Throwback Thursday: Levi’s Denim Art Contest

Tracey Panek, LS&Co. Historian
Levi Strauss & Co.
April 2, 2015

Novelist Tom Wolfe famously coined the term “‘Me’ decade” in referring to the 1970s. There is perhaps no clearer illustration of Wolfe’s epithet than the “decorated denim” craze that swept the U.S. during this politically and socially tumultuous era.

Personal expression reigned supreme in the 1970s, and people were eager to put their unique stamp on their favorite blues (literally and figuratively) — embroidering, painting, beading, shredding, patching and more.

Personalizing Levi’s® jeans was such a huge trend that in 1973 and 1974 Levi Strauss & Co. sponsored a “Denim Art Contest” —the brainchild of Publicist Richard Owens. Consumers were invited to submit slides of their best-decorated denim.

Thousands of submissions were received. Entries were judged by a prestigious panel, which included designer Rudi Gernereich, the curator for San Francisco’s De Young Museum, photographer Imogen Cunningham, and a San Francisco Chronicle art critic.

In addition to traveling the country in an 18-month tour of American museums, the winning garments also were featured in a book, The Levi’s Denim Art Contest Catalogue of Winners, published by photographer Baron Wolman.

We’re lucky enough to have acquired a couple of the garments for the LS&Co. Archives, including the second-place winner. This personalized Levi’s trucker jacket (aka “the hair jacket”) was made by Hopeton Morris.

Denim Art