Those of us who grew up before designer denim was a thing would often form a loyalty to one label and stick with it. For many, denim was the clothing of the rebel and the rock star, as well as the cowboy. The three big US denim brands developed in different regions and this has, to some extent, defined their success and coolness!

The value of vintage denim is a phenomenon which has been illustrated by a recent Guardian story . It tells of a chap who ‘excavated old denim in abandoned silver mines in deserts across California, Nevada and Arizona. Used by old miners to lag pipes and block holes, these vintage denim pieces (some dating back to 1873) have been sold for up to $100,000’.

Levi Denim

Levi’s is an iconic brand, maybe the coolest of the lot and as such, it is clearly the Californian brand. Best known for its jeans and jackets the company was founded in 1853 by Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco. They have since become one of the most recognised clothing items around the world.

Modern jeans were primarily confined to the working west, cowboys, lumberjacks and railroad workers. By WW2 hardwearing blue jeans with rivets were declared, in the US, an essential commodity for those in defence work. Between the 1950s and 1980s, Levi’s jeans and jackets became popular among a wide range of youth subcultures, including greasers, mods, rockers, and hippies.

Though maybe not an icon of cool, Bing Crosby was said to be a Levi’s lover and was even gifted a specially made denim tuxedo by the company.

Levi 501

Levi’s popular shrink-to-fit 501s were sold in a unique sizing arrangement; I can clearly remember myself and my siblings excitedly taking turns to sit in the bath to shrink our new Levi’s– closely overseen by our mother. The company still produces these unshrunk, uniquely sized jeans today although, thankfully, preshrunk ones are also available!

Aided by a popular TV ad campaign in the 80s, involving a launderette, a bag of stones and an attractive male model stripping down to his boxers, Levi jeans enjoyed a massive resurgence in popularity. For a long time, the only jeans to be seen were 501s. Levi’s range encompasses denim jeans, jackets, footwear, clothing and accessories – vintage versions of which are a collector’s heaven.

There are many, many online resources which explain the intricacies of selvedge seams, rivet placement, stamping and brand labels. If you think you have an old Levi item, it’s worth looking them up!

Wrangler Denim

Wrangler jeans are one of the most recognisable names in denim jeans, jackets and casualwear. Its distinctive W stitched into the pockets makes it stand out from the crowd. Based in Greensboro, North Carolina, Wrangler clothing presents as workers clothing, maybe less hip than Levi’s but certainly stylish as well as being tough as old cowboy boots!

The Blue Bell Overall Company first made Wrangler Jeans. They employed Bernard Lichtenstein, a Polish tailor, who worked with cowboys, to help design jeans suitable for rodeo use. Subsequently several well-known rodeo riders were convinced to endorse the clothes. The story goes that the Blue Bell workers took part in a contest to give the jeans a brand name. As a result the winning name was Wrangler, synonymous with the name for a working cowboy.

Working Cowboy Denim

The Wrangler Jeans featured several innovations: strengthened seams, rear pockets positioned for comfort in the saddle, ‘no scratch’ rivet pocket reinforcement, a zipper fly, and use of a strong tack in the crotch instead of a metal rivet – that last one seems obvious! Future designs included creating jackets and shirts to suit the needs of working cowboys – to address performance, durability and comfort.

The functional design still plays a big part in Wrangler clothing designs today, which now also include t-shirts, shoes and accessories. However, they now are also stylish and modern to appeal to a wide variety of people – not just cowboys!

Lee Denim

Lee Jeans is a legendary American denim brand that has been creating genuinely iconic jeans, jackets and retro clothing for over 125 years—initially based in Kansas and prominent in the East and Midwest. Certainly Lee Jeans has a lower profile than the other brands; however, this very understatement makes them a more original choice – the brand of the individual.

The company was formed in 1889 by Henry David Lee producing dungarees and jackets. Later in the 1920s, Lee introduced a zipper fly and continued to expand. During the next two decades, the company became one of the leading manufacturers of work clothes in the US. In 1954, Lee expanded into casual wear – a development which continued into the 1970s, when Lee shifted focus from the workwear business and began catering to fashion cycles.

Lee designed the 101 Cowboy Pants in 1932, which evolved into Lee Riders, followed by their iconic 101J jean jacket and old blanket-lined, corduroy collared Storm Rider Jackets. The slimline 101J’s fit was short and attractive, giving Lee sex appeal!

Star Appeal

Furthermore Lee was the denim of choice for many film stars – James Dean clearly wears Lee in Rebel Without a Cause, and many photos show Steve McQueen was a fan too.

An early example of product placement was evident in a 1963 critically acclaimed film called Hud, where the wearing of Lee clothing seems to have been a prerequisite!

Repsycho regularly stocks vintage and used denim items, when we first began as market traders, denim was our main line – indeed 501s have consistently been among our best-selling items for over 30 years.

Vintage denim clothing is adaptable, sustainable and just plain wearable; Levi’s, Wrangler’s and Lee vintage denim are all of this and cool, too – and worth its weight in gold!

Post-war fashion blog article (pt.2)

Many of the gorgeous vintage fashion items we see at Repsycho have an interesting label – research has proved that many also have an amazing history!

The British fashion industry certainly produced some cracking designs in the post-war era! Sadly, some of these design labels have left little information about either the designer or the label.

Frank Usher

Anne and Max Bruh, refugees from Nazi Germany, started the Frank Usher label in 1946. Due to restrictions at the time, the couple bought an existing company and repurposed it- hence the totally unrelated name Frank Usher.

Known as a brand that notes fresh, high-end details on the catwalk and used them to create affordable, ready to wear designs. Although the fashion world at the time sneered at the brand, Frank Usher clothes were popular, well made and flattering and they also stand the test of time.

Rhona Roy Fashion

Rhona Roy was a very nice brand but we know little about it. It traded during the ’50s until the ’70s, making really pretty cotton dresses very well! Dress patterns were also available. There was a mainline labelled simply Rhona Roy and a line for teenage girls too.

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Post-war fashion

Britain has produced some divine design since WW2 and some of its fashion designers are the most respected. Their creations have become extremely sought after and in terms of vintage fashion at Repsycho over the years we have picked up a few gems!

Mary Quant 

Probably the most iconic fashion designer of the 1960s. With an original take on design, Quant created modern, fun fashion, bright, colourful and bold. She popularised the mini skirt, hot pants, the skinny rib jumper and brightly coloured tights– her designs are iconic. Mary Quant was central to the development of London fashion – simply put she dressed the ‘Swinging Sixties’.

In 1963 Mary Quant launched the Ginger Group Line to deliver cheaper, mass-produced goods to the populace. She also marketed cosmetics and underwear using the famous Quant daisy design. At the end of the decade, Mary Quant was the leading UK fashion designer.

Ossie Clark & Celia Birtwell

Ossie Clark was a British fashion designer who became popular in the 1960s-70s. The fabric designs of Celia Birtwell complemented many of his best creations. Together they became a creative and productive partnership during this era.

In 1971, shortly after their marriage, their friend David Hockney painted Birtwell and Clark in Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy which is on display at Tate Britain. They had many famous clients, including Mick Jagger, the Beatles and Liza Minelli. Peter Gabriel used a Clark creation for the cover of the Genesis album Foxtrot.

Glamour influenced Clark’s designs; often romantic, free-flowing dresses. He liked to use printed silk chiffon and crepes, famously designing almost transparent pieces for his ‘Nude Look’. Menswear included ruffled shirts, silk scarves and snakeskin jackets.

Laura Ashley 

Although traditional handicrafts and Victorian patterns were the initial inspiration, Laura Ashley’s quintessentially English designs became very popular after Audrey Hepburn wore an early scarf design in the film Roman Holiday. Founded in 1953, the company moved from Kent to Wales in 1961 and clothing bearing labels from this era are particularly sought after.

During the sixties, Laura Ashley developed its designs and was well known for its dreamy, floaty maxi skirts and dresses and the stylised Prairie dresses which are particularly associated with the brand.  In the the early 80’s the brand began to incorporate the frills and pin tucks of the ‘Sloane Ranger’ – an altogether crisper, posher look that Lady Diana Spencer popularised. 

Ashley’s designs are easier to find than many other designers and maybe more affordable. But are nonetheless indicative of several decades of British design.

Marion Donaldson Design

During the early 1960’s, Marion Donaldson began designing and making dresses at her own home for resale in local shops. Specialising in mini skirts and dresses in the early years, her creations were flamboyant, modern, bright and pretty cool too! Initially selling to shops in Glasgow, the popularity of her designs grew, and she designed for the London market. At one point working with Liberty’s of London using their fabric- these designs became some of Marion Donaldson’s most successful.

Marion and her husband/partner David decided to remain designers/manufacturers- never having their own retail outlets like other famous designers, maybe partly explaining some lack of recognition for the brand and also some of the commercial rewards too.

 An oval mirror which the Donaldson’s bought at an auction inspired the brand’s iconic art nouveau label.

The Marion Donaldson brand has been credited with bringing ‘Swinging London’ to Glasgow, and she herself is sometimes referred to as ‘the Scottish Barbara Hulanicki‘ (Biba). Marion Donaldson Ltd traded from 1966 until 1999, her quality designs and remain sought after today.

Janice Wainwright Design

Janice Wainwright studied at Wimbledon School of Art, Kingston School of Art and The Royal College of Art in London. During the late 60s she worked as a designer for Simon Massey, in 1968 she began to work as a freelance designer. Her work during this period was bright, youthful and simple. Wainwright was one of the few designers to use Celia Birtwell textile designs- a real sign of respect from the Clark/Birtwell partnership.

In 1970 she started her own label, Janice Wainwright at Forty Seven Poland Street. Her designs were longline, flattering creations and often used jersey, crepe and chiffon. From 1974 she began to drop the cumbersome label name for just her own. A feature of her work was the different decorative techniques used.

Jean Muir Design

In the ’50s Jean Muir worked as a fashion sketcher and seller for Liberty’s in London. She was later employed as a self-taught designer at Jaeger. At the beginning of the ’60s, she established the firm Jane and Jane. In 1966 Muir started her own business with her husband, selling clothes to selected shops worldwide. Jean Muir’s clothes have fluid lines and elegance. She particularly liked working with dark, plain colours in jersey, crepe and suede.

Although the fashion industry adored Muir and she counted many stars and celebrities as her clients and friends, she considered herself a dressmaker! She was a hard-working, stickler for perfection. Qualities which helped earn her a reputation for precise tailoring and exquisite design.