The History of the Levi Bootleg
If you’re a country guy or gal at heart, chances are you’ve owned a pair of Levi bootcut jeans at some point in the past, or know someone who has. In a world where fashion trends routinely come and go, this classic, all-American style has remained a long-lasting favorite of Western men and women alike for decades.
The bootcut has been called the most universally flattering cut of jean. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s hard to argue that Levi’s bootleg jeans have stood the rest of time—and continue to offer a rugged, down-to-earth alternative to the trends of today, such as skinny jeans.
The bootcut has a reputation as a simple, reliable old standard. It’s comfortable, easy to pair with just about any old T-shirt, and durable enough to complement your wardrobe essentials for years. You might think of other trends as cool, hip, and rebellious, while the bootcut remains steady and honest, like an old friend. However, this country staple’s fascinating history might surprise you.
The bootcut style was first designed in the 1850s, and popularized by manual laborers who worked on ranches and in coal mines. These hardworking Americans saw the bootcut as comfortable, cheap, and ideal for long, gruelling shifts hauling coal and wrangling cattle.
The fit was just right for these types of professions, and while you might wear your Levi’s on a relaxing trail ride or out for a few drinks with your friends at the local bar, your ancestors might have worn them until they were threadbare and stained with dirt and grass.
As Time Went On…
Nowadays, jeans are a staple for everyone’s wardrobe—rich or poor, country kid or city slicker. But there was a time when, outside of laborious outdoor work, they were never seen, and certainly not worn by any respectable member of the upper class. This all changed in the 1940s, when railroading, ranching, and riding became less popular and more middle-class Americans started hanging up their spurs to move into comfortable suburban homes.
The nostalgia for the good old days of the Wild West still remained, so Hollywood decided to capitalize on it and begin dressing the biggest movie stars of the day in casual blue jeans. Levi’s was the brand of choice for many of the most popular stars of the silver screen, particularly those who were playing cowboys onscreen. It wasn’t long before average Americans were rushing to buy their own pairs of Levis.
The appeal of the bootcut, of course, was the way it fit so snugly with a pair of riding boots. Cowboys on screen and off were enticed by the slight flare that went so well with their favorite pairs of boots. It wasn’t just Western men heartthrobs who saw the appeal, either. As the popularity of jeans grew, even James Dean started rocking them, most notably in Rebel Without a Cause.
The bootcut was to the ‘80s and ‘90s as the skinny jean is to the current era. After a brief period where its popularity flickered out in the 1960s—an era known for its wild, edgy, groundbreaking trends–the bootcut style came rushing back in the 1980s and has yet to really fade away away.
Stonewashed denim and high-waisted jeans became more popular among the youth of the 1990s, but the classic, no-fuss cut was the same as it always had been, offering maximum comfort, style, and function whether you were at work, school, or play.
In the 1990s, ripped denim became popular as well. Levis, as always, ran with the current youth culture trends and designed jeans that fit the standards of the time period. Now, designers are releasing slimmer “baby bootcut” styles for today’s youth that more closely resemble skinny jeans than anything their parents would have worn. While different fads continue to come and go, the bootcut has remained a consistent favorite amongst cowboys and cowgirls nationwide.