Levi Strauss & Co. is celebrating another milestone this fall — the 75th anniversary of its introduction of the first women’s jeans.
This story first appeared in the September 17, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The San Francisco-based denim giant introduced Lady Levi’s to the world during the fall of 1934 with the 701 style. The initial target market was women of the West, who were more likely to be engaging in regular outdoor activities or working as ranchers, and had been making due with wearing men’s 501s. It’s a story the company believes deserves more attention.
“People don’t know the women’s Levi’s story as well as they know the men’s story,” said Lynn Downey, the company’s historian.
“I think the Levi’s brand has always been known to be a men’s wear jean,” said You Nguyen, senior vice president and creative director for the Levi’s brand. “We sort of take for granted that it’s men’s wear until we dig back into the archives. We were the first brand to really create a jean for her.”
Downey has combed through the company’s extensive archives to help put together a fuller picture of how Levi’s helped spur the women’s denim market.
While the initial target for Lady Levi’s may have been a more rugged and forward-thinking woman, the market quickly shifted due to the rising popularity of dude ranches in the Thirties and Forties. As more East Coast city slickers headed out West for vacations, larger department stores saw the need to stock more jeans for men and women. Downey said a pair of Lady Levi’s in the company archives are believed to be the oldest in the world and were found at a dude ranch.
“We believe they’re from between 1937 and 1942 and we actually know the name of the woman who wore them,” said Downey.
Harriet Atwood left a pair of Lady Levi’s she had purchased at Best & Co. behind after her stay at the Soda Spring Dude Ranch in Rimrock, Ariz. Levi’s was able to purchase the jeans and was confident in their authenticity, since Atwood’s name was stitched into them, most likely to assure they were returned to the rightful owner after being washed. And like other high-end stores of the day, Best & Co. had affixed its own label inside the jeans.
Downey will bring Atwood’s jeans, as well as other women’s items from the archives, to Levi’s stores across the country beginning at the end of the month. She will give presentations at stores in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago through October. Stores also will offer some discounts around the events.