According to Levi Strauss & Company, the oldest pair of 501 Levi's jeans originated in 1879, designed to be tough workpants that could withstand the rigours of manual labour. From this point forward, Levi Strauss & Company strongly dominated and influenced the denim and blue jean industry, creating a myriad of different jean styles over the years. Collectors abound who enjoy searching for and finding vintage Levi's. If collecting sounds interesting, you must learn how to recognise vintage Levi's jeans to enable you to purchase only authentic Levi's and not counterfeits.
Turn the bottom cuffs of the jeans inside out and look carefully at the fabric edge (the selvedge edge) along the inside seams of the jeans. If you see a two-toned seam allowance with white fabric on the outside edge of the fabric, your jeans may be vintage Levi's. You may also find a white line of stitching running over this white edge (oldest jeans era), a blue line of stitching (early 1900s era) or a red line of stitching (found on jeans until the middle of the 1980s).
Examine the red tag on the back pocket of your jeans. Look closely at the "E" in the word "Levi's." If the "E" is a capital letter, your jeans originated prior to 1971. If the "E" is a lower case letter, your jeans are newer than 1971.
Look at the rivets on your Levi's jeans. If the rivets are made of thin metal and have raised lettering (with or without an outer ring around the rivets), they may date back to the 1980s or earlier.
Examine the watch pocket of the Levi's jeans. Levi's jeans from the 1930s and 1940s range in width between 3.5 and 4 inches. Levi Strauss stopped using rivets on the watch pockets during this time due to World War II. Current watch pockets are smaller and they have rivets again.
Find the care tag inside the Levi's. Jeans before the 1970s did not have care tags at all, but instead Levi Strauss stamped the care instructions onto the inside pockets of the jeans. Current care tags have a red Levi's emblem on the top of the tags. Care tags from the 1980s and 1970s have basic washing instructions and the size stamped at the bottom of the tags.
Most Levi's collectors agree that assessing the age of Levi's jeans requires a combination of a variety of different features of the jeans to formulate an educated guess about the age of the jeans. Levi Strauss & Company offers assistance in identifying vintage jeans. Take photographs of the front and back of the jeans, as well as any labels, and e-mail them or mail them to the company headquarters in San Francisco, CA.