Jeans had been around for sixty years before it occurred to anyone that women might like to wear them too. Designed as tough workwear for miners in 1873, they had been swiftly adopted by cowhands and other chaps in the American west as comfortable, practical clothes. That’s not to say women didn’t wear the men’s clothes. There are enough images of girls in their brothers’/husbands’/fathers’ jeans to prove they did. It was just considered pretty unladylike to be seen buying or wearing them for oneself.
It took until 1934 for Levis® to cotton on (sorry) to girls in trews, when they tentatively launched Lot 701 (as opposed to the gents’ 501s) named for the fabric-batch they used, with pink selvedges instead of the traditional red. Who says ‘pink for girls’ is a new phenomenon…?
AKA ‘Lady Levis®’ they were high-waisted and with a Talon zip – manufactured since 1893 and considered more seemly than button-flies. The first Lady Levis® had, like the men’s version, a cinch back and wide, straight legs. They had the classic red tab, spade-shaped pockets and rivets, though they were concealed inside the pockets so as not to scratch the busy housewife’s nice clean furniture.
Jeans for women became ‘acceptable but edgy’ in 1935 when Vogue featured Lot701s in a photo shoot on one of the newly-fashionable dude-ranches (basically farm holidays for city folks). It was a liberating moment, though it would take until the 1970s for the magazine to dare to put jeans on the front cover.
Although 701s were popular during WWII, especially with the girls left behind to keep America fed and armed, after the war women were expected to go back to looking feminine again so their returning men wouldn’t feel intimidated. Jeans were right out.
They came back in the 1950s and 60s with the growth of teen culture. By this point Lot 701s, like their 501 counterparts, had lost their cinch-backs, but were still cut to accentuate the waist.
I despair of today’s mainstream fashion jeans. It may look like you can get them in every colour of the rainbow and every style imaginable, but try finding a classic high-rise pair.
Freddies of Pinewood do a range that look great on some girls. I do own a pair of Freddies, in fact I’m wearing them now, as I write, but they just don’t suit me. They’re too ‘triangular’ and yet somehow, at the same time, straight-up-and-down making me look like a tube. They’ve also never really softened despite my having owned and worn them since 2012. I save them for the allotment and kicking around the house.
Vivien of Holloway’s swing trousers are nice in denim (though Viv – what have you done to the others in the range? They used to be made in a great, flowing, swingy fabric which swished as I danced – now they’re made of cotton which is stiff as a board!) but though I have three denim pairs in different sizes according to how fat I feel (ahem) and many pairs in different colours, they’re a bit wide for everyday wear for me.
So I was delighted to find Levis® have reissued the classic 1950s Lot 701s. They fit like a glove, though being preshrunk and with a bit of ‘give’ in them during the first wearing, take a tip from me and get the smallest size you can fit into. – because of the way they’re cut they’ll shrink in length, like most jeans, but not in width. They come in 12oz heavy denim, and have a proper, full-length zip, unlike other ‘fashion’ high-waisters that still use stupid 2″ zips designed to go in those ghastly lo-risers that sit halfway down your buttocks.
Lot 701s are very stiff at first – I went to a dance class where my body moved and the jeans stayed where they were – but they soon soften. I’ll be wearing these until they fall off me.
I’m disappointed to see they’re not in a great range of sizes. They’re only available up to 30″ – I’m surprised that in this day and age they stop so small.
They’re also currently about as common as hens’ teeth. It took three weeks of calling the Vintage Levis store just round the corner from their flagship Carnaby St store (who haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about if you ask for 701s in there…) to get a pair in in my size.
“We keep ordering them,” said the poor guy, who’s been absolutely brilliant every time I call, “but they just don’t send them, or if they do it’s one pair in a random size. It’s embarrassing – we have a shop full of vintage menswear but when people come in and ask for women’s clothes all we can do is point over there” (he points to a measly four pairs of jeans).
The same issue appears to be online – they are constantly out of stock on most sizes. I’m assuming it’s a supply issue from the States, but it’s losing Levis® custom and it’s something they should sort out. The lovely people in the Vintage store, though, are more than happy to be pestered and, if by some miracle they actually have the garment, to put it aside to be collected later.