Riveted Blues

By Steve Lee

In the 1950’s Levi’s 501 denim jeans were not sold in mom’s favorite department store but were available in stores with large sporting goods departments that catered to male shoppers.

Levi’s were the choice of construction workers and telephone linemen for their fit and legendary durability.

The selection of colors to choose from, you could have any color you desired as long as it was indigo. The multitude of sizes was necessary because the “shrink-to-fit” formula required some arcane calculations to take home the correct size- Levi’s could continue to shrink even after the first machine-washing. The advice of an experienced Levi’s wearer was a big help to the first time buyer.

I liked the look of the dark-blue welt against the light blue of the inside-out cuffed denim but was advised that plain-leg (no cuff) was the way to go, especially with the Justin cowboy boots we were wearing. (This was on the cusp of the end-of-the-cuff era that cyclically may be turning back to cuffs now.)

A friend of mine who wore his newest pair of Levi’s in his neighbor’s pool accomplished the ultimate in shrink-to-fit. The pool had just been chlorinated which had a slight bleaching effect as he lay in the hot sun on the lawn, turning so the jeans would dry evenly. This was the predecessor of the “Stonewashed” multiple gradations of dark-to-light that were to be made available to Levites in the future decades.

Levi Strauss patented the “Authentic Riveted Clothing” on May 20, 1873 as part of his efforts to improve the wear-and-tear ability of his namesake jeans. The rivets were struck at the corners of the pockets, attachment points that experience had proven were the source of customer complaints.

Keeping in mind that Levi Strauss had originally supplied California’s Gold Rush miners with pants that he made from the discarded canvass sails of the “Round the Horn” Clipper Ships that sailed from Europe to San Francisco. While doing this he also developed the “continuous product improvement” that is in vogue in today’s “paradigm speak” of the management consultants.

One side effect of the rivets; a group of us had gone to a High School Homecoming rally on a crispy fall night. The culmination of this highpoint of the school year was a bonfire that consumed the city’s park tree-branch-trimmings and various school-desk shipping crates.

Since the wood was very dry, the fire gave off a lot of heat and light, and very little smoke so you could get up really close to it. As the night went on the temperature continued to drop so it was comfortable just wearing a t-shirt without a jacket close to the fire.

Suddenly I felt a sharp pain, a burning sensation in the lowest part of my back all across the area right under the belt loops. My friends were looking at the contorted look on my face as jumped around trying to get some space between the jeans and my skin without taking them off altogether. Keeping more distance from the fire eliminated the effect of the infrared radiation on the highly heat conductive copper rivets.

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