Perhaps the best example of the youthful cross cultural appeal of the 501® during the ‘90s was a 1990 Levi’s® commercial campaign shot by Spike Lee called “Button Your Fly.” For the campaign, a toll-free number was issued for young people to call in and say what they did in their 501®s. If they were selected they would get to star in a Spike Lee-directed commercial that would air on MTV and episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 and Arsenio Hall. Levi’s® received more than 800,000 calls for the campaign, and finalists included spelunkers in Texas, a rock concert lighting technician, and a dairy farmer. Spike even joined in on the fun, filming himself in a pair of 501®s running with the bulls in Pamplona.
That the 501® of the ‘90s both crossed and mixed along with so many subcultures was in large part a culmination of the cultural and stylistic approaches to the 501® that came before it. For some it was—like in the ‘50s—a statement of rebellion. A statement against the yuppie/corporate excesses of the 1980s. Think of the Gen X slacker archetype Ethan Hawke played in the films Reality Bites and Before Sunrise. For others, it was—like in the ‘60s and ‘70s—a canvas for customization. Think Rosario Dawson in her 501® cutoffs in the film Kids, or Madonna in her cutoffs on the Girlie Show tour. Or—like in the ‘80s—it was just a way to look cool. Think Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise, or the endlessly celebrated and copied style of ‘90s Winona Ryder.
Ultimately, the 1990s may have given us the purest expression of what makes the Levi’s® 501® so special. A statement, a canvas, a go-to, but also a security blanket. A favorite pair of jeans that you throw on whenever you need to feel both physically and emotionally comfortable. One of the few items in your closet that you can buy brand new or vintage, and will in both cases look better with age. It’s also probably the only thing in your closet, apart from maybe a great leather jacket, that can appear with you in photos across multiple decades.
It’s no wonder, then, that ‘90s style, and especially the Levi’s® 501® ’93 jean, is so popular now. As it’s worn by today’s Originals, the Levi’s® 501® is the perfect embodiment of the cross cultural pollination that began with the 1990s. It’s a jean that represents not only the 20th century history of the 501®, but also the culmination of all that made it essential to popular culture. It’s the art and architecture of youthful rebellion, it’s a canvas for self expression, and it’s a comfortable favorite. It’s—and really there’s no better way to say it—simply the original 501®.