Sunday, September 27, 2015
Forever in Blue Jeans
Living in Lithuania, I am amazed at what a pair of Levi's jeans goes for, or for that matter Wrangler or Lee's. Jeans are still a premium item in Eastern Europe even after all these years of independence. You will rarely find a pair for anything less than 60 euros, and usually they run between 80-100 euros, which is less than what you would pay for an old Lada. What is it that makes Levi's so popular that persons are willing to pay any amount of money for a pair?
The demand is so great an enterprising father and son team literally starting mining for Levi's and other pairs of denim jeans and jackets in the old silver mines of California, Nevada and Arizona, where the jeans were commonly worn in the late 19th century. They can fetch a thousand dollars for just a pocket on eBay. When the son came across an intact pair of Neustadter Bros. jeans, a rival to Levi's at the time, he was able to fetch $21,000 on eBay. His father-in-law recently found the holy grail of Levi's, a pair of 1873 jeans from the first year they were made.
The story of Levi Strauss is the typical immigrant success story we have read a thousand times. He came from Bavaria, set up a dry goods store out West and saw a golden opportunity in a pair of riveted jeans designed by a Nevada tailor, Jacob Davis, and began manufacturing them for miners. He eventually moved his base of operations to San Francisco, the hub of activity at the time, and the rest as they say is history.
These were jeans that could hold up for a long time and were relatively inexpensive, making them immensely popular among miners. It wasn't long before other companies began manufacturing similar blue jeans, so I imagine you can find quite a variety of riveted denim jeans and jackets in those old silver and gold mines out West. But, blue jeans really didn't take hold of the public imagination until the 1950s when jeans became the pants of choice for young rebels like Marlon Brando and James Dean.
Pre-washed jeans can be quite comfortable if you get a pair that fits you right. Levi's began to tailor their jeans to suit their customers, especially women. By the 70s women wanted jeans that snugly fit their shape, a little too snug at times. The style has never faded, because Levi's have essentially remained the same, while other brands have come and gone.
Blue Jeans similarly took hold in Europe after World War II, and became popularized in the 70s as well. Pretty soon major designer labels were manufacturing their own versions of jeans, including Armani, who launched his line in 1981. For awhile, everyone had to have a pair of these designer labels, but customers never abandoned Levi's entirely, and once again they are the "it" pair of jeans to have.
I guess that helps explain why the prices remain high in Europe, while Levi's sell for $20 to $40 a pair in the United States. With countries like Belarus, Serbia and Ukraine opening up to the West, you can probably fetch a nice trade for your pair of jeans if traveling to Minsk, Belgrade or Kiev. Levi's aren't the sign of the working class anymore, but a fashion statement.