Like all the best stories, the Levi’s origin tale starts simply: a San Francisco tailor called Jacob Davis noticed that his clients’ denim overalls kept tearing, so he decided to reinforce them with rivets. Unable to afford a patent for his idea, he proposed a partnership with his fabric supplier, one Levi Strauss. In 1873, they produced their first pair of patented Levi’s jeans – the 501. Almost 150 years later, the style’s still going strong.

They solved the issue so successfully that jeans – then known as ‘waist overalls’ – became the go-to for American workers in the West, whether they toiled on a ranch or down a mine. Then, in the 1950s, James Dean wore his 501s in Rebel Without a Cause and, overnight, Levi’s became the battle uniform of teenagers, who’d only been invented a decade earlier but were already at war with society.

The magic of Levi’s is that, even today, it still embodies elements of both honest labour and anti-authoritarian cool, depending on the style you pick and how you wear them. “Whether you just want something to wear with a t-shirt, or you’re the kind of person who really cares about trends, Levi’s has something that you’ll fall in love with,” says Thread stylist Freddie Kemp. “It’s a brand for everyone, but its clothes always feel individual.”

Though jeans are Levi’s bread-and-butter – and for the price, it does them better than any brand on earth – it also excels above the belt. “Its varsity jackets are particularly good,” says Freddie, “as is all its non-denim outerwear. It feels very American, a blend of collegiate and workwear, which taps into Levi’s history in industry and on campuses.” In Levi’s hands, these spins on menswear classics feel like part of a tradition, but never stuck in the past.

This particularly true for Levi’s Vintage Clothing, a brand-within-a-brand that creates luxurious reworkings of items from the (very, very extensive) Levi’s archive. When we say ‘reworkings’, we don’t just mean ‘inspired by’; many of the items are inch-perfect replicas of clothes stretching back as far as the 1890s, with the exact fades and distressing that were originally created by a real person wearing them for years.

“It’s all about that authenticity, which is something Levi’s has in its DNA,” says Freddie. “Buying pre-distressed jeans can seem a bit odd – you’re spending money on something that’s damaged, even if intentionally so. But with Levi’s Vintage Clothing, you know that those signs of wear are real – or at least, were real. So you get the great look of something lived-in, but you also get a connection with a guy from the past, who loved his Levi’s just as much as you.”

Our favourite Levi’s pieces

Levi’s 501 jeans

The original and still the template against which every other pair of jeans is measured. “The 501 is as classic as they come,” says Freddie. “They’re cut straight, so they can feel a touch roomy for a guys who prefer something more modern. If you prefer a slimmer fit, try the 511. They’re much snugger, with a taper into the ankle.”

 

Levi’s denim trucker jacket

The Trucker is a baby by Levi’s standards – it turned a sprightly 50 in 2017 – but in that half-century it’s become a stone-cold menswear classic. Though Levi’s didn’t invent the denim jacket, it made it its own – the Trucker’s triangular chest pockets are a much-copied signature – and it’s been a favourite of everyone from George Harrison to Alex Turner.

 

Levi’s crew neck sweatshirt

The first great thing about Levi’s sweatshirts are that they’re incredibly well-made. Soft, flattering and hardy, they’re everything you want in an off-duty jumper. The second great thing is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it red label on the chest. More commonly found on the rear right pocket of its jeans, the Levi’s Red Tab is almost as famous as the trousers it’s sat on since 1936. On a sweatshirt, it’s the subtlest way we can think of to wear a logo, the kind of detail that shows you pay attention to the little things.