They pop up in some credible places. A few years ago I had a heated argument with a manager at Urban Outfitter's in London - he insisted that the dodgy jeans in their second hand rack were legit; only later, once I called a Levi's counterfeit specialist, did they recant. They'd bought the items from a trusted jobber - so it seems that some fake Levi's have entered the supply chain from America. In recent times I've seen convincing fakes which are impossible to ID without detailed knowledge of Levi's fabrics and arcane details. But I'll deal with those at some other time.
For now, here are five warning signs for the most obvious, and most common fake Levi's. All these photos are taken from real eBay or online sales - in several cases, I emailed the seller, who continued with the sale, probably because they were fully aware they were selling counterfeit goods. I'm using their photos for the purpose of criticism and review, and to stop others being ripped off.
Warning 1: extra selvage.
Fakers know that selvage is synonymous with vintage jeans. So often they can't resist the temptation to add extra selvage, just to make it even more authentic than the real thing.
Take this item from a recent sale. Real 1950s Levi's are known for having offset or slanted belt loops - so often fakers improve on this by adding selvage, something you'd never see on an original's belt loop.
On real vintage, or LVC jeans, you often see a selvage line inside the watch pocket. Again, fakers often improve on the real thing, by adding selvage outside the watch pocket.
Warning 2: It's a cinch.
Fakers know that old jeans have a cinch back. So they add random cinch backs onto their jeans to make them look more authentic. Often they're in the wrong place - as on this pair, where they are set below the waistband, as opposed to overlapping it. (NB, there are a couple of horrible Levi's Japan reissues that look like this. I'm guessing the Thai fakes are probably based on them.).
This pair, shown below, are a pretty common type that abound in period detail - too much of it. Exposed rivets on the pockets are a common on vintage jeans. And red tags are synonymous with Levi's. So here our fakers have added both of them to their fantasy jeans - despite the fact you'd never see both a red tag and exposed rivets on a vintage, or reissue, pair.
Note also that this pair have the "diamond" shape you'll find at the bottom of the arcuate, on post-1947 jeans, but which are never seen on earlier, cinch back pairs. Any LVC fans will also tell you that the denim looks completely wrong, and that the stitching is all the wrong colour for supposedly prewar jeans.
Just for the heck of it, here are the jeans the fakers are trying to copy: a pair of genuine LVC 1920s 201. Note they have very different arcuate shape with no diamond, a cinch that overlaps with the waistband, and no red tab. There are many other differences, including the fabric, and constructional details.
Warning 3: Label-conscious
Fakes rarely get the two-horse patch right. Once again, fakers feel compelled to "improve" on the original. Levi's leather patches are always pale in colour when new. They do age to a darker colour, or even dry out to give an effect known as "beef jerky". But LVC and vintage 2-Horse patches never ever look like this fake pair. (NB, there are some mass market Levi's made in Canada that have similar patches, avoid those, too!)
This pair (below) has the cinch in the correct position - but again, a superfluous red tag, and the diamond shape at the bottom of the arcuate which you'd never find on cinch back jeans. Once you get familiar with LVC, you'll see the cut of these is quite simply wrong. They've taken a modern or 50s shape and simply added a cinch - the original is a completely different shape. Everything about them is wrong, including the pocket shape, pocket placement and the shape of the yoke. I believe this pair have the correct chain stitched hems, though, which many fakes miss.
You'll see the same patch on fake 200-series jackets, too. Note the big space before the 't' on Garment, this is common on both fake pants and jackets. This particular jacket has the same dark fabric seen on many fakes, which bears little resemblance either to LVC or vintage Levi's.
This pair is much more convincing, with a good attempt at the stitching and shape of a LVC 1947 model. The leather patch and red tag are the most obvious warning signs - these jeans boast pretty good fabric compared to many Thai fakes, but on this model the selvage line is blue where it should be red.
They should look like this. You can see that the Thai jeans get many details right, but the shape of the pockets and arcuate are, as always, a reliable indicator, beyond specific details like the patch and tag.
Fake vintage Levi's, for some reason, tend to be based on the very first LVC and Capital E reissues. These all had batwing logos on the Laundry tags, and often had the characteristic print on the pocket bags, that are seen on very early, rare Levi's.
The delicious aspect of fakes is that they copy the batwing, and usually the detailed ad copy, but add many typos and errors. Some early Levi's have faintly racist messages, about being made by "all-white" labour - but they never have spelling mistakes.
I've just had my laptop stolen so I've lost the very best examples of fake mis-spellings on the pocket bags. But this care tag, telling you to "tumele dry" your jeans, is a pretty good example. You can just see the pocket bags under this care tag - I am pretty sure that it will feature even more hilarious spelling
5: Clues in the Hue
Like so many fake items, it's not the details that look wrong - it's the overall look. And with the mostly Thai (or Indonesian) counterfeits, it's the denim itself that just doesn't look right. Often the fakes are more streaky in appearance; more fundamentally, the colour looks just wrong. It's hard to spot at first - but once you get familiar with fakes, it's the most obvious sign.
No original Levi's, or LVC repros, have fabric like this. Study and fondle the originals, and you'll never be caught out.
Good luck, and if you see "vintage" Levi's on eBay or elsewhere that you find suspicious, email me or post a comment here.