What Are Levi’s 501s? Your Guide to the Cult Jeans

What's so good about them?

Last Updated on April 19, 2023

Looking for a new pair of jeans?

You might want to invest in a pair of Levi’s 501s. After all, they’re a cult item for a reason – but what exactly is that reason?

Levi Strauss & Co, better known now as Levi, offers clothing of all kinds, but it’s become synonymous with denim over the years and the brand’s timeless 501 style of jeans has earned cult status.

It’s no secret however that getting a pair of 501s from the brand can feel more like making an investment into your wardrobe. At £100 for a pair, they don’t come cheap.

The good news is a pair of Levi’s can last a long old time — some even for decades. I’m sure you’ve seen many vintage pairs in thrift stores, or your mum may still have a pair from the ‘80s. 

Without question, Levi’s jeans are a good investment. If you’re going to spend on an item, it makes sense to make it one that will stand the test of time.

The brand’s jeans come in so many styles now too, but the 501s remain its bestselling style. I wanted to find out the reasons why they’re so celebrated today, so keep reading for what I discovered.

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What are Levi’s 501s?

Where do we start?

Levi’s 501s are a straight-fitting jean that sit just above the hip.

The original 501s had the signature blue colour we attribute to jeans, but now they come in an array of colours.

Jeans on a rack

A brief history of Levi’s 501s

Levis 501s were first introduced more than a century ago in 1873, before the zipper was even invented.

They weren’t the first denim jeans invented (although they were the first blue jeans to be created), but what made them different was that they were created as practical work pants. Tailor Jacob Davis from Nevada added metal details to the trousers, which gained the style legions of fans in need of sturdy trousers to wear to work.

He approached fabric supplier Levi Strauss & Co and requested a patent for the jeans. The rest is history!

The 501s of today are still similar to the ones worn by workers in the past, but more recent variations have been made to cater to modern times. 

Some are still made to Shrink-to-Fit™, which just means the denim was not pre-shrunk before it was sewn.

READ MORE: If You Buy One Pair of Jeans in 2023, Make It These

The 501s come in shorts form now too, so if you prefer to show off your legs, you can sport the style minus the extra fabric and there are also 501 skinny jeans now too.

You can now also customise your own 501s in so many different ways today, including choosing rips, fades, and patterns for your jeans.

What does 501 mean in Levi’s?

501 was the lot number assigned to the copper-riveted waist overalls the brand first manufactured.

The number was retained even after the style evolved into pants, but nobody really knows why the number was given. The brand says there’s no record of why it was chosen.

READ MORE: How to Work Out Your Size in Jeans

What’s the difference between Levi’s 501 and 505?

Levi’s 501s have a straight cut — and it’s really straight from the waist to the hem. Meanwhile, the 505s are looser and have a wider thigh for a more relaxed look.