Several manufacturers lay claim to being the original jeans manufacturer, although Levi Strauss and Co., which can trace its origins back to the middle of the nineteenth century, has to have one of the strongest. The facts that we now know the company simply as Levi’s and that the company logo is one of the most recognisable in the world certainly drive home their credentials as the “authentic” jean.
The company has managed to achieve something that’s practically impossible in fashion: staying cool for decades. Being at the higher end of the field in terms of price certainly helps, as flaunted wealth always has fashion cachet, but they’ve managed to steer a steady course even when the Ralph Laurens and Versaces of the world started making jeans and denim jackets that trumped them on the price front. Perhaps therein lies the secret of success – keeping the everyman feel but not taking everyman for granted and producing clothing that might be on the verge of luxury but which is guaranteed to be durable, stylish and well fitting.
Another interesting aspect of the Levi’s denim jacket is how little it has changed over the years. While its lower-half counterparts have wandered through the fashion landscape, being flared, skinny, boot-cut, blue, black, brown and white, the jacket’s resolute and stubborn shape has remained largely unchanged. Any variations from the norm have been mere tweaks. We’ve seen woolly fleece inners (with their distinctive fleecy collars), occasional retreats from blue into black, charcoal, natural cotton, and yes, stone-washed and snow-washed examples which seem eternally on the cusp of coming back into fashion.
But throughout all of these modifications, there they are: the two breast pockets, two side pockets, metal buttons and peculiar girth adjusters at the back that defy purpose but add authenticity.
While never fully disappearing, the Levi’s denim jacket has certainly had its highs. The 1950s, when denim was everywhere, put the DJ on the fashion map, and by the 60s no self-respecting hippy would be seen without one, especially when they had eschewed the leather jacket for veggi wear and the summer sun prevented them from wearing the Afghan coat. They came back with a vengeance in the mid 80s thanks to some super cool TV ads and adoption by the indie music scene, and in the mid to late 90s, the Oasis vs Blur battle was also a denim jacket vs tracky top battle.