Earlier this year, the Levi’s 501 turned 150, a landmark anniversary for the most iconic silhouette in denim. You’re probably familiar with the broad strokes of the 501’s origin story: in 1873, Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss were granted a patent to equip their sturdy denim pants with riveted pockets, a flourish that quickly endeared them to San Francisco gold miners.
Over the years, the 501 became catnip for a particular type of brooding all-American archetype—Brando in The Wild One, Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Springsteen on the cover of Born in the U.S.A—but on the occasion of its sesquicentennial, it still feels startlingly relevant, the standard by which all other jeans are judged.
Steve Jobs made it a crucial part of his Apple uniform, along with his trademark Issey Miyake turtlenecks and cooked New Balance 992s; Kurt Cobain swore by stonewashed 501s with characteristically blown-out knees. In 2023, you’re just as likely to encounter the OG version as you are a wild-style designer riff, from the SoCal-dreaming wunderkind Eli Russell Linetz or Nigo, the Kenzo majordomo and legendary streetwear whisperer. (On any given day, half the GQ office is wearing a pair.)
The 501’s enduring legacy mostly boils down to two factors: its just-right fit and unbeatable price. The mid-rise offers your thighs plenty of breathing room, but it stays straight through the leg, a Goldilocks combo ripe for the freaking; size up for a little slouch, or stick with your true waist to keep it classic. Its sub-$100 price conveys a certain everyman appeal, too—the rich and famous love it because it makes them seem a little less rich and famous, and a little more in touch with Average Joes.
All of which is to say, Levi’s never really has to discount it; the 501’s legacy is so unimpeachable menswear fans need little convincing to buy a pair. But if all those pedigreed cosigns mean nothing to you (or you can’t quell your contrarian streak), now might be the time to bracket your skepticism. Thanks to Black Friday, the Levi’s 501 is half off on Amazon—sometimes more, depending on the wash that piques your interest. Inventory is moving quick, which only reaffirms what we already knew: when it comes to denim, the 501 is still king.
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