Colours by Decade

Inside Levi's
May 2022

Colours by decadeColours by decade

Levi's® 501® jeans have been labelled the most iconic items of clothing of the twentieth century. Arguably, they never have and never will go out of fashion. But why? Levi's® has constantly rolled with the times when it comes to denim. They have adapted and kept up with trends, and not to mention there are so many different styles. Looking back through the decades, the different styles and fits of Levi's® jeans have all come back into fashion multiple times.

Levi's® jeans are a staple part of most wardrobes. The styles have evolved through the decades, but what is the history behind the iconic blue jean? You may be surprised to learn that Levi's® jeans haven't always been blue. Like the styles and fits, the colour palette has also evolved.

The Levi's® blue jeans are cool, comfortable, and durable. But not everyone may be aware that they began as workman's pants. They were first manufactured by Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco in 1873, and the riveted denim revolutionised fashion. The key element of blue jeans? The colour. Blue was symbolic of their origins; they were pants for blue-collar workers. The denim was coloured with indigo, and the blue tone masked any dirt.

Over the years, blue has been the dominant colour of Levi's® products. But it’s not the only one. A deeper look at the history of Levi Strauss & Co. through the lens of colour may surprise fans.

The Levi's® brand is known for first offering its famous copper riveted overalls in blue denim. Few people know that the company also offered its original riveted overall (later called the 501®) in a brown duck cloth.

Colour Palette

Interestingly, the blue colour of Levi's® denim products have also changed over the years. The early riveted denim clothing from the 1870s and into the Twentieth Century was a lighter shade of blue with a green hue. This was the colour produced by plant-based indigo dyes used in that era.

By the 1930s, Levi's® denim products were characterised by a deep rich blue colour and red hue thanks to synthetic indigo-dyed denim. The 1930s Arizona Cowboy 501®, a remarkable pair of Levi's® jeans stored away safe in the brand’s San Francisco Archives, has this distinctive dark blue denim colour.

Over the years, Levi Strauss & Co. has offered products in various colours alongside the famous denim blue. In the 1930s, the era of dude ranch vacationing in the West, they offered a line of satin rodeo shirts in a line of bold colours, "so bright they glow."

Colour Palette

And in 1936, they introduced the famous Levi’s® Red Tab™ to the back pocket of the 501® and, later, to the jackets. The Tabs have come in a variety of colours and editions since then, from the orange Tab of the 1960s to the 1990s Silver Tab.

In the 1950s, students were banned from wearing blue jeans due to their association with juvenile delinquency. Students bleached them white to get around this prohibition, and in the early 1960s, the Levi's® brand responded with a new product: White Levi's® for youth. By 1967, White Levi's® came in a dozen different colours that Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane sang about for the radio track White Levi's®: "White Levi's® come in black, blushing bravo blue, I love you. . ." she crooned.

The 1960s saw an explosion of colour in clothing, print, and even in new colour television. Levi's® denim jeans and jackets also became a canvas for this burst of colour from the 1960s and into the 1970s. Paint, patches and colourful embroidery transformed plain blue garments into colourful rainbow clothing.

Since then, colours and styles alike of the Levi's® jean have reappeared as trends time and time again. Whether it be the pop of colour from the 1960s and 1970s, the stonewashed jean released in the 1980s or the famous blue denim jean.

A modern wardrobe essential that also contains a rich history. Starting as trousers for ranch and farm workers in America, and by January 1990, supermodels Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Tatjana Patitz and Christy Turlington wore them in the iconic photo by Peter Lindbergh on the cover of British Vogue. This was the look that characterized the era and beyond. Right up until today, Levi's® jeans are undoubtedly iconic and timeless.