are silver coloured with lowered letters the jeans are post-1966. If the back plates are copper it’s really getting interesting. And if the letters are raised and not lowered you are holding a pair of pre-1960s jeans, and chances are that you will get goosebumps all over.

6) Inspect the patch. A leather patch, contrary to the ‘leather-like’ cardboard patch, is an indicator that the jeans were produced before 1955.

7) You have probably noticed by now, but the next thing you need to inspect is the front of the buttons. If it’s donut buttons with laurel leafs then the jeans were produced during WWII. This can be verified by painted arcuates (if still visible) and front pocket bags of varying fabrics, e.g. in green. These jeans are very hard to come by.

8) Another thing you probably noticed right away if it’s there is the back cinch. If there is one and all the above has been checked off then the jeans are pre-1937. This can be verified by a crotch rivet at the base on the button fly. Very few of these jeans are left and most are on the hands of either the Levi’s Archives or collectors (mainly Japanese).

9) Anything older than this e.g. without belt loops or only one back pocket is either lying around in the Nevada desert or locked up in a fire and earthquack proof safe and will probably not be put up for sale for less that what you pay for a midsized car or a trip around the world.

Now, let’s have a closer look at the details of the 1967-1968 pair.

A Study of Levi's Patches: 1967-1968

A Study of Levi's Patches: 1967-1968

Original Union Special chain stitch hemming and washed out redline Cone Mills XX selvage denim.

A Study of Levi's Patches: 1967-1968

The Big E is there, even though it’s hard to see on this twisted and curled red tab, which means that these jeans are pre-1971.

A Study of Levi's Patches: 1967-1968

Gorgeous natural train tracks, the result of numerous washes and very hard to replica.

A Study of Levi's Patches: 1967-1968Notice the vintage overlock stitch on the single felled inseam, another indicator for the authenticity of the jeans. Additionally, the priced lemon coloured chain stitch in combination with the traditional bronze coloured thread is nothing but beautiful. Levi’s Vintage Clothing have featured the lemon coloured chain stitch on the 1966 501, but it’s not guaranteed to be there, and it’s also found on 1970s productions. Generally, the used on the lemon coloured thread is rather inconsistant.

A Study of Levi's Patches: 1967-1968

A Study of Levi's Patches: 1967-1968A Study of Levi's Patches: 1967-1968The famed V-stitch disappeared around 1969.

Place of production can be determined from the factory code stamped on the back on the top button. However, little is known about which factories the different stamps refer to. The top button stamp on this particular pair says ’4′. Generally, if there’s only one digit (except with ‘R’) the jeans are pre-mid-1970s, which was around the time Levi’s switch to three digit factory codes. On newer Levi’s Vintage Clothing jeans it’s common to find four digits.

A Study of Levi's Patches: 1967-1968Post-1966 thin silver base rivets with lowered text. Also, this pair doesn’t feature the inside care tag, which didn’t appear until the mid-1970s.

A Study of Levi's Patches: 1967-1968Single stitch back pockets with arcuates worn and washed partly away.

A Study of Levi's Patches: 1967-1968This article provides and overall guide on what you should be looking our for when putting a production date to vintage Levi’s jeans, but we are aware that it doesn’t cover everything. If you want to know more we can recommend a visit to Blue Gold Blues or Levi’s Guide, even though the validity of the latter is a little questionable.