Levi’s Acquires the Oldest Known Pair of Women’s Jeans
The history of blue jeans has become the stuff of legend: After purchasing denim trousers from San Francisco-based merchant Levi Strauss, a tailor named Jacob Davis was inspired to reinforce them with copper rivets at their most vulnerable points. The two businessmen secured a patent for the blue jeans concept in 1873, and shortly afterward, the pants were embraced by miners, cowboys, and other working-class men.
But their popularity with women didn’t come until decades later. Levi Strauss & Co. produced its first line of jeans for women in the 1930s, and now TIME reports that what may be the oldest surviving pair of jeans from that era has been reacquired by the company.
The jeans, which sport a high waist, a cloth back patch, and a cinch in place of a belt, were first discovered at an estate sale by a vintage clothing collector. They originally belonged to a teacher named Viola Longacre, who died in 2014 at age 100. While earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno), she wore the pants in the Sierra Mountains, where classes were held in the summer.
The pair was likely made prior to 1934, which was the year the Lady Levi’s collection was first released. The fact that the Levi Strauss & Co. patch on the back of the waist is cloth instead of leather leads company historian Tracey Panek to believe they were released as part of an experimental batch meant to gauge women’s interest in the product. Though they were a staple in men’s wardrobes at the time, jeans didn’t become a familiar sight on women until World War II.
After acquiring the garment from the clothing collector, Levi Strauss & Co. named it “Viola” after its original owner. It joins the oldest known men's jeans, a pair produced in 1879, in the company archives.