I refer to Richard Barnes quite often to get a contemporaneous idea of what was going on during the ‘golden age’ of the early sixties Mod period. He says that Levi’s jeans were coveted by Mods as they were very hard to get back then. Some lads used to beg American servicemen to bring them over – along with obscure blues and soul records – after they’d visited home on leave. I can see how a sixties Mod would have scored a stash of one-upmanship points walking around London in American Levi’s if they were like hen’s teeth in England. Barnes writes that Levi’s “cost 42/6d [Two pounds and change!] … button fly fronted and stiff as cardboard when you first wore them. Kids had to sit in the bath and shrink them on. They used to scrub them and then later bleach them to get a faded look, the more bleached-looking the better.”
In Alan Fletcher’s novelisation of ‘Quadrophenia’ – hardly a work of unimpeachable accuracy since at one point he has Jimmy listening to the watery pop of ‘Concrete and Clay’ by Unit 4 Plus 2 – Steph mentions the new trend in Levi’s as “parallels, faded with patches”. I find this hard to believe and haven’t seen any evidence in pictures from the time. Later in the novel Jimmy sees Steph on the back of a Lambretta driven by the Acton Face who was wearing “… a full-length maroon suede and blue faded and patched Levi’s”. After shrinking-to-fit his new Levi’s in the bath, Jimmy “bleached them, bashed them about with a ponch, wore them and then dried them off in the sun”. Patching up jeans seems more like the later hippy trend than for Mods to be wearing. In my childhood jeans often had patched knees but that was from the rough-and-tumble backstreet lifestyle of a pre-teen in the seventies, not from any desire or attempt to be fashionable.
Nowadays I find the ubiquity of blue jeans really boring. Of course I’m being hypocritical here as I do wear them myself sometimes but I try to limit their use because they’re just everywhere. Instead I prefer to wear white jeans, or else sta-pressts, chinos, linens, or five-pocket strides such as Levi’s 511 Commuters, all of which come with more colour choices and lighter weight than jeans.
As a kid my Mam wouldn’t buy me adidas so now all my trainers are adidas. Similarly we grew up with only Wranglers, Levi’s were very hard to come by in England ‘oop north’, so partly due to that I tend to lean towards Levi’s now. When we got Wranglers they were like cardboard and we hated them in that state. We used to put them in the wash every week whether dirty or clean to get them to soften up and wear in. Funny how that’s the opposite of what Jeans nerds do nowadays!
Then came a period when I was an early teenager that my Mam stopped buying me anything name brand. She considered it wasteful as I would grow out of it in no time. She didn’t apply this to my two older brothers – I guess she expected that their gear would get passed down and would get more use, but me being the youngest there was no-one to pass anything down to, so a lot of my duds were ‘off brand’. I’d get no-name jeans bought for me at some south Asian market stall.
A local chain then opened called ‘Geordie Jeans’ which were hugely popular for people all over the north east for a while, before inevitably their bubble burst and they were later regarded as cheap and tacky.
After my O Levels at age 16 I went with some mates for a week in London and got some Lee jeans at ‘Dickie Dirts’ – a big warehouse place that sold name brand jeans at knock down prices for a while until they also went under.
Around this time my mate Phil said he was really bored with jeans and was going to limit wearing them. I agreed with this view and did likewise, so we took to wearing sta-pressts or suit trousers more often. That pair of Lee jeans from Dickie Dirts plus a pair of Jesus jeans that a mate gave me – having grown out of them due to his growing beer belly – saw me through college.
I did get a pair of black silver tab Levi’s 501 jeans when I was at college in Leeds, this would have been around the time that 501s were making a big comeback with some memorable retro-styled TV adverts featuring Nick Kamen and Motown soundtracks. This was a cash-in on the retro fifties/sixties trend that was sweeping through pop culture at the time and saw a resurgence in the popularity of plain white boxer shorts and Ray Ban Wayfarers along with 501s.
I remember buying my first pair of red tab Levi’s 501s (prefaded) during Spring Break of 1990 when I walked to the Galleria Mall from my flat in Houston. They lasted me for many years and I had several more pairs over the years of ‘standard’ 501s bought for around $20 to $25 at big box stores. They were so cheap compared to back home that when my brothers came to visit they would buy several pairs and store them up. At that time in London the same 501s were around the equivalent of $60 – three times the price of what they were in America!
After several years of having slipped into jeans-and-t-shirt mode, I gradually realised that faded jeans were fading out of fashion. Also, as I rededicated myself to Mod style, pre-faded stone wash jeans seemed at odds with the sharp look I was going for, so remembering my mate Phil’s words from 1981 I once again decided to try and limit my use of jeans.
These days I prefer white jeans and find them more useful in the Florida summer – I have some standard white 501s, which really could do with tapering, and some heavy white Levi’s Made and Crafted selvedge.
I have two pairs of blue selvedge from Uniqlo – one every-day pair and another as yet unworn. The quality of these for the price is very good.
I have two other blue selvedge by Levi’s – one pair are 511s made in Turkey which I thought were LVC but stand to be corrected on that. The other are 501XX big E made in USA, possibly at Cone Mills and maybe 1959 style with buried rivets in the top corners of the back pockets, but I don’t get caught up in that kind of minutia. I still tend to think of jeans as in most cases workwear or at the more extreme end of casual so not worth a lot of time, money, and obsessing over the details.
I wear all my blue jeans rarely and I occasionally wash them in cold water on the gentle cycle and hang them up to dry. I absolutely couldn’t be less interested in feathers, fades or whatever else, neither on my jeans nor anyone else’s. This ‘art’ of wearing raw jeans for months on end without washing just to get some pattern on them, to me is rank! I’d prefer to keep them dark navy with as little fade as possible for as long as possible.
I was a bit sad to learn that the Cone Mills factory – the famous source for many brands and the last American maker of selvedge jeans – had closed in 2017 and I thought about getting a pair while they were still available in back stock, but I’m not that bothered. I would have probably kept them, worn even less frequently than my others for sentimentality and that’s a bit silly. If you laid a pair of Cone Mills out among a bunch of other Levi’s I’m not sure I could even tell the difference.
I find attempts to ‘dress up’ jeans usually to be worthy of ridicule. At most they can be worn with a casual blazer but as I mentioned on a previous post about blazer and jeans, this look comes with a high degree of difficulty to avoid the Jeremy Clarkson look … or worse!