The Levi’s 501 jean holds a special place in the canon of American fashion icons. Introduced in the 1890s, the straight-cut, shrink-to-fit jeans were originally known as “waist overalls.” For the first 60 years of their existence, 501s primarily served as hardy work pants for hardy workin’ folks like farmers, miners, and factory workers. In the 1940s and 50s, jeans also served as play clothes for many children and teens, but they were still frowned upon as everyday wear. Wearing jeans to the office, school, or dinner would earn you social outcast status faster than admitting you support Trump in Chicago. It was simply not done.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that Levi’s 501s became entrenched as an icon of teenage cool and were firmly embraced by style rebels of all stripes. Eventually, they’d go on to be cherished by rock stars, style icons, bombshells, and socialites alike. The humble 501s even won approval from the high-fashion crowd at Vogue and helped usher in the high-low aesthetic that dominates style today. Not bad for pants you can still cop for under 100 bucks.
In celebration of The 501 Jean: Stories of an Original, a new documentary exploring the jean’s influence, we present 11 moments when 501s shook up fashion and popular culture. Turn up those cuffs and read on.