Although there is just one 501, the Levi's jean has changed a little each decade since it was debuted (which was, for the record, the 1870s). The general premise, however, has remained: a straight-fitting jean with no unnecessary adornments or function-inhibiting extras. It's a standard blue jean that looks good on almost anybody, no matter which iteration you favor: the Levi's 501 Original Shrink to Fit, 501 Slim Taper, 1937 501, 1947 501, 1954 501, 1955 501, 1966 501, 1980's 501, 501 '93...or the all-new 1963 501, a product from Levi's archive-referencing subline, Levi's Vintage Clothing.
When Levi's recreates a jean from a particular era, it does its best to make it believable. For pairs from the '80s, the wash is way lighter. When it's a pair buyers are supposed to perceive as far older (like the 1937 501), the denim is rigid, dark and raw. Other pairs adhere less to the aesthetic trends of the decade and more the manufacturing changes. The 1954 501, for example, has a zipper fly, because Levi's introduced a zipper fly version to East Coast shoppers during their period of expansion from 1953 to 1955.
The standard issue 501 from today carries on the legacy of all of these jeans, whether they look much like their ancestors anymore or not. The differences nowadays come from manufacturing inconsistencies — they're made all over the world, not in just one American factory — and outdated stock. Plus, Levi's has introduced things like synthetic blends and stretch, two fabric features modern wearers almost always ask for.
Designs like the 1963 501 are a rare opportunity to step back in time, and for a giant company to slow down a little (and embrace its roots). There will only be 501 pairs of this particular 501 for sale — and each one will be hand-numbered, a nod to the numerous collectors that'll be eager to get in on an exclusive version.
These historians of the style will notice the callbacks to the original almost immediately: off-center belt loops, the double-sided "Big E" red tab, traditional double-needle arcuate stitching on both back pockets and a noticeable, more medium rise. The most obvious homage of all is the denim itself, which is deadstock Cone Mills White Oak denim Levi's has held onto since the plant's closure in 2017. It's been treated to look like the denim Levi's sourced from them in the '60s, but these pairs were made in Japan, not San Francisco.