The Complete Guide To Vintage Levi's Tabs
Why do Levi’s have different colour tabs? Why have some Levi’s got big ‘E’s’ and others small? Why has the tab been cut off on my vintage Levi’s? As the first name on everybody’s lips when asked about the world’s most famous Denim brand, Levi’s traces its origins to Bavarian immigrant Levi Strauss (1829-1902), who emigrated to San Francisco in 1850, where he noticed a demand for durable pants from the miners of the US Gold Rush, and Levi’s was born. However, it wasn’t until the 1890’s, 40 years later however, that Levi’s created their first pair of their most famous jeans, Levi’s 501.
Why do Levi’s have a red tab on the back pocket?
Instantly recognisable despite their small size, Levi’s tabs are the trademark of Levi’s. A small piece of fabric tied to the brand across the world, the Levi’s tab stands for quality and craftsmanship in line with the brand’s core values and production of high quality goods. Off the back of an expired patent in the late 19th century, Levi’s needed to set themselves apart. Many other jeans being produced at the time had similar pocket stitching, a patch on the waistband, and not to mention being blue. Thus, Chris Lucier, national sales manager of Levi’s at the time, came up with the idea of the red tab with ‘Levi’s’ sewn in white, such that the brand could be seen and recognised at first sight. By the turn of the century, with the brand growing in recognition, you immediately knew if someone was wearing a pair of Levi’s. The tab was then patented in 1936 and has since been at the forefront of ruthless copies around the world. It's so heavily imitated that Levi’s now hire full-time members of staff to catch out and sue the sellers of those using their red tab!
The Big ‘E’A collectors item! Have a pair of Levi’s with a full capital spelling in Levi’s on the tab? You’ve got yourself a pair of pre-1971 jeans. As time progresses, ‘Big E’ tabs, as they’re known in the industry, are increasingly hard to come by, and even harder in top condition!
The Small ‘E’So why did Levi’s change to a small ‘e’? In 1971, Levi’s decided to switch the spelling of the tab back to a lowercase ‘e’, in order to make it easier for collectors to differentiate the 2 era’s of Levi’s pre and post 1971.
My Levi’s don’t have any text on the tab? As we mentioned before, Levi’s take counterfeit of their trademark very seriously, requiring legal over-time to maintain the right to market for their trademark. To strengthen this, Levi’s produce a limited batch of products with a completely blank plain tab, aside from their trademark symbol. This proves ownership and trademark of the tab and it’s positioning, not just the wording on the tab. My Levi’s tab is a different colour?
Orange tab is the experimental arm of Levi’s design team, differentiating from the popular Levi’s fits such as the 501. In the 1960’s Levi’s introduced the orange tab as their ‘fashion denim’, spanning their entire range from Jackets to caps, flares and bootcuts, orange tab became a staple of the youth, blurring the lines between classic denim silhouettes, and moving away from the comfort zone of fits that Levi’s were known for. Orange tab are our favourite type of Levi’s, they’re slightly harder to come by, due to their age, but they often fill the void for that ‘perfect pair of denim jeans’ that everyone is always looking for! Top tip: To distinguish between 60’s and 70’s orange tab, and subsequently high value in the former, keep an eye out for care labels, as these weren’t legally enforced in the USA until 1971.
Not seen too often, Levi’s White tab ran between the 60’s and 70s and are most commonly seen on Levi’s range of corduroy, including corduroy trousers and jackets.
Black TabLevi’s Black Tab complete with gold lettering was used during the 1960s for Levi’s products treated in the then- new Sta-Prest process, or anti-wrinkle, to you and I. Still used in the present day on black denim, Levi’s black tab are now solely used for aesthetic reasons only.
Recognisable on chunky corduroy and baggy streetwear- inspired denim, Levi’s Silver Tab represents the grunge era of the late 80’s and early 90’s.