Levi’s 511 vs. 501: Your Ultimate Guide

by jacky chou
Updated on

Levi's Jeans started as workwear clothes but have evolved into stylish, comfortable everyday wear for people from all walks of life. Denim jeans are a precious wardrobe choice for men because they are:

  • Versatile
  • Comfortable
  • Durable
  • Affordable
  • Easy to maintain

The 501s were the first pair of jeans created by Levi's in the 1890s. Singlehandedly, the 501s are the most popular article of clothing ever designed. They were classic straight-leg jeans meant for working men.

The 511s are a direct descendant of the 501s, coming more than a century after. They are slim-fit jeans.

We delve into the commonalities and differences between Levi's 511 vs. 501. But first...

A Brief History of Levi's Jeans

Image Credits: levistrauss.com

The birth story of the popular Levi's jeans is somewhat an interconnected one. It didn't start with Levi Strauss, the man who the denim company is named after. Rather, it all started with a dissatisfied customer and a savvy businessman in a tailor's shop. The name of the tailor was Jacob Davis, and like Levi Strauss, he was an immigrant.

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A disgruntled but analytical customer approached Davis on an issue with his torn denim pants. He frequently purchased fabrics from Davis to fix these patches, and he now wanted a surefire, conclusive solution to this problem.

Luckily, he came armed with an idea. What about using copper rivets to reinforce parts where the most strain was being exerted, such as the button fly and pocket corners?

Davis loved the idea so much but, without sufficient funds, could not patent the idea. So he reached out to his friend and business partner, Levi, who supplied Davis with all the denim fabric he used. They patented the idea and began selling denim jeans to workers.

Image Credits: hawthornintl.com

From there, Levi's jeans took off. In fact, in World War II, these jeans became an essential commodity for defense personnel. Nowadays, these classic jeans are incorporated into a more modern look to appeal to more Gen Z and millennial fans.

Fun Fact: Jeans were not called jeans until the 1950s. They were called pants.

Levi's 501 - The Original Fit Straight Leg Jeans

These were the original-design, classic straight-fit jeans. They are the blueprint of jeans as we know them. The 501s are the simple archetypal jeans you've probably owned.

But why 501? The numbering order used in Levi's lineup (that has become part of Levi's Lexicon) is still a point of contention. According to Jonathan Cheung, Levi's Senior Vice President of Design Innovation, the numbering is purely hypothetical.

"Around 1890 is when we started calling our copper-riveted waist overalls the 501. The 501 was a product identification number, but we don’t know the reason why it was a three-digit number beginning with five."

What's certain is that the numbers stand for different silhouettes, depending on the waist, thigh, and leg opening size.

Invented in 1873, the 501s have come a long way in setting the bar as to what jeans should be. Most modern designs aim to circle back to this fit.

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They fit at your waist and go straight to your toes. That's how simple these jeans were intended to be. They are made using non-stretch denim and 100% cotton.

They have a button fly and five pockets.

There is no wrong way to style 501s, whether you will wear them with sneakers, dress shoes, or loafers. It can be dressed down or up, depending on your needs, without causing a hassle.

The following are the variations of the 501:

  • 501 Slim Taper
  • 80s 501
  • 1937 501
  • 1944 501
  • 1947 501
  • 1954 501
  • 1955 501
  • Circular 501

The 501 came with a pre-shrunk alternative called the shrink-to-fit jeans. What these did was that they shrunk to your body. While this may be a weird way to buy jeans, Levi's advises that you buy your true waist size but with an inseam that's two sizes bigger.

Here's the funny part: Put them on and sit in a warm bath. They'll dry on your body as you go. They are washed in the same way. After the first soak, they will shrink up to 10%. What a convenient wash-and-go idea- or not.

Image Credits: brooklyndenimco.com

Levi's 511 - The Slim Fit Jeans

The 511s sit below the waist and then narrow down to the ankle to form a slim-fit design. They are made of elastic denim, which means that they have extra room for movement. Therefore, they are the perfect pair for all-day comfort.

Image Credits: levi.com

Levi's 511 jeans have numerous variants. The premium versions are more durable due to more stitches. Some of these variants include:

  • Slim Fit Levi's Flex Men's Jeans
  • Big Boys 8-20 Unbasic Shorts
  • Levi's XX Chino Slim Taper Fit Pants
  • Slim Cut-Off 10-11" Men's Shorts
  • Slim Fit Performance Little Boys Jeans 4-7x
  • Slim Fit Men's Jeans (Big & Tall)
  • Slim Fit All Seasons Tech Men's Pants
  • Slim Fit Corduroy Men's Jeans
  • Slim Cut-Off Tie Dye 10-11" Men's Shorts
  • Slim Medium 10-11" Men's Shorts
  • Slim Fit Brushed Sueded Little Boys Pants 4-7x

Similarities Between Levi's 511 and 501

The most common similarity between the two jeans is that they both follow Levi's signature design. This design is what enables you to tell between genuine Levi's and fakes. They both have the following:

1) Five-pocket styling

Both jeans have five pockets: 2 in front, 2 in the back, and one smaller one in the front right hip pocket. It was originally designed to be a watch or coin pocket.

While the relevance of these many pockets may be lost in the modern world (of wallet-carrying and mobile money options), they remain a signature aesthetic for all Levi's jeans.

2) Arcuate

The 501 and 511 retain Levi's distinctive style of using Arcuate - the yellow stitching on the back pockets.

Image Credits: denimhunters.com

3) Rivets

Every Levi's jeans have six rivets; two in the left front pocket and four in the right front pocket.

4) The Red Tab

Created in 1936 to clearly define Levi's jeans from competitors, the red tab is one of the most prominent identifiers of genuine Levi's jeans. It is a red fabric with the word "Levi's" inscribed in white and attached to the back right pocket. There have been variations of these inscriptions from 1936 to now.

Image Credits: pexels.com

5) Back Leather Patch

The back leather patch is not (just) a fashion accessory; it serves two purposes:

  • It's a pictorial representation of how strong and durable Levi's jeans are.
  • It is used to identify genuine Levi's from fakes.

Image Credits: come2sales.com

Differences Between Levi's 511 and 501

1) Material

While the 511s are made of 88% Cotton, 11% Polyester, and 1% Elastane, the 501s are made of 100% cotton. Notice that the elastane in the 511 is very little, so the jeans do stretch, but not too much.

Image Credits: etsy.com

For the 501s, cotton may wear out too quickly. There are two ways to ensure you pick long-lasting 501 jeans:

  • Buy true-size jeans, not an inch bigger or smaller.
  • Limit machine washes. It is recommended to wash after 14 wears.

2) Fit

The 501s are regular-fit straight-leg jeans, while the 511s are slim-fit jeans. Therefore, the 501s will give you a looser cut than the 511s. On the other hand, the 511s are tighter than the 501s.

Image Credits: levi.in

The 511s are a more 'flaunt-what-yo-mama-gave-ya' type of jeans, as they accentuate your glute muscles. The narrowing silhouette design is what creates this illusion.

Super skinny jeans were a favorite for most young people, but with time, they preferred comfort over constricting fashion. So when slim-fit jeans emerged, they became a beloved alternative.

3) Fly Design

Perhaps, the main difference between the two pairs, the 501s use a button fly design, while the 511s have a zip fly. The 505s were the original zipper-style jeans.

Image Credits: levistrauss.com

Did You Know? Early designs of Levi's jeans had a crotch rivet. Men complained over the unbearable results of sitting too close to campfires.

4) Leg Opening

This refers to the diameter of the space at the ankle. For the 501s, the leg opening is 16", while the 511s are 14.5". Moreover, the 511s have a narrow leg opening.

Imagine wearing jeans that are too tight at the ankles. It feels tiring, and your calves don't get to breathe. The 511s and 501s provide ample breathing space for your ankles and calves.

5) Overall Sit

A Levi's 501 sits at the waist, while the 511 sits below the waist. The 511s may sit slightly below the waist but fit so well that you won't necessarily need a belt to hold your jeans up.

6) Anti-fit

Anti-fit means that the jeans are cut in a straight style rather than curved. This was a response to avoiding any wastage of denim. The 501s use this technology, which means more comfort, even if you are wearing a fit two sizes larger.

Image Credits: denimhunters.com

7) Colors

The 511s come in black, blue, or white, while the 501s come in dark blue, indigo, white, and khaki.

8) Target Audience

The 511s are the best gift for stylish dads and simple individuals. They are the best understated, everyday wear jeans; perhaps no one will comment on them, but they are stylish and comfortable.

On the other hand, the 501s are for people who love a quick, fits-all style. Since straight-leg jeans are simple and timeless, they work with practically everything- from a button-up shirt to a plain t-shirt, with cowboy boots or sneakers.

The Bottomline

Whether you prefer Levi's 501 or 511, the fact is that Levi's is a reputable brand providing bespoke, quality jeans for each body type. Just find the right fit for you, and you're good to go. Besides, having several pairs of each hurt no one.

Featured Image Credits: robbreport.com

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jacky chou


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