At Jean Stories, we like talk about the present moment – who’s wearing which jeans right now. That said, if you love denim, like we do, it’s impossible to ignore vintage. Its influence is all over every pair we love!
Allow me to introduce you to Monique Buzy-Pucheu, denim aficionado and collector extraordinaire. Monique runs a vintage archive and consulting firm called Buckle Back Design, and, having worked on the creative product development teams at some of the biggest jeans companies in the world (Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Diesel), knows a thing or two about denim. Her archive, which includes more than 250 pieces – jeans, jackets, vests, overalls…even a rare pair of Strongholds from 1895 – is full of incredible and educational stories. Which is why I went to see her at her apartment in lower Manhattan’s old Cotton Exchange Building (of all places!). I simply had to hear some of them.
Followers of Jean Stories and fellow denimheads, I encourage you to take a minute and read Monique’s amazing tales. You’ll learn something. I certainly did.
Levi Strauss & Co. Two Horse Brand Overalls
“This is not the oldest piece in my collection, but it is definitely the most valuable. I acquired these 1915 Levi’s overalls from my dear friend and the most amazing garment archaeologist, Brit Eaton, in Durango, Colorado. Brit got these from a mine in Tonopah, Nevada, which was a huge mining camp in early part of the 20th century, and he’s certain these were worn by one of the miners. For decades, denimheads have looked to the West in search of blue gold, so to speak – little nuggets of denim history abandoned in the camps after the miners had moved on. Brit often finds pieces like these overalls stuffed into the walls of shafts and small living spaces, where they could be made useful as insulation. The dilapidated walls of these camps leave the jeans that are left behind open to the elements – sun, especially – which is why you’ll often find spots that have been streaked or bleached from being exposed to light.
What’s also so fantastic are wear patterns on these overalls – the tobacco tin impression on the back right pocket, the whiskers on the hips, knees, and thighs, and the amazing repair stitching all over. My favorite is the subtle, vertical sun-bleach streaking coming down from the front hooks onto the bib. It seems these overalls were hung and then abandoned in a spot where the sun was able to reach them. The sun subtly and slowly faded the indigo in this kind of light-ray pattern. Lovely.
Almost all of the trimmings and hardware on these overall is intact! Most notable is the 2 Horse Brand woven logo patch on the back that still has its vivid color. So rare!”
One-of-a-Kind Levi’s 505s
“These patchwork Levi’s 505s from the late-70s were purchased in Ozark, Missouri when I was working for Ralph Lauren. I was traveling around the American South and West visiting a few of R.L.’s factories, and had been sent by Ralph on a quest to try and find a duplicate of his own favorite vintage 501 jeans. Try finding two vintage jeans that look exactly alike. You’ll be visiting many, many vintage stores and warehouses!
Anyway, I found these jeans in one of them – a really small vintage store with a hand-painted sign that read: ‘Quilts and Jeans.’ What is so amazing about these is the way the crafter mixed different denim patches from different eras with just one patterned fabric. It seems that after wearing this jean for more than a decade, he or she sewed an array of denim history onto it, mixing fabrics from at least three different decades: The left back pocket is sewn with a 1930s workwear 2 x 1 lightweight denim; the dark patch on the left thigh is a beautiful, purple cast sulphur indigo that looks like it’s from the 1950s; and there are also some open-end denims from the 1980s. Plus, a printed fabric. All are lovingly sewn on with beautiful pastel whip stitching.”
Wrangler 11MJ Jacket
“I found this precious jacket at a vintage store called Squaresville in Los Feliz, CA around 1998 or 1999. It was dead stock, meaning it had never been worn and the only marks it had were on the shoulders, where, from being hung in direct sun for so long, it had faded in a horizontal striped pattern. I only paid $60 for this jacket. Clearly Squaresville did not know what they had!
In 1947, the Blue Bell overall company introduced Wrangler authentic western wear to the American market. I believe my jacket could be a prototype of the very first Wrangler blue bell jacket from 1948, called the 11MJ. There are no logos on the buttons or tabs in back, and there’s no W-stitch on the front pockets, only a woven ‘Wrangler Blue Bell’s’ patch on the inside back collar.
It’s perfectly designed for cowboys. The front pleats along with the pleats in the back yoke gave it an ease in the chest and arms – good for riding! While the elastic at the waist kept the silhouette slim.
I wore this jacket in myself – and I wore it in pretty well, as you can see! It didn’t take much because the fabric was tender with age. I have lovingly repaired the shoulder many times, either with the help of sample sewers in the factories where I’ve worked, or at my favorite dry cleaner (Soho Laundry and Cleaners on Thompson Street) – both do an amazing job. I still wear this jacket, though sparingly, on special occasions, like a really good friend’s wedding.
It’s made of a butter-soft 11 oz left hand denim. FYI, left hand denim is softer that right hand because the yarns are twisted against the direction of the fabric weave – over time, these yarns unwind more than yarns that are twisted in unison with the weave, making the denim feel fuzzier and more supple. The whiskering on the inside arms, and the wear on the shoulders is sublime!”
Levi’s Big E Vest
“I bought this Levi’s big E vest from the 1950s at the flea market in N.Y.C. that was once on Sixth Avenue between 25th and 26th streets. It was such a great flea market, with two really great denim/military clothing vendors. Sadly, that market was swallowed up by the housing boom of the 2000s.
Levi’s jeans and jackets with an uppercase ‘E’ in the red tab – either on the back right pocket of a pair of jeans, or the front left pocket of a jacket or vest – get called big E’s because they’re quite specific. If the tab reads LEVI’s, big E, as opposed to Levi’s, little e, then you know that garment was made before 1971.
A previous owner lovingly tailored this vest, taking in the back panel seams at the waist to make it more fitted, cute, and sexy. The amazing high/low contrast in color from wear and abrasion on color is brilliant, I think. It seems like this vest had a few lives – the back has the remnants of a patch that was sewn on and later removed. I often wear this vest, sometimes paired with vintage military bottoms and a heel.”