Mid-20th-Century Denim Levi's Advertising Banner
Today, the typical American owns seven pairs of blue jeans.
(Photo © iStock.com/Sanches1980.)
Clothing from a different era: an 18th-century gentleman's silk-embroidered vest. (See it in the Archive.)
Before the 1950s, blue jeans were worn primarily by factory workers, cowboys, sailors, and miners. By the 1970s, America had undergone a "fashion revolution" as blue jeans became far more popular among people of all ages. Today, the typical American owns seven pairs of jeans.
Levi Strauss, who founded Levi Strauss and Company in 1853, was a pioneer in the blue jeans industry. In 1873, Strauss and Jacob Davis received a patent for their use of copper rivets to reinforce denim, the material used in manufacturing jeans. The advertisement presented here is an oversized banner, silkscreened on denim fabric, that celebrates the history of jeans in America while promoting Levi's brand. The banner was displayed by the owner's grandfather at his general store in Camp Verde, Arizona. The appraiserAn expert who assesses the value, quality, and authenticity of works of art or other objects. notes that while the banner is quite large — nearly 10 feet long — it would be a desirable piece of decoration in today's vintage denim stores.
A Closer Look
- How did the owner acquire the denim ad? Briefly describe her grandfather's career. What can you conclude about her grandfather's store from this banner?
- When blue jeans were first developed, what groups of people generally wore them? What was Levi Strauss' "genius," according to the appraiser?
- What does the ad depict? What audiences do you think the ad's creators were trying to reach? What details in the banner support your answer? What was most likely the occasion for the creation of this banner?
- Can you think of other articles of clothing that have undergone a similar transformation from practical use to a fashion statement?
- What makes a market for a collectibleCollectibles come in three forms: Artistic and historic objects that are less than 100 years old; popular items that are mass-produced but that may not have any individual artistic merit; and objects that gain value because of their associations.? What is a "limited editionAn edition of an object, print, or book that is limited in the number of copies produced, sometimes in order to increase the selling price of the object."? Why is the size of this banner a deterrent to collectors? According to the appraiser, what is the market for this item?
- Describe this artifact's purpose as an advertisement. In your opinion, can a piece of advertising also qualify as art? Why or why not? Can you think of examples of advertising that you consider art? Describe your examples to classmates and see if they agree with your evaluation.
Activities and Investigations
- Have students choose one of the following topics to research and present to the class orally:
• The invention of blue jeans
• The biography of company founder Levi Strauss
• The history of denim
• A time line covering the history of Levi jeans
- Choose a contemporary ad for blue jeans and describe and analyze it in comparison to the denim banner featured in this ANTIQUES ROADSHOW video. According to the appraiser, what is the point of the Levi's ad? What is the purpose of the ad you have selected? Who is the audience for your ad?
- Investigate the process of creating silkscreens. Then make your own silkscreen, using the steps presented at the Web site "Silk Screen Printing for Fun." You can make a banner to display in your classroom or silkscreen any design of your choice.
- Look at images of clothing from different eras and discuss how the items have evolved (for instance, hoop skirts to mini-skirts). Have any of the styles changed so completely that certain articles of clothing are no longer generally worn (for example, togas).
For Further Exploration
Levi Strauss & Company
The official site has a "Heritage" resource section that includes material for students, teachers, and collectors. However, we recommend use by teachers only because the site tends to redirect you to Levi's online store. To get to the teacher site, select Heritage, then For Students & Teachers.
The West: Biographical Profiles
A biography of Levi Strauss, along with numerous other profiles and lesson plans applicable to study of the West and westward expansion derived from Ken Burns's documentary series The West.
American Advertising: A Brief History
A discussion of the history of advertising, along with resources for learning how to analyze ads.
Advertising History Time Line
Interactive time line from the magazine Advertising Age offering a 295-year synopsis of the most important events in American advertising, 1704 to present day.
Denim: From Cowboys to Catwalks: A Visual History of the World's Most Legendary Fabric
by Graham Marsh, Paul Trynka, and June Marsh. (Aurum Press Limited: London, England, 2005.)
Uses text and photographs to describe trends and a history of denim including Levi's.
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