Levi's Men's Jeans Review: Still American Quality or Modern Sellout? + Fit Advice and How & Where to Get Them Cheap
To sum up Levi’s, if you are a casual consumer, just be aware the mainline brand is not all it's cracked up to be - and don't ever pay the retail price for their jeans. For those of us who care a bit more about what we wear, Levi’s still produces at a very high level with Made & Crafted and Levi’s Vintage Clothing.
Let’s talk about the details
American Icon, creator of the blue jean, you know the spiel. This is one brand that doesn’t need to prove anything - or does it? Levi’s has perhaps one of the most storied histories of any American clothing retailer. After all, they were the first to introduce blue jeans for the coal miners in the nineteenth century.
But many consumers today regard Levi’s still as “top quality.” The question I have been asking myself, along with those old enough to compare the brand to itself of earlier decades, is:
Does Levi’s continue to present high-quality, American goods that reflect their long standing heritage and reputation, or have they cheapened their product while using their brand identity to remain at the top of the denim food chain?
I’m going to answer this question by
1. Analyzing their current products.
2. Looking at their brand positioning relative to the current clothing market in which they reside.
Can you expect all Levi’s products to be of high quality and design?
In short, no. From my experience, most Levi’s garments I have encountered at department stores have disappointed me in regard to their fabric and build quality. But this may not be the case with all of their products.
If you go into any Marshalls, TJ. Maxx, Century 21, or Macy’s, you can find Levi’s that officially retails for around $70, but is almost always on sale in the $25-$30 range, and as low as $8. So let’s be clear; jeans from the mainline Levi’s brand are made in third world countries and just should not be considered any higher quality than any other jeans in this range, from Banana Republic, GAP, H&M, Zara, etc. Most of the reviews, (and my experience) is that these jeans are cheaply assembled, usually tearing around the knees and crotch within a year or less with frequent washing and drying. Pretty disappointing to someone expecting a quality jean that was said to last a lifetime.
What you lose in quality though is somewhat gained in options as there are many jeans available from Levi’s main line. You have your choice of fabrics and fits, making it really convenient to find a pair that suits your preferences and buy online. They have everything from the original 501 in all cotton denim to chinos, to stretch and reinforcement. So what they lose in quality is made up for with a massive selection. Once you find your fit, you can stick to it.
Note: My favorite fits are the 511 and 512. The 511 is their slim cut, but is really quite straight by today’s standards. It has a low rise and is tight on the thighs but has a semi-slim leg with an opening of 14.5”. As a general rule, use the leg opening to determine slimness. The 512 on the other hand is basically the same fit, but with a taper from the knee down. This is way more of a practical slim and is a much more modern look. This is more on the skinny side but will not make you look quite like your wearing leggings, as their 510 fit does.
The secret high end lines:
As I have been exploring the premium, selvedge denim world, it dawned on me to check the Levi’s website and see the full array of Levi’s collections. Sure enough, two premium sub-brands that most have never heard of, Levi’s Made & Crafted, and Levi’s Vintage Clothing are offered from Levi’s at a premium price point. Is this where you'll find the true homage to early history of the blue jean Levi’s pioneered, from denim jackets, to flannels, and of course, selvedge jeans? You bet - and more!
Their website in general is lacking in transparency though. I always look to fabric origin and assembly as an indicator for quality. Their mainline products do not specify at all as to where the fabrics were produced and only some of the premium line products specify where the fabrics they used come from. Many items simply say “imported” while only some of the premium goods specify made in USA. Kind of off-putting considering many die-hard fans want to know all about that stuff. For reference, I love the way Naked & Famous tells you everything you want to know about each and every garment. It lets you know they take pride in the product and appreciate that you appreciate their work.
Keep in mind that Levi’s is an established giant that continues to sell their products around the globe. To remain competitive in recent years they would have had to adapt to the fast fashion retailers of today (H&M, Forever 21) and cut production costs. Having a mainline product that is affordable is necessary to stay profitable.
Levi’s could easily remain afloat with their mainline products alone but continue to offer premium goods that pay a serious homage to their rich history. Appreciate that. Plenty of companies with rich history have sold out with no intention of keeping die-hard, loyal fans satisfied. For the consumers that demand the best, Levi’s still performs with the best, making products out of premium USA and Japanese fabrics that are assembled in the USA. When you pin them against Gustin or Brave Star, Levi’s premium lines are a bit pricier (which is okay IMO because you are, after all, paying for the heritage of the brand) but stand up well. Even better, I snagged 3 pairs of jeans from Made & Crafted and Levi’s Vintage Clothing for a steal ($25, $25, $90) at their outlet store. With prices like that Levi’s hits a homerun giving their die-hard fans a piece of history they can feel good wearing.
As an example, let me share some details about the jeans: the first, a pair of stonewashed heavyweight stretch jeans made in Italy - MSRP $168 found for $25. Second, a pair of jeans from 1969, the original sim Jean, recreated and manufactured in the exact same way as the original cone mills denim - MSRP $198 found for $25 . And finally a pair of Japanese selvedge jeans with its own unique selvedge ID - MSRP $218 found for $90.
WHERE TO BUY
My advice: if you are going for the lower-end, mainline styles, always buy on sale and never pay retail price.
Oddly enough, in Macy’s most of their products are not on sale, although they are not higher quality than that what is discounted, usually just low stock. But a little scrounging online will find you better deals, even frequent sales on their own website along with Amazon, Nordstrom Rack, and my personal favorite, Marshalls and TJ Maxx which always carry Levi’s for around $20. Don’t be afraid to try them on and see which of their many fits suits you best! That’s part of the great benefit of going to a store!
I recently saw a Levi’s outlet storefront advertising $40 each when you buy two pairs. This is not a good deal for mainline items! In fact, you can buy the same jeans on the website for the same price especially with their frequent sales sometimes 40-50% off your total order. Plus you can use ebates and get percentage off when shopping online.
Since Levi’s is such a giant, there are many gently used and new pairs on sites like eBay and Grailed for the taking. I highly recommend going there for great finds but be prepared to hunt!
Finally, I found the outlet stores at places like Simon Outlets across the country carry great discounted items (see above) and during holidays will discount further even further.
Although I may be a bit tough on Levi’s mainline goods, it's only because as far as true American heritage brands, Levi’s is about as rare as a needle in a haystack. It’s one of the few brands with proud American history dating all the way back to 1853, and their brand is most recognized around the world. The Swiss can keep their watches, and the Germans their cars- all I need is my hard working blue jeans.
Gabriel, The Mensch, is a men’s Instagrammer that's bringing guys real value in menswear, a lot like the Kavalier. He is always on the hunt for great deals, posting the best daily, as well as sharing his knowledge of quality goods at an affordable price. Plus, he puts looks together in daily posts - so give him a follow!