What is it that makes jeans so special? The history, the fabric, the durability, the details or a bit of it all. Briefly defined, jeans are made of indigo dyed denim and feature five pockets, twelve rivets, contrast stitching, five to seven belt loops and a zip or button fly. But there’s more to it than that. With a little help from fellow denim enthusiasts (including especially oki-ni), we have set out to investigate and identify the functions of the different components of the generic 5-pocket jean mainly based on the 1915 501XX and 1947 501XX from Levi’s Vintage Clothing. You may not find all these details on most jeans you can buy today, but nevertheless they’re all significant for the evolution of the jean.
1: Branding Patch
The branding patch is most commonly placed along the waistband above the right pocket at the back of the jeans. It’s usually made of leather or ‘leather-like’ cardboard. Originally the main purpose of the patch was to inform customers of the strength of the product and to help them identify the brand. Levi’s introduced their famous Two House leather patch in 1886 using symbolism in stead of words to help illiterate and foreign customer understand the message. It may very well have been common for workwear manufacturers to use similar patches in the early days of jeans.
2: Suspender Buttons
Suspender buttons are sewn onto the inner or outer side of the waistband and function to anchor suspenders. Most suspenders have two straps attached on either side in the front of the waistband and one strap attached on the center of the back of the waistband. The suspenders are equipped with button holes at the ends of the straps that allow the user to easily attach them to the pants. Suspenders are particularly practical with high cut or loose fitting jeans.
When jeans were first introduced suspenders, along with the back cinch strap, were the only option you had for holding up your trousers. After World War I, men had become accustomed to military belts and the use of suspenders started to decline. Suspenders were considered as underwear and it didn’t help much that men at the same time started wearing their jackets and waistcoats less frequently, and thus detailed part of their underwear to the public. Nevertheless, suspender buttons were a basic feature of Levi’s jeans until they were finally fully replaced by belt loops in the late 1930s. Still, retailers stocked and supplied “press on” buttons for customers who preferred suspenders to a belt.
3: Back Cinch
The back cinch is a buckle placed on the yoke of jeans. Back cinches were the common way for jeans wearer to tighten the waist before widespread use of belts. Levi’s stopped fitting the back cinch on their 501 jeans during WWII, but with renewed interest in vintage-styled looks, cinch backs have returned on modern jeans.
When Jacob Davis contacted Levi Strauss regarding acquiring a patent for his new invention he didn’t invent jeans. His invention was merely that he had reinforced a pair of pants with copper rivets. This of course made a huge difference for the common working man, who stuffed the pockets of his pants with rocks and what not to the point of actually breaking the pockets. The demand for riveted pants grew quickly and Levi Strauss with a proposition of a partnership and the rest is what we say, history. The birth of blue jeans or waist dungarees, as they were called back then, was a reality.
Up until 1937 all rivets on Levi’s jeans were exposed. This caused for a lot of problem for cowboys and housewives alike. The rivets would simply scratch the surface of saddles as well as the living room furniture. This led to another invention, the hidden rivet. However, even the hidden rivet would eventually tear its way through even the toughest denim and in the 1960s it was removed for good was replaced by a bartack. You can read more about Jacob Davis’ simple yet extraordinary invention here.
Also known as the riser, the yoke is the V-shaped section at the back of jeans that gives jeans their curved seat. The deeper the V, the greater the curve and the cut of the yoke range from straight to very V-shaped to no yoke at all. For pictures have a look at the first under the back cinch or the one under seat.
6: Arcuate and Red Tab
The arcuate is thought to be the oldest clothing trademark still in use. Before Levi’s patented their seagull-arcuate in 1943, and before the before the introduction of Wrangler’s “Western Wear” W’s and Lee Lazy-S, all used the same design. Levi’s jeans have featured arcuates since the patenting of the rivets in 1873, however, it has been speculated that they weren’t the first to employ it.
The red tab was introduced in 1936 as means of identifying genuine Levi’s jeans as they hadn’t yet trademarked the arcuate on the back pocket, which meant a lot of competing companies had arcuates featured on their jeans. Until 1971, the red tabs had ‘LEVI’S’ written in all capital letters, but with the introduction of the Batwing logo the spelling was changed to ‘Levi’s’. This was the end of an era, but the beginning the vintage ‘Big E’ craze.
The seat refers to the top block of the jeans. How the seat is cut determines how they fit. When dealing with block top and fitting you’ll probably also hear the term “anti-fit.” Contrary to what some believe to be the meaning of the term, anti-fit has nothing to do with the general size of jeans, but it tells you that the rise of the jean is cut in a straight line (as opposed to curved), which is what gives the 501 jean its recognisable and famous top block. Anti-fit cut jeans don’t follow the shape of your body. The cut is the result of Levi’s experimenting to maximise every inch of the denim fabric in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Some of the benefits of the anti-fit include greater comfort, less wear on the seat, and of course, and a good looking pair of jeans even though you wear them 2 sizes too big.
8: Honey Combs
During the process of wearing a pair of jeans, the fabric around the knee area gets repeatedly scrunched with friction, which creates fading patterns that resembles honey combs. The fades can be emulated with starch. Sometimes the honey combs can create an almost 3D-like effect with the colour difference from dark hues to light blues.
9: Left Hand Twill
The left hand twill weave where the twill line rises to the left, usually resulting in a softer hand feel after washing. Also known as “S” twill, the left hand twill will often have a softer hand once washed compared to right hand twill. Lee is known to have used left hand twill as their trademark fabric since the 30s.