Punters are starting to become disillusioned with brands such as Evisu and peddlers of vintage denim who can both charge up to pounds 300 for jeans which have exactly the same selling points: dark denim and a selvage seam. Lee first began selling their 101z jeans in 1926, and they have not changed the design since then. The selvage was lost, but was reinstated last month. Lee 101zs were the subject of a heated conversation overheard on the bus last week. It went something like this: "I never, ever, wash my Lee's," said one. "I've just washed mine twice to get the grainy look, but that's it now. I might dry clean them though," said the other.
Lee jeans have managed to play second fiddle to Levi's since the latter's media-hyped resurrection in the 1980s. It wasn't always that way. Lee, "The Jeans that Built America", really did what they claim. Their denim overalls, dungarees, "carpenter pants" and the101z jeans were the only choice for the men who built the roads, railways and skyscrapers.
The company was set up in 1889 by a Mr HD Lee in Salina, Kansas. In the early days, it was the top American denim brand, producing the first national advertising campaign in 1917, the first jeans with a revolutionary hookless and buttonless fastener (later known as a zipper), in 1926, and the first "Western jeans" jacket in 1931. Others were quick to follow, and indeed followed so well that today, HD Lee's innovations are little known. In 1926, however, a zip-fly jean was regarded by many as a miracle of modern technology, and the slim-fit jacket, which was designed to be worn under an overcoat with slanted pockets for ease of access, and slanted cuffs to prevent rain getting in was the precursor to the layered look which overtook Fifties America.
These pictures were found in the basement of an old Lee factory earlier this year in Kansas. Most of them had been dumped by workers when they moved to new premises. The collection of images, which is now being stored more carefully will be used to put together a Lee jeans museum, and will also feature in a book about the company which is due for release next year.
Lee 101zs cost from pounds 49.99 and are available from selected stores nationwide. For further info, call: 01247 800 200