With enough tenacity and plenty of luck, online second hand websites can prove to be a treasure trove of rare finds, all begging to be snatched by those with a keen enough eye. Grailed and Depop are two clothing-oriented second hand markets I have had success with, but eBay remains my go-to for second hand everything. On a recent excursion, I won an auction for a terrific pair of vintage Levi’s Corduroy trousers, with a pleasant, earthy brown colour. The material and boot cut make it an obvious immigrant from the groovy 1970s, the decade positively obsessed with earth tones and corduroy.
But wait. Are they from the 1970s?
Figuring out the age of a pair of Levi’s trousers is an esoteric process. The company does not print an explicit date on any kind of label or note that can be found on or around the pants. So instead, we have to examine the details of the pants themselves. Levi’s has made several little adjustments and addendums to their products over the years. It’s never anything that would be immediately apparent to a normal customer. Maybe an extra letter added to the patch here, take a rivet off there. But to collectors and enthusiasts, these changes make for a secret code that is often the key to dating a rare pair of jeans. And by cracking it, we can use some of this secret code as a blueprint to properly measure the groovyness and discotude of these vintage corduroys.
The method I used in this case is to find as many age-related details on the trousers as possible, then cross-reference them to see what the most likely time for them to have been made would be. While some parts of the trousers can narrow down the date of production by a good bit, there aren’t many that can tell you for sure on their own.
One of the most useful and easiest to check details is the little red tab on the back pocket. Copyright protection and tightening of brand identity have encouraged Levi’s to make various changes to the red tab, including reducing the capital ‘E’ in their name to a lowercase one, which was introduced in 1971. If the red tab has a capital E, you can say with certainty that your jeans were made on or before this cutoff year. If you’ve ever heard a jeans enthusiast clamouring for the ‘Big E,’ this was what they were on about. My trousers have a lowercase E, which would indicate they were made after 1971.
The colour of the tab gives us another clue. Levi’s introduced their white tab from the 60s through to the 70s, specifically for their corduroy products, so now that’s two clues pointing us towards the early 1970s. However, this is where we get into some evidence that conflicts with our disco dreams.
The presence of a care label and chain stitching on the inside of the back pockets both point to a period between the mid 1970s to mid 1980s.
Additionally, the reverse side of the trousers’ rivets are silver, with depressed lettering and a small ring around the outer edge, which is a characteristic which began appearing around 1982-89. This isn’t good news. We now have a seemingly hard cap on the trousers which places them firmly outside the 60s and 70s, and outside the groove zone by extension. With a few other identifiers, the chart starts to look like this:
Based on the collective information found, the most likely date of production for these trousers is, sadly, the early 1980s. The only outlier for this date is the white tab, which based on my research ended production before the 80s. Worth noting however, is that this pair was made in the United Kingdom, so it is possible that older details may have taken longer to be phased out completely in production that took place outside of the United States. This logic is not likely to be the same in reverse; the silver-backed rivets, for example, would not have appeared any earlier than the 1980s, unless Levi’s British division had been working on a time machine on their weekends.
All in all, I’m a little bummed at this realisation. A big part of what I enjoy about thrift is finding little pieces of the parts of history I’ve become endeared to. For me, bootcuts and corduroy make think of funkadelic 70s, Soul Train dance lines, discotheque. To find out these trousers are from the same decade as shell suits? Inconceivable. Past the grief, the trousers remain unchanged. They are still made of corduroy, in an earthy tone, and they are still a bootcut. My world is shattered, but this will by no means prevent me from wearing them. That being said, If anyone asks about them, I will gently steer the conversation away from when they were made.
The Old Resold – Vintage Zipper Dating
Vintage Levi’s Jeans Guide
My Darling Vintage Guide – How to Identify Vintage Levi’s from 1970s – 1990s
ThriftCon – Are my Levi’s Vintage?
Long John – Learn The 7 Key Details From Levi’s Jeans Back Pocket
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