Since Levi Strauss & Co., began producing modern denim jeans in the 1920s (the company was founded in 1853), they've weathered countless fashion trend ups and downs. Levis blue jeans first found ubiquity as utility wear for macho cowboys, lumberjacks and railroad workers; and during WWII, became essential for a nation involved in defense.
In the 1950s, Levis gained notoriety among rebellious youth (hello, James Dean); into the 1960s, rockers and hippies gave them new life; and through the 1970s, skinheads and punks—and then San Francisco gays—considered them essential. The company also targeted its wear, uh, ware, to the black community (see ad below: "Harlem, Saturday 2:30").
But in the early 1980s, “designer jeans” from the likes of Jordache and Calvin Klein robbed the long-lived company of its hip factor… Enter Levi’s 501’s. The button-fly “shrink-to-fit” britches were launched via an ad campaign that was audacious by the day’s cultural standards—featuring testosterone-fueled hipsters displaying that which could not be said aloud: the crotch.
I certainly recall those mid-80s ads, featuring Nick Kamen in the famous "Laundrette" commercial, as well as print images that fueled my 20-something gay curiosity—not to mention my hormones. You better believe that Levis seduced me: 501’s became my standard fashion statement for the next 10 years.The ad above, which featured pool champ John Keller Meucci, hung on my bedroom wall for years. Still wholly appealing 25 years later.What do you think 501's are marketing here? Manhood, baby.Levis goes ghetto! Their ads to the black community—set in Harlem—are so overtly transparent now. Quite a giggle.Olympian Mitch Gaylord... His role in sexy dud flick "American Anthem" did more for Levis than any ad campaign they sponsored. I had a 5-foot poster of this sexy dude on my bedroom door for years. Wish I'd kept that damn thing!By the millennium, denim fashion took a decidedly downward turn stateside, as the low-hanging underwear-revealing fashion trend that started in hip-hop was adapted by pimply suburban white boys. Levis attempted in 2009 to sex up blue jeans with a new campaign featuring young hotties with britches that actually fit. And then...Calvin Klein trumped Levis again with the 2010 release of "Body," featuring a sweaty campaign with Jamie Dornan and Eva Mendes. The jeans hardly mask their intent, with a "body-defining fit for an enhanced profile.” Read: a padded crotch. I'm afraid that 25 years after investing in my 501's, there is plenty now that will come between my Calvins and me: starting with their $80 price tag.That, of course, will never stop me from looking. May tight jeans live on for as long as God grants me the gift of sight.