Happy 80th, Red Tab!

Tracey Panek, LS&Co. Historian
Levi Strauss & Co.
September 1, 2016

Today marks 80 years since we began using one of the company’s most important trademarks: the Tab Device, the signature crimson-colored tag that appears on our back pockets.
To vintage clothing collectors, graphic artists, designers and advertising executives, the Tab Device is an icon, yet it’s sometimes hard to believe it hasn’t been a part of Levi’s® jeans since the beginning. Although it was first used in 1936, its story goes back much further.
Levi Strauss & Co. and tailor Jacob Davis received a U.S. patent to make riveted denim pants in 1873: the first blue jeans. However, in 1890 the patent went into the public domain, which happens to all inventions after a certain number of years. Suddenly everybody who had a dry goods business or was somehow linked to the clothing industry started making riveted denim clothing.
And of course, it looked just like ours.
Brands such as Stronghold, Can’t Bust ‘Em, Boss of the Road and others started flooding the western market with dark blue, riveted denim jeans, which also happened to have a leather patch on the waistband and pocket stitching that was suspiciously similar to our Arcuate stitching design. This went on for decades, and in the 1930s managers were pretty frustrated. They were always doing informal market surveys — which generally meant looking at rear ends on the street and at rodeos — and had trouble distinguishing our products from the competition when viewed at a distance.
The problem was solved in 1936. National Sales Manager Chris Lucier came up with the idea of placing “a folded cloth ribbon in the structural seam of a rear patch pocket,” which is how he described his idea to fellow employees. The word LEVI’S® was woven in white on the red ribbon and it was sewn onto the right back pocket of the 501® jeans.
Chris’ son, Jack Lucier, visited the LS&Co. Archives last spring and shared how his father hit on the idea of the Tab Device while visiting Santa Cruz.

It worked beautifully: the deep red contrasted with the dark blue denim, and suddenly management had a much easier time with its market surveys. LS&Co. also made sure to include the phrase “Look for the Red Tab” on a variety of in-store and outdoor advertising in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Tab Device was first used on Levi’s® jackets in 1937, and registered as a trademark in 1938. Beginning in the early 1960s the Tab Device color moved beyond red to white, orange, black and silver. These represented different lines of clothing, from corduroy flares to boot cut jeans to womenswear.
Additionally, to show that the tab is itself a trademark (separate from the Levi’s® mark that usually appears on it), 10 percent are produced with only the ® symbol. The only exception to this rule is for Levi’s® Vintage Clothing (LVC) product. The blank tab was not used on old product, so the tab used on LVC garments has to have the Levi’s® mark on it.
The colors may have varied over the years, but the tab remains a Levi’s® signature that continues to endure. Be sure to look for it.
Tracey-Panek-photo-438x656Tracey Panek is the Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. where she manages the day-to-day workings of the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives as a key corporate asset, answering historical questions, assisting designers, brand managers, executives and other employees whose work requires historical materials in the Archives.
Prior to joining LS&Co., Tracey spent 14 years as Historian and Archivist at AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah where she managed a corporate history program for the 100+ year old company. She began her corporate history career at AirTouch Communications—today Verizon and Vodafone—a San Francisco based company that launched cellular service at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

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