The dating and identification of vintage Levi denim jackets is knowledge that can benefit you personally and financially. Dating a Levi jacket is easy and if you have been wondering how to tell if a Levi jacket is old, then this guide is for you. Whether you are seeking to add to your personal vintage wardrobe or add another item to your buy list at yard sales and thrift stores, this introductory guide on How to Identify Vintage Levi's Jackets will give you the basic insights and teach you how to recognize real vintage so you can make smarter decisions.
If you are already familiar with how to identify vintage Levi jeans, then it will come as no surprise to you that many of the same characteristics and terminology is used for jacket identification as well.
Mid 1980s - Present
Levi branched out in the modern era into many more colors and stonewashes. The general rules are these jackets will have four pockets. Two chest and two lower slash hand pockets. They are, of course, small 'e' red tab. These are the least popular amongst collectors, but a nice dark denim one still looks good.
1971 - Mid 1980s
This is the most common and easiest to find jacket vintage jacket. This period still has the small 'e' red tab on the chest pocket, but only has two pockets. There are NO bottom slash hand pockets on this style. Just chest pockets. Because these are affordable and only differ from older vintage jackets by subtle features (like the small 'e' tab), many people opt for this model.
Mid 1960s - 1971
Like the odd hybrid jeans, this period marked a transition for Levi to the small 'e' red tab. A two pocket small 'e' tab jacket from this period is easily identified because of the single row of stitching adjacent to the bottom button hole. A two pocket jacket with a double row of stitching is newer and will fall into the above period. For a comparison of the two stitching styles see below (these are two jackets laid on top of each other...one single stitch and one newer).
Late 1950s - 1971
Except for the small overlap period above, this is the era of the red tab big 'E' Levis. Again, these jackets will have two pockets only. This is generally referred to as the Third Edition series. The jacket basically looks like the new models except for the big E tab. You will sometimes find these with a quilted blanket lining, too.
1940s - Late 1950s
This is one of the most sought after Levi jackets. This Second Edition jacket is easily distinguished by its vertical pleats that run adjacent to the button placket. It also has two pockets, but these pockets are more like the rear pockets on a pair of jeans (i.e. they are made from a separate piece of denim that is sewn onto the chest, versus more modern pockets which are really slits with a fabric lining resting inside the jacket). This will also have a big 'E' pocket tab.
1940s and before
The rarest of the Levi jackets--the First Editions. These jackets will have a single patch style pocket as described above, and a similar pleated front. Many of these will not have a red tab. They will also have the same style of buckleback fit adjustment strap on the lower back just like the jeans of the same era. The necktag (if present) will be a large leather patch or fabric. Basically, they will appear like above except one pocket and a belt on back.
The basic rule of thumb is two pockets are good and four pockets are bad. Just like the vintage jeans, there are newer reproductions being made both here and abroad. There are many subtle things to look for to tell them apart, but the best tool is experience and familiarity with what true vintage looks like whether you are searching for vintage denim, vintage Nike clothing or even vintage hawaiian shirts, knowledge is key. Happy hunting!