A Stylish Pair Of Levi's From The 1880s Fetched A Staggering Amount At Auction

Many of us have a pair or two (or three) of well-worn Levi's jeans in our wardrobe. The Levi's blue jeans much like we know today were born in the 1870s, according to the official Levi Strauss website. As the BBC writes, in the 1950s blue jeans became a fashion staple for many, inspired by Hollywood actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando. Could any of the blue jeans you've worn for years turn out to have been an investment?

Fashions come and fashions go, and that maxim applies to new clothing as well as vintage, used, even distressed items. A lot of it depends on the current tastes and markets. Very broadly speaking, if your denim was purchased in the preceding decade or so — Levi Strauss brand or not — chances are no, your jeans don't have much resale value, as Reselling Revealed reported earlier this year. If your jeans date from the 1960s or earlier, though, they could be worth money on the market for vintage denim, either in the U.S. or overseas — depending on the trends of the moment. With that in mind, a vintage pair of Levi's jeans from the 1880s sold at auction in 2022, and the price that was paid will have you checking the contents of your closet more closely.

The auctioned jeans were found in an old mineshaft

According to Long John, a leading denim industry publication, the vintage 1880s Levi's jeans were excavated from an old mineshaft. The pants feature suspender buttons, a cinch back, and only a single back pocket — all features that help date when the jeans were made. (Belt loops were introduced to Levi's jeans in the 1920s.) In the days that these jeans were produced they were without a doubt work apparel and not typically worn in other settings, as are blue jeans today.

On that note, the auctioned jeans were marked with candle wax, and as the auction listing at Hibid states, the Levi's— described as the holy grail for denim collectors — are among the very few surviving pairs from the gold rush period. The Levi's-brand tag is still on the waistband, looking much like it appears now. What's more, the jeans are in wearable condition, according to the auction listing. The pants were discovered in that old 19th century mineshaft by Michael Allen Harris, author of "Jeans of the Old West: A History" and a noted denim archaeologist who scours old abandoned mine workings in the American West for discarded bits — and sometimes complete pairs — of 19th-century denim pants, as GQ notes.

The jeans were expected to sell for as much as $100,000

As Long John also writes, the 1880s-era Levi's jeans (pictured) were expected to bring between $50,000 to $100,000 at auction. Based on reporting by The Wall Street Journal, the auction was held in New Mexico. The jeans were sold to Kyle Haupert, a vintage clothing dealer from California in his 20s, and Zip Stevenson, from the vintage clothing company Denim Doctors. On buying the jeans at the price that he paid, Haupert described himself as bewildered, but in an Instagram post from Haupert's company, Golden State Vintage, that featured a picture of the jeans, Haupert noted they "speak for themselves."

Haupert and Stevenson paid $76,000 ($87,400 with the buyer's premium factored in, per Insider India). After buying the jeans, Stevenson said, "You could wear them to a Starbucks." The historic garment will likely be offered for sale to a private buyer. Also notable, the jeans' inside pocket is marked, "The only kind made by White Labor," referring to the Chinese Exclusion Act of the period, which was repealed in 1943. Levi Strauss stopped printing that slogan on their products in the 1890s, according to The Wall Street Journal.