The Big E, Crotch Rivets, and … Luke Skywalker?

Do you know what “The Big E”, crotch rivets, and Luke Skywalker have in common?  Sorry, this is not the beginning of a joke.  These are merely a few of the things you discover when you research one of the most iconic clothing brands in American History, Levi’s Strauss & Co.   Seriously, odds are you either own a pair of Levi’s, have owned a pair, or at least know someone who owns a pair.  Instead of Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon, we could probably connect ourselves to a pair of Levi’s within two degrees.   OK, so…. HAVE you heard of “The Big E”? Well, it can change the value of a pair of Levi’s blue jeans by thousands, yes, THOUSANDS, of dollars.  Vintage clothing varies in value much like any other collectable, certain particulars make the difference between “potential jackpot I can take that great vacation” rare treasures, and the “more frequently found mass produced common place” items –oh yeah, and, old does not automatically equal value.  In the case of Levi’s, “The Big E” refers to a time in the brand’s history when the letter “E” in the brand name was a capital rather than a lower case letter (like this: LEVI’s).  The company changed this logo in 1971, so finding a pair of jeans with a red Levi’s tab featuring “The Big E” is one way to date them.  These have become SO sought after, selling for outrageous sums of money, you may want to cross reference “The Big E” with other traits to verify they aren’t fakes or a pair from the times of reproduction.  Fights have actually broken out in flea markets, garage sales, and even thrift shops over these.  So if you do spot a pair, please, try to contain your excitement…. At least until you’ve paid for them and have hidden them safely away…. Think Lord of the Rings: “my precious…” said in your very best Sméagol voice. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a great urban legend? Throw in some humor and threads of truth and suddenly, BAM, we’re hooked.  Levi’s has one such legend that is SO vivid it’s just too fun not to believe and pass it on.  Prior to 1941, Levi’s used copper rivets to reinforce “stress points” (parts of the jeans most likely to tear or wear out with wear) on their 501 jeans.  One of these “stress points” was at the crotch, or the bottom of the button fly.  You probably know that copper is an excellent conductor of heat, soooo….  The combination of this attribute with the position of the rivet created a unique (to say the least) occupational hazard for cowboys wearing their 501s, sitting around a campfire trying to get warm.  Go ahead, picture it.  I trust you have concluded how that scene may have comically played out (comical that is, unless you’re the one who got too close to the fire and suffered the, shall we say, heated consequences…).  The legend says that when a Levi’s corporate executive went on what sounds like a “dude ranch style” vacation and suffered this, ahem…, insult himself, he called for the crotch rivet’s removal at the very next board meeting.  Levi’s has since commented that this incident was PART of the cause for the removal of the crotch rivet, but, the rationing efforts for WWII certainly also contributed to the decision. Well played Levi’s, well played.  You can view a Levi’s ad illustrating the crotch rivet cowboys here. It may not be surprising to hear that cowboys including John Wayne and Clint Eastwood shared a fondness for Levi’s jeans as well as iconic rebels like Marlon Brando and The Boss (Bruce Springstein), but did you know Luke Skywalker wore a bleached pair of Levi’s in the first Star Wars film????   This fun fact:  Blew. My. Mind.   So apparently, even though Levi’s were banned from the USSR and Russia for some time due to their representation of capitalism, they were readily available in outer space.  Hmmmm.  I wonder if the “Dark Side” of the force was also threatened by such a symbol of casual comfort and freedom???   You can find other useless but cool Levi’s Facts on their website: http://www.levistrauss.com/our-story/ , the historical significance: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/levi-strauss-patents-copper-riveted-jeans , or a quick run through Matt Welty’s 2013 article here: 50 Things You Didn’t Know About Levi’s.  And, in case you’re wondering, we DO get Levi’s at Planet Xchange too.

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