Saturday, 23 June 2012

Fake! How to spot counterfeit vintage Levi's

I was briefly surprised recently to see a note from a Superfuture poster, asking if a pair of "Levi's jeans" he'd bought were genuine. Then I realised that everyone is not cynical, like me, and believe the claims they read on eBay. So this is a quick post to say, Yes, there are still plenty of counterfeit "Vintage Levi's" around.

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!)

You will often see fakes of the linen patch, used on Levi's early budget line, the 201 jeans. Some of these have hilarious mis-spellings, like "Gauranteed", on the patch. The patches rarely look right, but usually there are other warning signs.

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, arcuate stitching, 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.

4: Batty about spelling

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.


  1. Hello Paul, great article you have there. Sorry to hear about the stolen laptop. I think a lot of times people are hesitant about getting into LVC because they have no clue about what they're buying and the signs to look out for fakes, including myself. Thanks for sharing this. Definitely a lot of useful information in helping to spot the fakes.

  2. right you are, pretty sure i'm going to remember most of this for when i next see a pair. very handy, i had no idea and to slip into UO is very poor. great article

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. "Study and fondle the originals, and you'll never be caught out."

    This is also how I detect breast implants

  5. I think you should further outline the fact that barcodes didn't come into use until 1974 and weren't in wide usage until quite a bit after that and that the larger care tag was not used before 1993.

  6. It appears that Rokit, a pretty respected vintage store, are selling fake 201s. (Again, these should have exposed rivets and no red tag... there is a mass market version of the 201, which is again different).

  7. do you think these are real? I am struggling to tell

  8. I have a Levi's jean jacket with a big E, a friend donated it to me to sell for extra cash, as I am out of job right now. I have been looking for information on it to make sure it is authentic, not that I don't trust my friend but, that I know it can be easy to be mistaken. Do you have any tips on how to authenticate a Levi Jean Jacket? Plus it has patches sewn onto it, and I have been unsuccessful in finding any with HONDA patches, is this normal?

  9. There are rather fewer fake jackets around, and there are a good number of original Big E jackets still in circulation, so it's much less likely to be a fake than suspicious Big E jeans. If you email me photos I ill check for you, though - there's an email link for me on the Welcome page at

  10. Wonderful; thank you very much. I would love any help and I will email some pictures in a couple of days. Thank you again. :)

  11. Hi I have some 501's which have a lable printed on the back of the pocket lining inside of the jeans while other pairs I have do not have a label. Is this a pointer to fakes ?

  12. Hi Anonymous, some LVC jeans have either an LVC logo (recent issue); some earlier LVC ones have a para or so of wording, so the presence or absence doesn't necessarily denote a fake. But if they have the longer working, check for spelling errors - like those on the laundry tag, they always denote a counterfeit item.

  13. Hi there! I have a pair of 569 that my fiancee (at the time) bought for me when she used to work at a plant that made Levi's here in the US 10 yrs ago. They're a 569, but the denim seems to have been coated in a gray rubber, so they're stiff and obviously don't absorb water. I've worn them a few times years ago, becuase they looked cool. The story was they were a limited or experimental run, and the plant had surplus they sold for $10/ea. Anyone seen these, or have a clue about value or the story??? Thanks!!!

    1. Years ago a Rose Bowl Flea Market seller did this with a great many pairs of used Levis jeans. It was just a fashion thing and I think they sold quite well. Definitely not done to any valuable vintage jeans.

  14. Hello, Paul. I hope you still get to read and reply to this post. :) Anyway, there is a Levi's Online Seller here in the Philippines and she's supposedly selling original Levi's jeans. Can you check her items out and see if her items are legit or fake or whatnot. Her online store for Facebook is Thanks >:)

  15. I have a pair of 501 made in usa jeans that have stamped "501" on the back of the top button. Is this normal? Thank you from spain

  16. Hi Paul, i wanted to try to contact you. Can you tell me anything about these:

    The rear label appears to have a faint red 'S' before the 501XX. I've tried to apply any learned knowledge i have but the bits don't seem to add up to other 'S501XX' i have seen. The patch appears paper and the photos are pretty bad at showing any other significant details. The denim looks a bit...dull and flat...but don't know if that's a sign of anything? Cheers, Jamie

  17. I bought a pair of buttonfly Levi's that have a leather patch with a rivetted metal strip with the number "19157" on them. The leather patch seems like a dried out beef jerky as mentioned in one of the above comments. I've never seen anything like them before and can't find any information on them. The buttons seem hammered not flat and the numbers on the top back button is 211 and the buttonfly buttons have 213 on the back of them. The Levi's tab has a big E but the letters look yellow or gold to me. Also the inside of the seam is red stitched. All the rivets show LS & Co on them. Can someone help me to identify these and if they are fake or if they possibly were used in a prison :) . Just a guess. I could send pictures to show you. I see no selvedge on the inside. Any idea who may have made these? They appear to be late 50's or 60's to me. Any information would be helpful. Thanks.

  18. HI anonymous, sorry for the delay in replying, I've been busy elsewhere. Those sounds like fakes. Email me photos and I can tell you for sure.

  19. Such a great and useful article. Honestly with LVC stuff it's such a minefield to tell if things are real or not. I wonder if you'd be able to tell me if this pair have any of the tell take signs

  20. Hi Arif, always harder to tell with the washed stuff (which is usually made in Turkey) but those look spot-on to me, not fakes.

  21. Hi Paul. Pls. authenticate my pair of big E which was given by a relative from California. Can I have your email add pls. so that I can email you some pict of it. I don't know about vintage reproduction of big E's. But the one that I have is far from the fakes of Thailand..hoping to hear from you soon..more power

  22. jhan, email me via and I'll have a look!

  23. Hi Paul, do you think they are fake....?

  24. Hi Dirk, they have the obvious warning signs, extra selvage and dodgy label so yes, they are most certainly dodgy.

  25. Hi there, very informative article and most helpful too...this may be a really obvious question but I thought I would double check with you. I came across a pair of Levis only the strangest thing is that they do not have any leather patch on the back pocket at all. They are a fairly new style of jeans and there is no sign that there ever was a patch on there. I just wondered whether or not Levis ever made any without leather patches.. I wonder if you could help me with this query please? Many thanks in I don't have a google account or url so it will come up as anonymous, sorry about that, kind regards